Media Literacy + Social Justice
At the 2019 NAMLE conference in Washington DC, one of our most popular sessions was the plenary discussion centered around media literacy, social justice, and equity. Fast forward, and the year 2020 put social justice and racial equity at the forefront of most of our public discourse. This was due to the continuing contentious national political landscape, the inhumane treatment of immigrants, amplification of educational and digital inequities, the growing environmental crisis, and the senseless murders of Black people. The ensuing uprising brought millions to the streets in support of the Black Lives Matter movement to demand the defunding of the police in order to establish racial justice and reimagine public safety. In addition to all of this, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the aforementioned inequities as it continues to disproportionately affect our most marginalized communities.
The new year has yet to demonstrate marked changes; in fact, many of us watched on January 6th in horror as an angry mob of Trump supporters, many who believe conspiracy theories related to the 2020 election, sought to overturn the results in a violent coup attempt. For each of these circumstances, the media has played a significant role, whether as enabler, informer, exposer, or organizer. As a result, there have been renewed calls for teaching media literacy education to ensure that we can overcome the disinformation blitz.
Media literacy has many connections with social justice; in fact, many would say that media literacy is social justice. Specifically, media literacy helps us to understand the relationships between media, information, and power; this is often referred to as critical media literacy. The process of developing media literacy skills helps us to decipher what a piece of media wants you to believe and why, who benefits from you believing it, whose perspectives are valued in mainstream media, whose perspectives are marginalized or missing, and how we might elevate them. It helps us to unpack stereotypes and circulate ideas about various groups. Media literacy promotes inquiry into the effects that propaganda and mis/dis-information have on our politics and how they perpetuate injustices against marginalized groups, the environment, and our sociopolitical climate. In sum, media literacy helps us to understand issues of systemic inequity and who benefits from their maintenance, while also inspiring action, critical change, and the democratization of media industries.
Given all of these connections, NAMLE finds it extremely salient to organize a conference around the topic of Media Literacy + Social Justice.