So much writing about discrimination — and clickbait writing is especially guilty — ends up reinforcing the very issue it discusses. The problem is almost always the headlines.
By presenting something as ‘shocking’ or ‘unbelievable,’ headlines make claims about their readership.
Consider one typical headline: “Wharton study shows the shocking results when women and minorities email their professors.” It might seem reasonable at first glance. But who finds this result shocking? Not women, minorities, or minority women. Appalling, yes; shocking, no.
Headlines are universalizing — they present their contents as true. And that means that disagreeing with them positions you outside their intended readership. Headlines that contain value judgments make disagreement more likely. A purely descriptive headline, on the other hand, doesn’t suffer from this problem. What if it had said, “Wharton study shows professors are less likely to respond to women and people of color”? There’s nothing to disagree with when a headline presents facts as facts.
Second-person (‘you’) headlines are particularly notorious. “The stuff about the Oscars and race you probably hadn’t considered. And really should.” Who’s you? If you’re Black and sick and tired of never seeing anyone who looks like you on that stage, probably hadn’t considered might not make you feel like you want (or need) to read this piece.
I could go on for ages with the bad ones, but here’s a few good ones instead:
- “What’s rape anxiety? This woman explained it to her favorite men, and they were shocked.” These people of a specific type (men) were shocked. Not: you will be shocked. If you’ve ever WWW (walked while woman), you won’t be. (N.B. there’s some really icky race stuff underlying the idea that rapists are strangers who jump out of the bushes, and women are much less safe at the house of an acquaintance than in an alley … but rape culture is real, y’all, and a lot of what the author’s describing is part of it.)
- “Dear curious people: This is how I want you to ask about my race.” Uses you, but makes it clear that this is a choice that’s targeting a specific subset people.
- “Male and female coworkers switched email signatures, faced sexism.” It’s not sensationalist, but it tells you what the story’s about — and doesn’t make any assumptions about who you are.
- “5 statistics that I always keep in mind when talking about race.” I, not you. They may also be statistics that you should keep in mind, depending on who you are, but it’s hard to disagree with the writer’s claim that they keep them in mind.
Leave your best and worst in the comments!