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The Blizzard of 2016 was just beginning to bear down on D.C. a week ago and I was stuck in snowless Toronto, left only with my memories of Snowmageddon, which taught me how fun it could be for a city to shut down. In Canada, a snowstorm isn’t shit and we’re forced to hike through mountains of snow to get to work and school on a regular basis.
Feeling left out, I spent my Friday night tuned to ABC 7’s live coverage, watching well into the early hours of Saturday. For the next several days, I experienced Snowzilla vicariously by devouring all reports, photos and videos of the storm.
I started to notice something. In local media coverage of the snowstorm, D.C.’s black and other nonwhite residents have been virtually erased. Either I missed the exodus of more than half of the city’s residents, or the media was simply neglecting to include the perspective and experience of anyone who doesn’t live in NW, Virginia, or Montgomery County.
For example, the Washington Post had two major photo galleries of the storm: “Deadly winter storms hits the nation’s capital,” and “What the D.C. area looks like after the epic blizzard.” Both contain their fair share of empty streets and snow-covered cars, but there are also plenty of photos of people frolicking in, walking in, and shoveling the snow.
Counting only clearly visible faces, I found that the first gallery has 17 images of white people and just two that include people who are not white. The second gallery? Thirteen white and one where I can’t quite tell because of winter clothing.
The Post did publish two stories during the storm featuring African-American residents—one about homeless people, and one about people who live without heat during winter storms. These are important stories, but they do little to include black people in the snowstorm narrative of D.C. collectively having fun, digging out, and helping neighbors.
Fox 5’s #TheWinterAwakens photo gallery features 13 photos of white people and three of people who are not white.
WUSA9’s user-submitted gallery “Blizzard 2016” features about 40 photos of white people and 10 nonwhite. Unless the photos were selectively curated, it seems African American residents may have been less likely to submit their photos to WUSA. However, WUSA’s small non-user-submitted gallery, “Historic snow blankets DC” features only white people in photos where faces can be clearly seen.
ABC 7 fared better, with the photo gallery “Iconic views of your nation’s capital coping with blizzard” featuring roughly equal numbers of white and nonwhite people. NBC 4’s “D.C. Blanketed by Blizzard of 2016” was 60 percent white, 40 percent black.
With the demise of the community Gazette papers in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties—shuttered by Post Community Media—local media should be stepping up to make sure everyone in the region is covered equally. Instead, to those reading most local news sites during the storm, the D.C. region seems only to include majority-white, upper middle class communities. If I had shown these sites to my Canadian friends, they could only have concluded that D.C. is almost entirely white, with a smattering of African American and Hispanic people.
I’m pretty sure people were digging out their cars in Fort Totten. And I bet kids were playing in the snow in Anacostia. It’s a shame local media didn’t think their experiences were important enough to document.
Kiah Berkeley is a master’s student in Toronto.