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SPJ's Diversity Blog » race | A Society of Professional Journalists Blog

Posts Tagged ‘race’


Lynching story fails to identify race of all involved

If we don’t know our history, it is said, we are doomed to repeat it.

The New York Times published a story Feb. 10 that revealed some of the ugly history of the United States of America. A new report documents the lynchings of 4,000 human beings, black people tortured and killed by mobs of white people in 12 Southern U.S. states.

These African-American citizens were attacked and murdered for minor offenses or for doing nothing at all. Some of the killings took place less than a century ago. The Times’ story noted that the organization that compiled the report, the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, plans to erect markers and memorials at the sites of these horrific injustices.

What the Times story did not note was the race of the perpetrators. Vox, and later, Jezebel, called out the nation’s leading newspaper for failing to use the word “white” in its story, as if white, Caucasian people are not a race.

“This sort of oversight is in no way something that only happens in The New York Times or that only happens in the media,” wrote Jenée Desmond-Harris for Vox. “But this is the most recent example of the clunky awkwardness that accompanies discussions about the ways white supremacy shaped our nation’s history.”

Desmond-Harris’ point draws out a common blind spot in our reporting on race. Because media workers overwhelmingly are white, we tend to consider white, Anglo people as the norm, and not as a race, which surely we are.

When we point out that innocent black people were killed by mobs who watched and taunted and don’t identify the race of the people who did the killing, we diminish our own role in the oppression. (Full disclosure: I am white).

A theory called incognizant racism asserts that whites often overlook the concerns and interests of non-white people in favor of their own values and advantages in society. In newsrooms, this incognizant racism can help to uphold the status quo, which continues to favor whites.

If journalists are to be the watchdogs of society, who uphold the truth, it is important that we tell the whole truth. That includes pointing out the role of white people in the sometimes horrific racial history of our nation.

Everbach_head shotTracy Everbach is associate professor of journalism in the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas.

Donald Sterling: Not Just an Angel vs. Devil Story

There’s a lot that can be said of the saga involving Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. While the subject is a target-rich environment for news articles on diversity, sometimes we can get so homed in on the bad guy/good guy aspect that we miss other credible angles.

I attended a reporting on race workshop at the Poynter Institute in 2000 run by Keith Woods, who is now the vice president for diversity in news and operations at National Public Radio. One of the numerous takeaways I remember was that we as reporters often get locked into what he called “angel vs. devil” scenarios when reporting on race.

Reach for Complexity
The person making the perceived racial comment or taking the action is seen as evil, thus everything that person does or has done is viewed through that lens. Likewise, the victim of the perceived racial slight is almost always viewed more sympathetically, and is given a more supportive treatment. Woods tried to get us to step away from that paradigm and look at people involved in racial conflicts in all of their complexities.

That does not mean that Donald Sterling is not worthy of the critical reporting he has received. But reporters should not shy away from the complexities of the story. How does person who through his own words has such a negative view of African-Americans hire such a successful and strong-willed black coach as Doc Rivers? Or, on a more personal level, date a multiracial woman like V. Stiviano?

Likewise, how do we as reporters not critically look at Stiviano’s motives in recording Sterling?

Fresh angles on mental health, ethics

And how does our assessment of Sterling’s comments change if the “mentally incompetent” label sticks?

The initial reporting on the Sterling case brought up his contributions to the local branch of the NAACP and how the group had planned to give him a lifetime achievement award. I had a debate with other journalists on Facebook about this. Some believed the NAACP should never have taken money from Sterling. Others said fundraising is so difficult, especially for African-American and civil rights organizations, that Sterling’s generosity could be considered a “sin tax” and that the NAACP should have gladly accepted it.

That’s just one example of numerous angles that can be mined from the Sterling saga without getting into the “he said, she said” melodrama of the original story. At times we get so caught up in the tawdry details of the “angels vs. devils” that we miss other worthy topics.


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.

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

www.RadioChicagoland.com

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