Sept. 29 2015 03:22 PM

White journos, editors need to get their ish together

I'm turning into a one-trick pony in this here precious space, but somebody's got to do it. And as soon as white people quit being dicks and we solve racism, then I promise, I'll shift gears forever. On that blessed day, I'll go back to telling hilarious stories, the first-person kind that make Serious Journalists pooh-pooh Internet writing and, if I'm being honest, sometimes make me cringe, too. When all things and people are equal, I'll once again use this page to tell you myriad tales, like the one about my current personal wipeout in which I Boehner-ed (before John Boehner Boehner-ed, as it happens). Yes, I made like a JetBlue employee, grabbed two beers and yanked the pull-to-inflate cord on the evacuation slide.

But sadly for all of us, lighthearted reimaginings of this entitled white lady's fairly serious midlife crisis will have to find another venue. For this is not that blessed day; we are nowhere near the Promised Land. We remain mired together in the aftermath of our Original Sin, as Barack Obama called it in his eulogy to the Charleston nine, rest their souls. We remain hypnotized by carefully concocted narratives as mainstream media facilitates the large-scale dismissal of people of color.

I turn your attention to The San Diego Union-Tribune bit, "Local NAACP march, rally: All lives matter," a lazily researched, irresponsibly written, negligently headlined, insubstantial fluff piece that "covered" a local action done in support of the Journey for Justice. And with this preposterously superficial story, those with the largest platform shamelessly shifted the conversation—aaaagain—so white people feel comfortable.

Let me guess: You haven't heard about the Journey for Justice. Have you heard about the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure? Yeah. I thought so. I could unpack the many layers of why that is, but aiming for low-hanging fruit: It's because the overwhelmingly white editors and journalists around the country don't find equal rights for black and brown people as urgent as a cure for breast cancer.

This perpetual white lens must be shattered.

The Journey for Justice, held this past summer, was a massive march through five Southern states organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. It's sort of important to write it all out like that, especially in this context, because while the NAACP is about equality for all people, the words "advancement of colored people" is part of the name. We all know that it's people of color who are not beneficiaries of equality. Applying the transitive property, this is about equal rights for people of color—something worth noting for those who wish to conflate messages, Union-Tribune. Ahem.

This 1,000-mile walk echoed the struggles of the 1960s civil rights movement. Thousands of multi-generational activists—Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists—took their first steps in Selma, Alabama, and their last six weeks later in Washington, D.C. One 68-year-old flag-carrying veteran named Middle Passage (ghatdambit, that's deep right there) died on the journey. That's right: He died. Senators and congress members joined the rally at its close on the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which was disemboweled nearly two years ago by the Supreme Court.

And, yet, nothing above the fold in any national newspaper.

This, the effort to suppress certain voters, and the accompanying blisters sting way more than a toenail lost to a three-day walk for a cause celebrated as every football team adorns itself in pink come October. But it's not until an athlete wears an "I Can't Breathe" T-shirt on the field that the media comes out in force to question the appropriateness of such activism. But I digress.

The purpose of the Journey was to shine a light on "a national policy agenda that protects the right of every American to a fair criminal justice system, uncorrupted and unfettered access to the ballot box, sustainable jobs with a living wage and equitable public education," according to the NAACP national website. "Our Lives, Our Votes, Our Jobs, Our Schools Matter," was the slogan.

And I'm guessing this is where U-T writer Susan Shroder and her editors got a bit confused about messaging, why they phoned it in, and why it's highly problematic that the majority of journalists and editors are white. (And male, but that's another column.)

In the white gaze, a claim that "our" anything matters is automatically inclusive of us; our knee-jerk reaction is to centralize whiteness. Had Ms. Shroder or her editors cared to pay attention to the local march and the issues central to it, they would have noticed there was not a single sign or chant of support for "all lives matter" messaging. Not one. Nowhere. It shouldn't have been in a headline.

The NAACP Journey for Justice and the rally in San Diego were actions taken as part of the new civil rights movement known widely as Black Lives Matter. They are clearly and unapologetically fighting for equal rights for people of color. This is not going away, and it's time for Serious Journalists to dig into what the movement is about, to begin taking some responsibility for their reporting and to stop perpetuating false equivalencies.


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