Aaron Rupar and Apologies for Racisim
BLOG July 10, 2012
Ryan Williams-Virden wrote this in response to Aaron Rupar’s story in City Pages about
the recent shooting of five-year-old Nizzel Banks. Williams-Virden is a teacher, artist,
brother, husband, and community member from Northeast Minneapolis. Coming from a
working class background he fuses his real life experiences with his education in order
to organize for racial and economic justice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aaron Rupar and Apologies for Racism
"A fish never notices the water it swims in."
Let me begin where Mr. Rupar should have: with condolences and love to all who are
suffering due to the death of Nizzel Banks. Like many, I was saddened to hear about
the shooting and was in the process of healing when another act of violence was
On Thursday, June 28 Aaron Rupar authored a story in City Pages detailing the Banks
family’s run-ins with authorities. For many in the community, the story relied on racial
stereotypes, perpetuated racial bias and only served to further racial tensions. This
Monday Mr. Rupar issued an apology that claimed “race played absolutely no role in our
Mr. Rupar’s logic is not new; as a matter of fact it is far too common, especially among
whites. He believes his responsibility is to remove any overt personal bias and simply
report the news. Besides the fact that he didn’t sufficiently succeed at that, considering
his “poor judgment in… choice of both topics and words,” he misses the larger picture.
Racism is not about personal bias, racism is about institutions, racism is about the
ability of whites – because in this country they are the dominant race – to maneuver
institutions without ever having to consider color. These divergent understandings
of racism are at the root of much of the racial strife that plagues our society, and is
certainly at the heart of this current tension.
A white male reporter, Mr. Rupar, decides it is newsworthy to lay out a series of run-
ins with law by the Banks family – most of which are petty and not worth the ink it took
to write – implying that somehow this tragedy was due to driving without a license,
theft, or a domestic violence complaint. This same reporter doesn’t have the good
sense to stop and ask himself “What does this have to do with the killing of a five-year-
old little boy?” This reporter subscribes to a form of colorblind-racism that sociologist
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva calls “cultural racism,” the blaming of culture as opposed to race.
It absolves whites from the guilt of harboring racist beliefs and still allows for racist
actions, intent vs. impact.
The thing is, Mr. Rupar doesn’t have to have the good sense to ask that question, or
think about how racism manifests in a “colorblind” society. Mr. Rupar can say race has
nothing to do with his story, and maybe even honestly believe that, because he has
never had to understand that race is at the heart of everything in this country.
That is privilege. If he did have to understand, perhaps his story would have touched
on the shameful education Minnesota provides to its students of color, and how that
affects life chances; how the criminal justice system’s prejudice against people of color
is well documented; and how the unemployment rate for people of color is two to
three times, if not higher, that of whites. Or if he truly wanted to shed light on the root
causes of this tragedy, perhaps the story could have analyzed redlining and the myriad
of government policies that directly lead to the conditions where events like this are a
very real part of life.
All of these present very real obstacles and serve to limit life chances for people of
color. Certainly, these are at least as relevant as the foolishness Mr. Rupar decided to
include in his story. Furthermore, it is high time that they become part of the dominant
narrative, and for white folks to take a step back (or be pushed) to consider their
privilege – especially those in the media. As Dr. Cornel West said, “race matters” and if
you, Mr. Rupar, cannot see that, then you and all reporters like you have no business
framing the news in this community.
There are only two options for you at this point: 1) Articulate how you plan to inform
yourself about your privilege. I am sure there are plenty of folks in the community
willing to have those conversations with you. Or 2) Lose your job, either voluntarily or
otherwise. It is time to notice the water.