Truths Regarding Post-truth (+ A Conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates & Jelani Cobb)

By Jaylin Paschal

The Oxford Dictionaries named "post-truth" the word of the year for the hell-freezing, pig air show that was 2016. Post-truth is defined by Oxford as "relations to circumstances in which facts are judged to be less important than emotion and public opinion." Oxford Dictionaries' own Casper Grathwohl said post-truth could become "one of the defining words of our time."

It is important--crucial, even--to note that "post," in this context does not mean "after," but rather implies irrelevancy. It's not even so much that our time is defined by truth as afterthought, but summed up as the complete disregard for truth. And it all makes sense--from the Brexit campaign to the catastrophe that was the United States' 2016 election, truth has been not only been secondary, but has often times been discarded altogether.

Feelings have been prioritized over facts. And it cannot be understated just how dangerous that is. Especially now, when George Zimmerman feels threatened, although he wasn't. When Michael Dunn, feels threatened, although he wasn't. When Dylan Roof feels blackness is encroaching on white wellbeing. When white America feels threatened by Muslims, or refugees, or Mexicans. These "feelings," although not supported by fact, are then exploited by politicos and made the mule of oppressive agendas in the name of an inverted victimhood. They launch campaigns or "movements" of bigotry validated by the feelings which compose the post-truths of their rhetoric. Feelings are weaponized into political tools and all the electorate seems to care about is public opinion and personal interpretation.

A Conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates & Jelani Cobb

On Journalism, Blackness and American History

Howard University, Ira Aldridge Theater, 11/16/16

So what does that mean for journalism? And more specifically, what does that mean for the black press?

If journalists are, as Ta-Nehisi Coates put it, to "pursue the truth," how do we adapt to a sociopolitical landscape which prefers something else? How do we deliver news to an audience which prefers well-curated statements of validation? How do we assert an argument based on an appeal to logos, when our peers are talking pathos? Aren't we tired of President Elect attacking the New York Times for being a vessel of truth?  Aren't we tried of Megyn Kelly being idolized for simply seeking out a basic truth regarding President Elect's perception of women? And aren't we tired of watching Van Jones--a conservative by anyone's measure--seem radical on CNN, simply for insisting on telling the truth?

Then again, perhaps truth-tellers have always been "radical." Ida B. Wells, James Baldwin, Paul Robeson.

This point leads to Jeloni Cobb's regarding the post-truth unveiling: When have we, as black Americans, ever experienced "pre-truth?" "We are not unaccostomed to the posttruth of American History," Cobb said. Post-truth has been wielded against black people in media and politics since the beginning of the African slave trade. This is no new phenomenon. 

"When you're black in this country, you're lied to over and over again," said Coates.

So essentially, journalism must do what real journalism has always done: Pursue the truth.

No more reporting feeling as fact. No more allowing political figures or talking heads to present feelings as if they are fact. No more half-truths, or post-truths, or non-truths. And if nothing changes, at least there is a record. At least "they" of the future will know. At least we called injustice "injustice" and called fairness "fair." At least we captured the truth.

Jelani Cobb, Ta-Nehisi Coates and myself. Howard University. November 16, 2016.

Jelani Cobb, Ta-Nehisi Coates and myself. Howard University. November 16, 2016.

Jaylin PaschalComment