White Protests, Black Riots: Racialized Representation in American Media

  • Heather Yarrish The University of Texas at Austin


As many political figures have recently noted, there is a significant racial disparity in American news media’s coverage of riots: black rioters are portrayed as dangerous criminals, but white rioters are simply a group of rowdy demonstrators. This article shows the historical roots of this phenomenon by analyzing newspaper coverage of riots in Detroit (1967) and Kent State University (1970) in the first week after each riot began. This research helps establish a pattern of news media’s racialized representation in the context of urban riots. Upon analysis, it is clear that news media villainize black rioters and victimize white rioters, and that these characterizations impact public response. News media thus create different understandings of ultimately similar behavior depending on the rioters’ race—and have for at least the past 50 years.


Author Biography

Heather Yarrish, The University of Texas at Austin

Heather Yarrish graduated with honors degrees in Rhetoric and History from The University of Texas at Austin in 2017. Her scholarship focused on racism and the historical phenomenon of rhetorical “othering,” particularly in the media. She continues this work professionally as she specializes in policy development and implementation of a global tech company’s standards against online hate speech.