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Have you ever heard the catchphrases, “the pen is mightier than the sword”, “if you want to hide something from a black man, put it in a book”, or my personal favorite, “never fight with anyone who buys their ink by the barrel”.

These phrases serve as testimonials to the power of the written word. Newspapers, magazines, books, and print ads provide us with a wealth of news, entertainment, research, economics, politics, and personal information. Most assume that the information you provide us is accurate and honest. That’s why when Jason Blair of The New York Times admitted to lying and falsifying information, the media acted as if the foundation of journalistic integrity on which the press was supposedly built had been shaken to its proverbial core. Actually, Mr. Blair is not the first journalist to have ever made up stories, created sources or outright lied. There have been many others before him, like Stephen Glass. The television news program “60 Minutes” reported that Mr. Glass invented people, places and events while working as a reporter for the New Republic newspaper. Fosster Winans of the Wall Street Journal was tried and convicted of insider trading after trading ahead of reports he made in his “Hard on the Street” market column.

The reality is that we, as consumers of the written word, must become critical readers and thinkers. We cannot afford to sit and read our newspapers, magazines, and books with a passive mind. Because? It’s simple. Reporters, authors, journalists and publicists have an interest in the information that we, the consumers, receive. They create the news with their purpose and agenda in mind. The unfortunate result of this bias is that all too often, African Americans do not do well and are portrayed in a negative light. We are foretold as predators of our own society. What is even more unfortunate, however, is that we accept these stories as fact and begin to believe that we are the sole cause of much of the crime, disease, poverty, and urbanization that our country is experiencing.
The media manage to make us turn against ourselves and look at ourselves through those same smoky glasses.

To combat this cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies, we must become critical thinkers and realize that without our critical view of media reporting we are nothing more than propaganda pawns and racial miscegenation. Some of the steps for critical thinking are:

1. Meet the Author: Find out who wrote the article or story and what the author’s purpose is in writing it.

2. Research who the author’s sponsor is: Many articles are written for specific companies, and therefore the research contained in those articles will be geared toward the contributor. Tobacco companies are a prime example of media sponsors. They hire people or companies to conduct studies and then print the results of those studies. Think about it, would you write a negative article about the company that pays you?

3. Find the target audience: If you can discern what kind of people the author is trying to reach, you can usually figure out what they’re trying to convey, sell, or persuade you to believe.

4. Look for illogical arguments or fallacies: Often an author will use an argument that has no relevance to the topic and is used simply to persuade. An example of this is when an advertiser tries to sell you a product and uses a celebrity to endorse that product. Most people will think, “Well, if this rap artist or soap opera star uses it, it must work.”

African Americans are a powerful force in this country. If we begin to read and think critically about the information we receive on a daily basis, we will begin to recognize how our society tries to control our financial spending, our thought processes, and our actions. We will begin to think more critically about how we are being attacked and make more informed decisions when spending our hard-earned money. We will begin to see how we are used in the political arena. We will begin to see advertisers target our children in an attempt to convince their parents to spend money on frivolous items. And hopefully, we’ll start to see that we really have the power. If we as a people begin to exercise our power as a collective whole, there are no limits to the changes we can make in this country.

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