On October 25th, 2016 Seattle hosted a panel discussion called Journalism So White in response to the 2015 article in the Atlantic titled Where Are All The Minority Journalists. Or rather the attempted to.
Hosted by renowned Seattle editor and writer, Marcus Green, of the South Seattle Emerald, the Town Hall event, boasted a sponsorship list, including the Seattle Times, The Seattle Globalist, Pacific Northwest Magazine, KCTS, Real Change Homelessness Empowerment Project and host of other award winning publications and media to bring into focus the reckless epidemic of a white dominant journalism world. For race and equity, this is the boys club of boys club’s.
The panelists, all persons of color, spoke as candidly as their job titles would allow. Sharing their experience as a minority in such a white dominated field and discussing the effects media has on specific cultural groups as a whole. As well as the impact of when they are written about through the lens of an outside perspective.
After speaking with a number of the audience members, and those who asked questions at the end of the event, I came to a similar conclusion with the few people of color in the audience. Thus there are a couple of points of critique that influence the overall “success” of the event. But before we do so, let's get into what they did right.
To start, the audience was treated to a very comprehensive definition of the word ‘diversity’ and its meaning to each panelist. Reagan Jackson of the South Seattle Emerald, noted that the word diversity implies a certain feel of the ‘other’ or apart from what we absentmindedly see or view as ‘normality’, and that this is problematic -- providing a very important and a critical review of the rhetoric conveyed in the overuse of the word ‘diversity’. A more refreshing response was later provided pointing out that instead of diversity being a word representing numbers and ratios that HR groups stress over that it should be used as a word that communicates a holistic level of representation. The rhetoric of diversity was well executed and understood in popular professional culture as being something aimed for, or a goal to reach, but the event spoke to the need for a paradigm change, from aspiring to living and being.
This issue of the lack of diversity, as presented, brings in the question of workforce demand in terms of minority applicants.
The portion of the event featuring live in-house questions by audience members and media contributors, is when the panelists lack of social and political analysis started to show, especially as it pertains to issues specific to people of color and other minorities. A Real Change columnist, asked the very important question of how can journalists help spot and defuse crimes of cultural appropriation, as it is often easily confused with ignorant efforts to ‘showcase’ diversity. Directly tying in with one of the first conversation topics describing diversity often being an aimed goal but not an organic reality.
Another audience member brought up the question of: what is the difference between highlighting the needs of representation for people of color, and simply alienating a market of people that need to be exposed to news about other cultures, by just pandering to our own niche audience? This also included discussion about the vice-versa.
The last word during the event, came not from the moderator, but from a young reporter (also a person of color) calling out the presence of patriarchy in those that asked questions and challenged the remarks of the moderator.
Now, if I look at this event with honest eyes, one can applaud the effort and the willingness to talk on an issue that is so taboo (thanks to America’s love affair with, and obedient fear of White Privilege), but there was an elephant standing in the room. As a reporter, writer, and person of color, I noticed a certain unaddressed and unwritten rule surrounding journalists and why might it be an overwhelmingly white presence. A certain representation and demonstration of an attained, poised, and polished persona that is expected to exude from a journalist. Its professional culture AND respectability politics that communicates to our young writers, that THIS is what you are supposed to sound like. That high art, and credible writing has to sound just like it was written by large media outlets that-- speak of the devil--are guiltily silent in the wake of Dakota Access Pipeline, Constant Black death in Chicago and tried with every fiber to hush the fire around Freddy Grey in 2015).
What if good reporting (journalism) was allowed to be real? Was raw, and was encouraged to speak and reflect the culture and dialect, of the people given the same worth as you, or I? I would like to say that this had to have been something thought about, but for whatever reason, perhaps typically ‘Seattle’ political correctness, it was absent from the conversation.