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Posts Tagged ‘Native American’

Make Your Call on the Washington Football Team Name

american-football-151765_150The NFL’s Washington Redskins have been around since 1932. The team’s nickname has been discussed, disputed and disparaged for a long time as well. In writing this column, I debated whether to use it.

In mid-June, the U.S. Patents and Trademark Office announced that it was tearing up the team’s trademark registration, finding that it was “disparaging to Native Americans” and thus could no longer be given trademark protection.

Is avoiding the term advocacy?

Team owner Daniel Snyder is on the record saying he will never change the team’s name and fans and supporters – including some Native Americans – embrace the name. Journalists and media outlets have taken a stand on the issue themselves.

Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, the Washington Post’s Christine Brennan and NBC’s Bob Costas are some of the most prominent journalists who have called for a name change. On the other side, Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly has voiced support for the name.

The Pew Research Center reported last year that 76 journalists and news outlets such as The Oregonian (whose policy dates back to 1992), the San Francisco Chronicle, Slate and the New Republic have decided not to use the nickname. Poynter recently compiled its own list.

But is this kind of advocacy media outlets should be taking? Some argue that media outlets have always set a limit on terms that they consider offensive to readers, viewers and listeners. For example, refusal to use the n-word is nearly universal in American news media.

Others, though, argue that the term has long been part of the American lexicon, used by some Native Americans themselves. Changing it, they say, would simply give in to the “politically correct” police.

And yet opposition to the name from such organizations as the National Congress of American Indians and the Oneida Nation continues to grow – and is becoming more difficult for the news media to ignore.

If it offends, stop using it

So how should media outlets handle the Washington mascot controversy?

Former Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial page editor Mark Trahant, who is now the Atwood Journalism chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said it should be an easy call – if it offends, stop using it.

“With Washington you don’t have to go beyond the dictionary; (the) word is defined as a slur,” said Trahant, a member of Idaho’s Shoshone-Bannock tribe, in an interview via social media. “I remember repeating the R-word as a kid, early 60s. My dad told me that’s a word we don’t use. One test for journalists: Would you use the word in a community of Natives where you are not known? If no, then keep it out of sports pages.”

A Native American Studies professor and former journalism professor, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, wrote in an email that she believes the media’s role is to be a leader on the issue.

“What should media outlets do? The right thing,” she said. “I can’t believe there’s an editor alive who doesn’t know this term is offensive to many and for good reasons, both historic and contemporary. Hasn’t the public often relied on the media to set the moral high bar, provide guidance for ethical, responsible behavior and decision-making? Why stop short now?”

At the very least, every newsroom should have a brutally honest discussion about the name. More importantly – journalists must get beyond their comfort zone, take a stand and make a call whether or not to use the term.

Clyde Hughes is a freelance journalist based in Lafayette, Indiana, who wrote many years for the Toledo Blade. He has written for newspapers, magazines and websites around the country and taught courses on covering minorities in the media and media ethics as an adjunct professor.

Stories Have Power: Honor the Trust You’re Given

Who’s News is inviting top journalists and journalism educators to share their thoughts on inclusion in the news. Here, Teresa Trumbly Lamsam explains what two Native American journalists are learning as they curate a wellness blog.

Omaha, NE – As a journalist who cut her teeth on the copy desk, I should have pondered the likely editing woes in managing Wellbound Storytellers, a wellness blog written by non-journalists.

However, on reflection, I’m not sure well-laid Wellbound2plans would have worked.Why not? Because I’m the one who got “schooled.” All of those so-called editing headaches turned out to be lessons for me, the experienced editor.

I have condensed those lessons here as they relate to covering health, in particular, American Indian health and wellness.

Stories take time
As perhaps one of the few journalists still in love with the Inverted Pyramid, I value low word counts, aka, a story easy to cut. But people do not tell their wellness stories with a compelling nut graf in mind. At first, I was reluctant to get out of the way of a long personal narrative.

Fellow journalist and Wellbound blogger Rhonda LeValdo was more patient. “I think, if someone is going to tell you a really personal story, let them have the time to do that,” she said. “I don’t badger someone for information … like why they started doing certain things. Maybe it was a death close to them.”

LeValdo, past president of the Native American Journalists Association, said that people talk about personal health issues when they are ready, not just because you need to meet a deadline.

Sometimes, our journalism conventions get in the way of the stories.

Sharing creates vulnerability
The idea behind Wellbound Storytellers is to mobilize the collective, community nature of American Indians to be more transparent about our paths to wellness. The mission is to model the resiliency that characterizes the history and future of Native peoples.

We found that people were generally eager to talk about their health issues, but not as excited to share those stories openly. At first we were surprised. Levaldo and I were expecting other American Indians to share stories for the sake of community health.

In private conversations, people were passionate in telling us their stories. Everyone agreed that these stories needed to be out there, but few were willing to let it be their own stories.

Here are the main reasons behind the reluctance:

Stories have power: A shared belief among many American Indians is that stories in themselves carry power. Wellbound3 History has shown that trusting others with that power – whether reporters or readers – has not proven beneficial.

Storytelling skills: People are not confident in their writing or storytelling and don’t want others to judge them based on it. Also, storytelling is sometimes considered a quasi-official role in the community and therefore only the duty of some.

Embarrassment: For some, letting their health issues out there for the world to see is just embarrassing. Even minor considerations are a concern. As one potential blogger said,“What if I talk about my new healthy eating lifestyle and then someone sees me out eating cake!”

Consequences: What would others do with this personal information? Some worried about being fired if the tribal government found out they had cancer, for example. Others worried about ridicule. One blogger, who pushed past her fears, worried she would be shunned by the community for talking about controversial health concerns.

To a journalist, stories may just be part of the interview process. But for many American Indians, stories carry the wellness we need within them. At Wellbound Storytellers, we walk the balance between producing online content and carefully respecting the power of storytelling.

Teresa Trumbly Lamsam, Ph.D., is the editor and creator of Wellbound Storytellers and executive editor of Native Health News Alliance, a website for journalists under development. She is an associate professor in the School of Communication at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. Teresa, an enrolled member of the Osage Nation, is a former tribal press editor. 

Telling their own stories: How two Native journalists got past gloomy health statistics to find stories of resiliency

Teresa Trumbly Lamsam, who founded Wellbound Storytellers

Teresa Trumbly Lamsam, who founded Wellbound Storytellers

Who’s News is inviting top journalists and journalism educators to share their thoughts on inclusion in the news. Here, Teresa Trumbly Lamsam explains why two Native American journalists decided to find a way to improve health coverage.

Omaha, NE – American Indians and Alaska Natives (AIAN) have the poorest health status in the US and a lower life expectancy, including a higher rate (1.6 times non-Hispanic White population) of infant mortality.

AIANs also endure high levels of suicide and mental health concerns, obesity, diabetes, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, liver disease, and hepatitis.

As an American Indian journalist, educator, and tribal member, I was acquainted with the statistics. I could even put names and faces to many of those numbers.

The statistics may paint an accurate, revealing and even necessary picture of AIANs as the sickest people in the country. But after year after year of reporting and reading them, I became jaded about American Indian health news and maybe a little fatalistic.

I reached the “whatever” point. That point where you are ready to walk away and tell the status quo to have at it. But a reality check was right around the corner.

Rhonda pic

Rhonda LeValdo, former NAJA president, producer and host of “Native Spirit” radio show at KKFI 90.1 FM

As if on cue, my own health status became an issue, and given that my personality is not a good fit with cynicism, I shucked the jaded attitude and started looking for solutions. That search led me to Native journalist Rhonda LeValdo, who at the time was president of the Native American Journalists Association.

Turns out, health was on the top of her mind too, both personally and professionally. She was grieving the loss of family members to diabetes complications, and as a parent, determined that diabetes would not claim her or her children.

First we commiserated over the sad state of health reporting for American Indians in mainstream and tribal media. However, criticism wasn’t really doing it for us. We wanted to make a difference in news reporting – a difference that we hoped would also translate to better health in Native communities.

If teary eyes and passionate rhetoric could make a difference, we were well on our way. We left our meeting with a pledge to come up with an idea. Any idea would do because we were desperate to do something, even if it fell flat.

Wellbound ScreenshotSoon after I emailed LeValdo and suggested that we just blog about our own health journeys and recruit other Native journalists to join us. Within the first week of announcing the blog, American Indians who had read about Wellbound Storytellers were emailing to ask if they could contribute. The citizen health journalism blog was born.

Whether they are writing about disease or marathons, our bloggers focus on health through both traditional and contemporary frames using humor and everyday stories of resiliency. They come from all walks of life. Even the journalists write in a personal, conversational tone.

The statistics and perceptions about American Indian health paint us a pitiful people with an outlook of fatalism. The mission of Wellbound Storytellers is to show that health struggles and triumphs can go hand-in-hand. In your coverage of American Indians, consider striking this balance, too.

(Next up: Part 2 focuses on the lessons that Wellbound bloggers taught me about reporting on health and wellness.)

Teresa Trumbly Lamsam, Ph.D., is the editor and creator of Wellbound Storytellers and executive editor of Native Health News Alliance, a website for journalists under development. She is an associate professor in the School of Communication at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. Teresa, an enrolled member of the Osage Nation, is a former tribal press editor. 

(Photos courtesy of Teresa Trumbly Lamsam.)

Native Americans are People, Not Animals or Objects

Former KQDS-TV news director Jason Vincent may not have realized he was channeling Lt. Richard Pratt at the time, but Vincent was when he posted a rant on his Facebook page calling a Native American man an animal. In 1898, Pratt wrote in the Carlisle Indian Helper (school newspaper for the Carlisle Indian Industrial School), “when we agree with the oft-repeated sentiment that the only good Indian is a dead one, we mean this characteristic of the Indian. Carlisle’s mission is to kill THIS Indian, as we build up the better man.”

So it seems that Vincent was in agreement when he wrote on his Facebook page, “Add drunk, homeless, Native American man to the list of animals that have wandered into my yard… Then he proceed to wave at me and give me the peace sign when he spotted me in the window. Wow…”What makes Vincent’s comment even more egregious is that he claims to be part Native himself.

Just when so many of my students claim there are no more race problems in America, we see issues such as this on the rise again. This isn’t the first attack against Native American images in the past few years; it is only one of the latest. The idea of the Native as an animal was resurrected a few years ago with the popular Twilight series – the idea that Native men can transform themselves into hairy, snarling animals, giving the illusion that Natives are less than human. The idea seems to be catching on.

The Native American Journalists Association issued a statement decrying the Vincent incident and two other recent words/works by journalists that defames Native Americans. NAJA called on journalists to be more careful in both their reporting and the casual comments that may go before readers/viewers/listeners.

“The character of the (Vincent) comments falls far short of the standards that NAJA expects of journalists, both in the mainstream and tribal media,” the NAJA statement reads. “Our organization supports the Duluth’s station general manager’s decision to accept Vincent’s resignation from his position this week.”

In the same statement, NAJA officials cited Matt Lauer who jokingly calling Meredith Viera an “Indian giver” on the Today Show. NAJA officials said the term “invokes a stereotype and inaccuracy about our history that is offensive to Native people. It should not be used on a national news program, even in a passing reference. NAJA asks that NBC and Lauer apologize for the comment.”

So far, there has been no response from either Lauer or NBC.

NAJA also cautioned reporters to be careful when delving into the controversial human rights case out of Rapid City, S.D. involving a Cheyenne River Sioux elder, Vern Traversie. The elder has post-surgical scars on his body which the AP used to liken the elder’s supporters as stanch believers of “spotting the Madonna in a water stain.” Los Angeles Times columnist John M. Glionna used a similar image, this time saying the image was in a taco shell or tree trunk. “When reporting on Native American issues like this, journalists and media outlets should be mindful of the context of what is being reported,” the NAJA statement reads. “Comparing Traversie’s scars to a vision of the Virgin Mary have the potential to dehumanize the situation.”

[Correction: The above paragraph originally referenced “Rapid City, N.D.” The city is in South Dakota.]

Native Americans are people, not animals or objects. Journalists need to remember this and act accordingly. As it states in our SPJ Code of Ethics:

• Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.
• Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
• Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
• Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.

Any journalist who has a question about how to accurately cover Native Americans should call NAJA at (405) 325-9008.

Vincent who was the news director of Fox 21 in the Duluth, Minnesota, resigned on August 17. The station issued an apology and Vincent also apologized on

Rebecca Tallent is a member of the SPJ Diversity Committee.  She’s an associate professor of journalism at the University of Idaho and an award-winning business and environmental reporter in her previous life.  Her current academic research involves Native American news media.  She is of Cherokee heritage. 

Use Bloomberg and Disney News to Deepen Health Coverage

It’s been a fun couple of weeks for health news, with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg rationing soda portions and the Disney Co. calling a halt to junk food advertising for kids. You can do more with this story, though, than just trot out arguments for and against.

Bloomberg and Disney aim to block structural incentives to eat sugary, salty foods – and through their policy efforts, trim obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Their specific approaches certainly are open to debate. But public health departments across the country have been pleading for some type of policy-based, structural change. Their priority: Halt the disproportionate impact of dire health conditions on specific population groups.

Take a close look at the obesity statistics. African Americans and Mexican Americans have the highest rates across the country. And while we tend to associate obesity with low incomes, that’s not true here – at least for men. Nationally, African American and Mexican American men with higher incomes are more likely to be overweight than their lower-income counterparts. What’s going on?

To take the story one step further, consider that high weight puts people at risk for diabetes, a life-long chronic condition characterized by a roller-         coaster of blood sugar levels – and devastating complications –  if not kept under control. Puerto Ricans and Mexican Americans have the highest risk for diabetes of all ethnic or racial groups, close to double that of non-Hispanic white people. The rate for non-Hispanic black people also is much higher than for whites – by three-quarters. Diabetes is rising dangerously among Native Americans, too.

Photo Courtesy: CDC

While all of us are at high risk for heart disease, both African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to die of strokes than non-Hispanic white people.How about using this moment to probe the value of Bloomberg’s and Disney’s approaches and their potential effectiveness as structural solutions to health disparities? And why not reach a little deeper to cover the populations most affected by these health conditions?

Big differences in lifelong health don’t trace back to genetics, education or even solely individual choice, according to the latest thinking in public health. Do efforts like Bloomberg’s or Disney’s help balance the equation?That’s a question worth investigating.

Sally Lehrman is a member of the SPJ Diversity Committee. She holds Santa Clara University’s Knight Ridder — San Jose Mercury News Endowed Chair in Journalism and the Public Interest. Sally is also an author and independent journalist who specializes in covering identity, race relations and gender within the context of medicine and science.


News Coverage of Native Americans: It’s all about context

The New York Times recently produced several excellent, well-reported articles exploring residents’ concerns about crime and alcohol on Indian reservations. But for those who don’t get their Native news elsewhere, these are fine but dangerously finite offerings.

The strong dose of negativity drew a sobering response from 19-year-old Willow Pingree, who wrote in a comment on one article:

“I have lived on the reservation since I was born. I will be only twenty in July, but as far as I’m concerned, I’ve seen my share of good and bad things on this reservation. Not EVERTHING about this reservation is bad. Sure there is a huge problem with domestic violence and alcoholism, but we try to work together as a community to fight it. We have not given up. … It is a sad thing that people are quick to judge about a place where they have not lived.”

Indeed, it’s far too easy for most of us to be quick to judge. Unless we’re American Indian ourselves, it’s quite likely that all we know or read about Indian nations points to hard times and hard lives.

News Only Focuses on the Negative

The “Indians, American” section in Times topics, plus a quick search on Lexis-Nexis for good measure, reveals a dearth of stories about anything other than troubling topics. Besides the crime and alcohol stories, so far this year readers have learned about a violent tribal power struggle, a cigarette tax fight, and a New York legislator who got into a fight in a casino. To be fair, a Mar. 14 Style piece discussed cultural appropriation and a January piece highlighted the Makah Indian Nation’s efforts to draw tourists to a their home, where the wind is “brutal” and the rain, ”relentless.”

Perhaps it’s unjust to pick on the New York Times. Native Americans rarely make it into the news anywhere other than the Native press, and when they do, the story is usually the same: crime, violence, alcohol.

Improve Your Coverage of Native Americans:  List of Sources

Navajo children at Ft. Defiance, AZ/ Photo Courtesy: Donovan Shortey

We can all do a better job filling out a more balanced picture. For some leads and ideas, check out these news sites and blogs:

Indian Country Today

News From Indian Country


Native Legal Update

Turtle Talk

Tsalagi Think Tank


Julia Good Fox


Sally Lehrman is a member of the SPJ Diversity Committee. She holds Santa Clara University’s Knight Ridder — San Jose Mercury News Endowed Chair in Journalism and the Public Interest.  Sally is also an author and independent journalist who specializes in covering identity, race relations and gender within the context of medicine and science.

Diversity Committee: George Daniels and Sandy Frost

Our diversity committee is made up of people committed in making a difference in the landscape of journalism.Today we’re introducing you to two more members.  They come from different backgrounds and opposite sides of the country.

George DanielsGeorge Daniels is a faculty member of University of Alabama. He’s also the former chair of the SPJ Journalism Education Committee.

“I joined the SPJ Diversity Committee because diversifying our newsrooms has been a perennial goal of mine as a full-time working journalist and now as a full-time journalism professor. 

In my current position on the journalism faculty at The University, I not only teach two courses that focus on issues of difference or diversity in the media, but I also have made topics/issues of diversity a part of the academic research that I do. 

SPJ cannot be the nation’s largest, most broad-based group of journalists if it does not reflect the breadth of experiences and backgrounds of those who populate our profession.”

Sandy Frost is is online investigative journalist for Newsvine.com in Tacoma, Washington.

Sandy Frost“I was asked to serve on the diversity committee because of my work for the Western Washington Pro Chapter. It is my hope to help other journalists understand how words matter, no matter who or what they are covering.

 The concept of diversity extends beyond who we are to include those we love and how we identify. As the proud mother of a transgender son, I hope to bring a certain awareness for equal rights and justice, whether it’s health care, marriage, employment or housing. I also want to contribute to a greater understanding of American Indian issues.

 Recently,  a celebrity mother used the derogatory term ‘Indian giver’ to describe her daughter keeping her expensive wedding ring. Instead of getting angry or demanding an apology, let’s use situations like this as ‘teachable moments,’ educate with compassion and move on. “  


Every year there are changes on committees. We’re just making sure that as members you know who we are and what we stand for. Please feel free to contact us if you have an ideas for our blog.  Stay tuned for the next committee member profiles.

Stop by again!

Rebecca Aguilar an Emmy award winning reporter based in Dallas, TX.  She has 30 years of experience, with 28 in television news.  She’s also a board member with the SPJ-Fort Worth Chapter and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.


The SPJ Diversity Committee: Working towards equality and fairness in the media

SPJ 2011 Conference

I was asked to sit on the SPJ Diversity Committee at the SPJ convention in New Orleans.  I met many of the members and was inspired by their determination to improve diversity in newsrooms and news coverage.  

Each one of the committee members has the goal of diversity in common, but they all bring different experiences and journalism passions to the table.  Though they are all very busy individuals; I wondered why volunteering to be on this committee was important.  There is much to learn from what they have to say.


Curtis Lawrence is the chairman of the SPJ Diversity Committee and a professor of journalism at Columbia College in Chicago, Illinois:

Back in the 1980s shortly after I graduated from college, I remember reading how the American Society of Newspaper Editors vowed to make newsrooms reflect the racial and ethnic makeup of their communities by 2000.  A lot has changed since then. For example, ASNE is now the American Society of News Editors, reflecting the national decline of newspapers. And a lot has stayed the same.

Curtis Lawrence

Many of the faces in our newsrooms still do not reflect the communities they serve. That’s why I feel keeping the diversity issue at the forefront of discussions about our changing  media landscape is crucial.Aside from my work with SPJ, I also am involved with encouraging and training young journalist of color in the Chicago area.

I co-founded an organization at Columbia called Columbia Links. We reach out to students in the Chicago Public Schools and train them in the basics of journalism. That’s where it will have to begin if we’re going to continue to change the face of journalism.”


Justin Chenette is an assistant morning producer and weekend web producer at WPFO-Fox 23 in Portland, Maine. 

“It is important that stories are told about people from all walks of life, not just the ones that are the easiest to source or the ones most prominent in our society. This ideology is the basis for my continued interest and participation in the SPJ Diversity Committee.

Only through the incorporation of diversity training or diversifying newsrooms, with highly qualified individuals with a dynamic range of backgrounds, can news operations truly report a cross section of the entire community in which they serve.  

Justin Chenette

 Our country is facing some tough issues many of which are very controversial social dilemmas. We have the issue of illegal immigration, gay rights/marriage equality, equal pay amongst the sexes; the list goes on and on. With each issue comes their own set of unique challenges for the journalists that cover them.

 Do you use the phrase illegal immigrant or undocumented worker? Do you use the term gay or homosexual? Opening the dialogue about these topics can spur an awareness of how the media portrays, correctly or incorrectly, millions of people.”


We currently have 17 members on our committee.  Find out who they are in upcoming blogs.

Thanks for stopping by!

Rebecca Aguilar is an Emmy award winning reporter based in Dallas, TX.  She has 30 years of experience, with 28 in television news.  She’s also a board member with the SPJ-Fort Worth Chapter and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Reporting on same-sex marriage in minority communities

By Abby Henkel

The issue of marriage rights for same-sex couples has become a frequent topic in the news. When reporting on issues in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community, journalists will no doubt come across complex topics that require thoughtful consideration and different ways of approaching an increasingly common story.

Consider the Suquamish Tribe in Washington, which recently legalized marriage for same-sex couples. Effective, conscientious reporting on this story demands more than just correct use of terminology and a Who-What-Where-When-Why approach. Getting the whole story means taking into account not only the national discussions on same-sex marriage, but also the views on same-sex relationships and marriage generally held by the particular tribe and across Native American cultures.

SPJ’s Diversity Toolbox can be a good place to start for guidance in covering a story when the reporter is not fully familiar with the community or culture. One suggestion you’ll find is to “talk to new types of people – those with day-to-day knowledge about an issue, not simply formal expertise.” In doing so, you will give the source an opportunity to tell you what really matters to that person’s community.

Becky Tallent, a University of Idaho journalism professor and member of both the SPJ Diversity Committee and the Native American Journalists Association, explains a common misunderstanding by non-Native Americans, “that all tribes are alike. Nothing can be further from the truth. We are all separate and distinct.” She continues, recommending that “if a non-Native reporter were to go out and cover the GLBTQA community in Native America, they should first explore how the specific tribe views GLBTQA as part of their culture. Yes, this can mean significant leg work…They need to become a common sight in the tribe, not just someone who drops in for breaking news.”

In the case of the Suquamish Tribe, a reporter not familiar with the culture might initially expect that the issue of legalizing marriage for same-sex couples was heated and controversial, or that it came down to whether a majority of tribal members hold “traditional family values.” However, according to news reports, it appears the issue was more about timing and an assertive advocate for marriage rights. In an interview with The Associated Press, Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman explains: “I’m just happy that we’re able to get the work done that will allow the same rights and privileges to all people, regardless of sexual orientation. It was a process that took longer than expected. We have a lot competing needs.”

In the end, when one member stood up and asked for an immediate vote, the group was unanimously in favor of same-sex marriage rights.

Tallent explains another detail that could be lost.

“What most Native Nations do believe in is the right of everyone to speak,” she said. “Every single tribal member has a voice, and, for the most part, those voices are listened to and respected. It is the ultimate in free speech. Anyone covering Native America needs to understand this is the real power of the people.”

Helen Zia offers an insightful look into expecting one answer and receiving another, from a reporter’s point of view, published here on the website of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. Like Tallent’s assertion that not all Native American nations support same-sex marriage rights just because some do, Zia explains that even among peers whom she believes share her beliefs (here, LGBT Asian Americans), there are differences of opinion and experience that make generalizations futile.

Reporting on issues in diverse or unfamiliar communities, then, is an exercise in asking open questions and listening to the complexities of the answers.

Abby Henkel is SPJ’s communications coordinator and a 2011 graduate of Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs master’s program, where she worked on diversity initiatives.

Diversity in the US Census is important

Currently, there are 29 racial or ethnic designations on the U.S. Census form. I have to ask “Why only 29?” And being from a community excluded from the Census, I have to ask again, “Why even have that designation if you can’t include everyone?”

Here’s the list:

White; Hispanic (listed five different ways) Hispanic, Latino or Spanish Origin, Mexican American, Chicano, (What country does Chicano come from?), Black (listed three different ways) Black, African American, Negro, American Indian or Alaskan Native (they get space to write in their “Tribe”), Asians and listed as Asian, Asian Indian, Japanese, Native Hawaiian, Chinese, Korean, Guamanian or Chamorro, Filipino, Vietnamese, Samoan and “Other Asian” such as Laotian, Thai, Pakistani, and Cambodian. And finally, they have Pacific Islander, Fijian, Tongan.

47 actual words describing ethnicity and race and 313 characters. And they can’t add one more word or 4 more characters to the list.

For the past three decades, American Arabs have been asked by the Federal Government and urged by their leadership (many funded by the U.S. Census through grants and full time jobs) to ignore their exclusion from the list and instead write their name “Arab” on the “Other” line at the bottom of the list.

I think it is wrong. I think diversity loses it’s significance when it is narrowly defined and some ethnicities are excluded for, in my opinion, political reasons.

The whole point of including identities is to encourage individuals to participate and identify themselves. Including their names on the Census form is a form of respect and recognition that encourages their participation. It holds precisely true to then argue that excluding a group from the form discourages that participation. If they are on there, they will participate more. If they are not on there they will, therefore, not participate more.

American Arabs (and Muslims, a religious designation often wrongly interchanged by the mainstream media to designate the larger racial or ethnic group of Arabs), have been center stage in an international drama over war, conflict, terrorism and discrimination. Everyday the issue of Arabs and Muslims is raised and yet society and the mainstream media feel comfortable to argue a dichotomy in conflicting reasoning that 1) Arabs are a potential national threat and therefore should be profiled (counted in a negative manner) and 2) Arabs are “Caucasian” or White and therefore should not be counted in a positive way.

What is a a positive way? Well, counting Arabs officially, would open the door to a vast amount of racial and ethnic protections.

In communities across the country, police departments are required to note the race or ethnicity of motorists that they stop for alleged traffic violations and ticketing. Why? Because communities want to know if certain ethnic groups are being targeted for racial and discriminatory reasons.

Arabs are stopped on a huge scale — American Arab communities suspect — and they are the victims of ongoing discrimination. But not being “recognized” officially by the Federal Government means they are not counted and are blended in to the larger identity of White. The fact is in many communities, racism against Arabs is rampant but we don’t have a way to measure that because the mechanisms for measuring that kind of bigotry by government agencies, including starting with the U.S. Census, does not exist.

American Arab journalists have been lobbying UNITY: Journalists of Color for official recognition, but our requests have been rejected as soundly and as disrespectfully as the White mainstream media has long fought opening the doors of the Fourth Estate to the inclusion of Blacks, Hispanics and Asians.

That needs to change. American Arabs need to stand up and protest and say that the process of excluding an ethnic and racial group from the U.S. Census for the past three decades (at least since 1980 when American Arabs were first pushed to “write in” their race “Arab”) must end. The mainstream media which claims to care about issues of diversity needs to also take a second look at the selfishness of the diversity process so far. Just having “their” representatives at the mainstream news media table is not the proper response for the need for diversity in the media. It is not “true diversity” if the groups represented in UNITY and on the US Census are only certain groups represented and others are excluded. We do not have true diversity.

— Ray Hanania



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