On the evening of Monday, Feb. 1, the first day of Black History Month, local TV news KTVF Channel 11 made a Facebook post honoring Black History Month, only to delete it in the middle of the night, after a number of racist comments and statements were made in heated debates.
Many of the comments shared the same racist and anti-Black sentiments found in other Alaskan Facebook pages honoring Black History Month, including Governor Dunleavy and the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District pages.
These included statements such as, “Why isn’t there a White History Month?,” or were disparaging to the Black Lives Matter movement. Some suggested that racism doesn’t exist, or those who talked about racism were the, “real racists.”
Full disclosure: I was personally involved in these discussions. I brought up that the best way for Alaska to honor Black History Month would be to defund the police, the rallying cry behind this summer's BLM protests, especially considering our state has the second highest rates of Black people murdered by police in extrajudicial executions (Alaska is also second in Indigenous police murders, with Utah being the only state with higher rates of both Native and Black murders).
It wasn’t until the next day, Tuesday, that someone brought to my attention that KTFV Channel 11 removed their post honoring Black History Month. I sent them a direct message asking what had happened to the post, and also made a public post tagging KTVF and pointing out that they had removed their original post.
As of writing this, KTVF has not acknowledged on Facebook that they deleted their post. But, their Digital Marketing Manager responded to my post using their personal account, explaining their decision to delete the post:
“Hi David, I'd like to take a moment to introduce myself. I am the digital marketing manager at KTVF and was the one who made the decision to take the post down. I'm a little disappointed that instead of reaching out to us to get some clarify [sic] on the situation, you posted here. I don't think public shaming ever really works and I would have been happy to talk to you at any point (my office number is even listed on our website). Behind every situation is a person simply trying to do their best. In the moment I made the decision to delete the post because there were several arguments going on, on several different fronts about complex societal issues. An yes [sic], a lot of the comments were racist in nature. My thought in the moment was simply to remove the post as quickly as possible so that the racist comments weren't seen by anyone else and no one else could add to it. For future posts in Black History Month I hope to be able to set aside more time to moderate comments. I am just a single person running the digital department and I do the very best that I can.”
There’s a couple of things to unpack here.
KTVF’s news coverage, and their Facebook posts, are public discourse; it is unusual for a publication to expect any criticism or concerns to be discussed in private.
Secondly, it is strange for an employee of KTVF to respond using their personal account, rather than the organization itself.
Lastly, their response is, unfortunately, an all-too-common response to racism — shutting down conversations once they become too difficult, prioritizing, “peace” and comfort over the very real harm and violence that comes from racism.
The impression I get from this situation is that KTVF, rather than deal with harmful racist commenters, would delete a post honoring Black History Month. This means if enough racist comments happen, any post about Black issues will be deleted, which allows racist commenters to dictate what news KTVF shares on Facebook. This caters to and prioritizes racist opinions over the coverage of racism, which itself is an act of racism.
The more nefarious implication is that KTVF operates in fear of racist peoples lashing out at them, and if a simple post honoring Black History Month is too much, then what will happen to harder-hitting news about things likes police brutality or the impact of COVID-19 on the Black community? Will KTVF remove those posts when that happens, or have they already removed such posts?
To many of my social circle, they would have never known that KTVF removed their Black History Month post if I had not publicly called them on it. And since KTVF did not acknowledge their deletion, how do we know they would have said anything at all?
This doesn’t even begin to address anti-Indigenous racism, or the intersections of women of color, LGBT people of color, people who are both Black and Alaska Native, or even more marginalized groups, such as queer sex workers of color, or those who struggle with addiction.
KTVF, along with every other Alaskan news media outlet, have ignored their responsibility to address racism in their comment sections, and deleting posts is a deflection of responsibility. Racist comments must be addressed rather than shutting down discussions for the comfort of the publication.
Given the display sympathizing for Nazis and white supremacists at last week’s Anchorage Assembly meeting, Alaska, and its news organizations, need to do the work of moderating their comments instead of giving into fears of racism. Anything less is allowing white supremacy to control the media, and makes news outlets complicit in the racism that Alaska has yet to address in a meaningful way.
As Black, Indigenous and Pacific-Islander Alaskans die at disproportionate rates from COVID-19 and police brutality, not only is this the moral and ethical thing to do, our lives depend on it.
David Leslie is a queer Inupiaq Inuit from Fairbanks, and studied Film and Brodcast Journalism at the Unviersity Of Alaska Fairbanks.