Sociologist Darnell Hunt studied how perceptions of media coverage of the 1992 LA Riots differed by race in Screening the Los Angeles ‘Riots’: Race, Seeing, and Resistance. Hunt recently reflected on his research:
Darnell Hunt was a graduate student at the time of the riots, studying race and media.
“I was looking for a case study,” he said. “And then the riots happened.”
He immediately focused on the reaction to the news coverage of the riots, which would later form the basis for his dissertation. Hunt took his camcorder down to the center of the protests and left the VCR running, he said, so he could compare the media’s take on the events that day compared to the reality just outside as part of his research.
Hunt is now a sociology professor at UCLA, and director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies. While he witnessed firsthand much of the upheaval across the city while conducting his research, he said he found optimism in the clean-up period following the six days that the riots took place.
“People saw (the aftermath) as this moment when people came together around a common cause, across racial lines, and talked about the possibility of coalitions and achieving some type of progress,” he said.
Hunt’s research from 20 years ago, which he continues to observe and build upon, showed that people of different ethnicities perceived media depictions differently.
Thursday, he spoke at a UCLA event that explored the role played by the media during the L.A. riots.
Hunt recalled the riots still being fresh in the minds of many when he started out as a professor, but now only a couple of hands go up when he asks who remembers them in his lectures, he said.
But the issues that contributed to the riots are still relevant, he said. Unemployment and economic disparity have not necessarily improved in the city, he said.
“It’s been a couple steps forward, a couple steps back,” Hunt said. “One positive development is that we do have more communication across racial and ethnic lines.”
Several quick thoughts:
1. This seems to be a good example of taking advantage of a research opportunity. Does this illustrate the advantages of being at a school in a big urban center where a lot of things are going on?
2. Though the remarks above are brief, it sounds like Hunt is suggesting that not much has changed in regards to race in Los Angeles?
3. I’m amused that Hunt says that students don’t remember these events. Of course, traditional students in college today would have been born between 1990 and 1995 so it would be difficult to remember events from 1992. At the same time, this illustrates the need for faculty to keep up with research: if the careers of faculty are mainly based on their dissertation, this could become outdated or uninteresting to new generations rather quickly. That doesn’t mean students shouldn’t know about what a professor researched but the passage of time can make it harder to make a case for its relevance.