We came across a ridiculous story on Twitter yesterday that proves why representation matters. A local news station in Georgia — WBS-TV — did a story on brujeria but didn’t cover in an informative or factual way. The story centered on drug cartels and how they are using Santa Muerte to further their drug-selling business. Before you start laughing, let me explain it even further.
Reporter Mark Winne did an “investigative” report in which he went to botanica shops and local grocery stores to see the specialized candles that Latinos use for good luck, to ward off evil spirits, and in this case to keep cops away. He also interviewed a Latina, who chose to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, who said that drug dealers use Santa Muerte, and the Jesús Malverde candles to not only recruit drug dealers but to also protect them from going to jail.
Winne writes: “Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson says she was so alarmed by the ‘narco saints,’ she used forfeited drug money to bring an expert in from Texas to educate local police officers about the growing cult worship.”
Dear Lord help these ignorant people!
As soon as the tweet for this story went live, Latinos let the station have it. The network faced so much backlash for their racist story, they deleted the tweet, but the story is still on their website. Journalist Aura Bogado tweeted: “This is what happens when you don’t hire Latinxs in your newsroom.”
The majority of the backlash was in response to the tweets that WBS-TV posted in which they show candles from botanicas. They tweeted fear-inducing tweets to an audience that probably have no idea what botanicas are all about.
“Drug cartel members worship these statues, in hopes of steering clear of police @MarkWinneWSB investigates the effects these ‘evil idols’ have on Georgia streets.” Saying such lies is beyond irresponsible, but outright dangerous.
Dr. Jennifer Wunder tweeted: “@mistiwsb As News Director for WSBTV, are you okay with the way these tweets sensationalize common prayer candles & encourage readers to believe people who purchase/have prayer candles are dangerous drug traffickers? Or the way the posts encourage discriminatory behavior?”
.@mistiwsb As News Director for WSBTV, are you okay with the way these tweets 👇 sensationalize common prayer candles & encourage readers to believe people who purchase/have prayer candles are dangerous drug traffickers? Or the way the posts encourage discriminatory behavior? pic.twitter.com/kPo5beRD6S
— Dr. Jen Wunder (@Jenwunder) May 7, 2019
Journalist Julio Ricardo Varela tweeted: “One of the more embarrassing ‘investigations’ of 2019 did you really not check this story with any Latin American who would have told you that (wait for it) Catholicism is ‘a thing’ in the region? thanks for your media bigotry.”
The story got so many aspects to brujeria and Catholicism wrong. For starters, drug dealers — and bad people in general — will pray to whomever they wish. If they are seeking the guidance of Santa Muerte, you best believe they are praying to Jesus and every other saint in the book. We doubt any news station would sensationalize Jesus if they knew drug dealers were praying to Him. Secondly, botanicas aren’t evil, yet this story makes you believe that these stores are selling free tickets to selling drugs. People will sell drugs regardless, and they sure don’t need a fake saint or candle to help them do it.
White people often wonder why representation in any particular industry such as media, the arts, or business is needed. This outrages story out of Georgia is a perfect example of that. Aside from letting us minorities have a seat at the table because we deserve to be there, having representation will only help these industries. In other words, your business, craft, or story will only make you look good if it seems like you know what you are doing. For example, The Curse of La Llorona movie wouldn’t have gotten backlash if they had hired Latino consultants to inform them of La Llorona and how it should be depicted. The Pepsi commercial featuring Kendall Jenner wouldn’t have been a farce if they had talked to Black Lives Matter activists. And this story by Winne wouldn’t have gotten so much backlash if they had Latinos in their newsroom, but perhaps their main intention is to have people fearful of us.