Seminars

Race and Reporting: After Matter, Tips and Comments

Here are a few things left in the notebook from Institute
for Justice and Journalism’s seminar at Harvard for its 2005 racial justice
fellows.

‘Covering Race Beyond the Box’: Newsrooms
are facing increasing financial and staffing pressures, making it harder at
some newspapers for reporters to get stories about an issue as complex as race
into the paper. This panel of reporters and editors discussed tactics to
overcome that obstacle.

Mae Cheng, an editor at Newsday and president of Unity:

  • Write
    “bite sized stories on the same topic” instead of the five-day project.
  • Repackage
    these stories after several months, in print or online, to get a
    cumulative effect.
  • Develop
    partnerships with ethnic or alternative media.
  • Use
    different story forms. “We may need to get off  our high horses and blog.” If “our
    ultimate goal is to be conscience of society” then use whatever format is
    available.
  • Do
    some “happy” stories. “We always want to bring out the gut-wrenching, the
    heart breaking stories … but reader like the success stories. … They don’t
    want to read blood and gore every day.”

Steve Magagnini, a reporter at the Sacramento Bee who has
been covering race and ethnic issues for 12 years:

  • Every
    great story has to have one or more of these things: overcoming conflict,
    humor, surprise, history, something the reader can use.
  • Take a
    tiny thing, turn it into a yarn that can say something about the culture
    and the people.
  • Get in
    the living-room to bridge cultural or language gaps. “I like to go into
    people’s homes. … You don’t usually get the truth from people until you’ve
    been there for an hour.”

Tom Arviso, editor and publisher of the Navajo Times:

  •  “Do some really good homework. … Don’t
    just bang your way in there. … If you do, you’re going to end up with a
    story that’s not true.”

Elizabeth Llorente, an immigration reporter at The Record,
Bergen, N.J.:

  • Use
    down time to connect with real people. “We’re not always firing on all
    cylinders at work every day.” Go out in the community for a bit, go to a
    diner, even for 30 to 40 minutes. “Or, go to a school when parents are
    picking up their kids. They’re sort of a captive audience there on the
    sidewalk.”
  • Skip
    the he-said-she-said story. “Those stories often inflame whatever tensions
    … but really don’t leave people with any more insight. … There is no
    longer an excuse for stopping at those superficial kinds of stories.”

‘Writing Thoughtfully
About Race’:
Keith Woods of Poynter, after finishing his own week-long
workshop
on reporting about race, came to Harvard and offered this advice:

  • Great stories about race and class have three
    characteristics – strong authentic voice of the people we’re talking about,
    context and complexity. “All good journalism will do that.” Take them away from
    normal stories and they become dry, vacuous or uninteresting, but take them away
    from race stories and “I fill in what I don’t know and that will cause harm,”
    meaning that people will fill in the blanks about race with their own
    prejudices, beliefs or stereotypes. Writing about race requires precise
    language and context. Without context, “I am harming the truth; I am harming
    the public’s ability to understand what it is that I am talking about.”

‘Los Angeles Now’:
The fellows watched filmmaker Phillip Rodriguez’s documentary on the changing
demographics and culture of Los Angeles. The film portrays Los Angeles as a
pan-ethnic community, one in which old white-black paradigm of racial
divisiveness is changed by the multi-culturalism of the city’s newer
generations.

Louis Freedberg, an editorial writer for the San Francisco
Chronicle and an IJJ racial justice fellow, offers this commentary on “Los Angeles
Now”:

Phillip Rodriguez’s film on Los Angeles was excellent.  I thought though that there is danger in
suggesting that the challenges facing black America are yesterday’s problems, and
that the hopefulness of the browning of Los Angeles will somehow resolve the economic
and social isolation of too many black Americans.

It’s not clear to me how the dynamism of Latino migration
will resolve in any way the racial isolation and poor achievement of kids
trapped in segregated schools in Oakland, vulnerable communities like those on
the Gulf Coast, or the huge unemployment rates among African Americans (and
Latinos for that matter).  I think we
have to consider that Latinos may be another immigrant group that successfully
integrates into mainstream America – while leapfrogging over black Americans
who are left far behind, as they have been for most of this nation’s history.

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Friday, Sep. 23, 2005

Journalism, Race and Katrina: Connecting the Dots

From Tim Porter: That the U.S. news media was under-reporting the extent of poverty in America before Hurricane Katrina brought it into everyone’s living-room is known.


That the news media attention span is about the length of a sweeps period is known, meaning the sudden appearance of the permanent underclass on the daily news menu will be temporary.


That the racial divide in this country, narrowed in the last half-century, exists still in subtle but insidious forms, many fostered by the stereotyping of the news media, is known.


Given that, two sets of panels at the Institute for Justice and Journalism’s gathering at Harvard for its 2005 racial justice fellows attempted to make sense of the pre- and post-Katrina news coverage.


The lessons of Katrina for journalists extend far beyond New Orleans and Biloxi and Pascagoula. They are applicable to the full breadth of journalism done daily everywhere in the country and go to the heart of the journalistic mindset – what Jay Rosen calls pressthink – that molds our values, decisions and definitions about what is or isn’t news.


Here’s Ellis Cose, an author and contributing editor at Newsweek:



“As news institutions, we don’t generally drive the agenda. We tend to hop on somebody else’s agenda. … Katrina justified stories to be done on something that was there all the time. … It was the same with No Child Left Behind. (It) produced more stories on education.”


Good point. Newspapers, for example, rarely have strong editorial priorities, areas defined as points of focus for their journalistic muscle. Yes, they often say, when asked, we think education or traffic or growth is important, but can they truly say they are know for, identified in the community, that coverage. Usually not. More typically, these priorities become more seasoning in a daily news stew rather than a signature dish.


Here’s Erna Smith, a journalism professor at San Francisco State University and USC:



Journalists, she says, operate in news frame, a set of norms and practices that help us shortcut and simplify complex issues. When covering race, for example, we find reduce race to an institution because most of journalism is based on institutional actions – meetings, reports, processes, trials – and for that institution we find an official, a “race spokesperson,” say Jesse Jackson. In fact, says Smith, “there isn’t a generic race person that speaks for everybody.”


This framing is another way of saying what Andrew Cline, a reporter turn rhetorician, calls “narrative bias,” the definition of a “story” that has antagonists, protagonists and clear-cut beginning and end even though, as Cline says, “much of what happens in our world … is ambiguous.” And once we have a story line, says Cline, we’re reluctant to let it go. He says:



“… it is very difficult to get journalists to see that their narrative is simply one way, and not necessarily the correct or best way, of viewing people and events.”


The result: The reduction of complexity to simplicity and the over-reliance on a Rolodex of stale sources with set-piece ideas.


Here’s Lani Guinier, the Harvard law professor, commenting on what she saw as the shortcomings of the New York Times series about class in America:



The reporters didn’t make connection between race and class as if “class was a discrete phenomena. … What is missing from too much of what I read is analysis, a willingness to go deep.” The stories didn’t address “why some people get to live in the suburbs of Atlanta and have an enormous set of options and others don’t.”


Finally, here’s Kevin Weston, a journalist with New California Media, who went into an evacuation center in Baton Rouge and found young black men who rapped about the hurricane:



“We wanted to focus on how people are helping each other” and that led to connecting the hip hop “as an emerging institution in the community” … and the “black church, which has been marginalized in my generation … The black church is our red cross” and we “wanted to deal with it on a real personal level.”


These comments address some of the common ailments of modern journalism, some identified with newspapers, some with TV, some shared: Covering institutions rather than issues; relying on official sources; disconnection from the community around us; a hesitancy to tackle complexity; lack of long-term attention to long-term issues (as Jon Funabiki of the Ford Foundation said, we think “once we’ve published, our work is done.”)


Some truly great journalism was done post-Katrina, much of through immense effort and personal sacrifice. The question is how to continue, how, as Erna Smith says “do we bring this sensibility to health, education” and the other social complexities that reward some in our society but punish or exclude others?


For me, much of the answer lies in leadership.


Newspapers – journalists – need a sense of mission, a return to purpose and passion. As Smith says, “I’m not sure if it’s about ownership or the diversity of the people in the room, but they need someone charge of the place who sees there’s a fundamentally different mission to doing journalism than selling Coca Cola.”


Tim Porter is an editor and writer. Read more

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Thursday, Sep. 22, 2005

When Journalism Meets Advocacy

From Claudia Meléndez
Salinas
:
Sally (Lehrman) makes a very good point when she implies that we,
as journalists, end up “covering up” instead of covering race. What I have to
say in my defense is that when I’ve wanted to talk about racism or segregation
or bias my editors have always asked me to attribute my comments – and that’s
when I run into trouble. Frequently, I know people feel there’s prejudice or
bias against them but they don’t want to be quoted saying that. Some editors
prefer reporters not to write with authority, which eliminates my ability to
say what I’ve experienced about race even if I find nobody to attribute it to.

I was struck by the similarities between Roxbury and the
Alisal, one of the communities I cover in Salinas, Calif. The Alisal is poor,
populated mostly by immigrants, with high crime rate and low property values.
There have been several attempts to organize the residents, but these efforts
have not succeeded because the immigrants are too mobile. I know there are many
communities like this in California, but I would like to hear from other journalists
about similar examples in other parts of the country and whether the residents
have organized successfully to improve housing and other conditions.

Another comment I want to make, although it is a bit
unrelated, is in response to something Steve Montiel mentioned yesterday after
all the presentations on health care disparities. “We’re journalists, not
advocates. We’re journalists, not advocates,” I remember him saying.

But why not?

I know, I know, I know. We’re supposed to be “objective” and
report “just the facts.” But after listening to everyone’s background (during
the fellows’ introductions) and their reasons for becoming a journalist does anybody
believe we can truly be objective?

Many images from the Katrina aftermath made an indelible
impression on me as a human being; but as a journalist, I’ll never forget the
footage of a television reporter running after a police officer outside of the
New Orleans Convention Center demanding: “Can you help this people? Who’s
coming to help them? They have no water, no food. There’s children in there.
Who’s going to come help them?”

Who’s going to demand answers if it isn’t us? Who’s going to
keep government officials accountable if it isn’t us? Aren’t we betraying the
public trust if we don’t demand answers? And if we want straight answers, does
that mean we become advocates? And what’s wrong with that?

Claudia Meléndez
Salinas
is a staff writer with the Monterey County Herald in central California
and 2005 Institute for Justice and Journalism racial justice fellow.
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One Neighborhood, Many Stories

From Tim Porter: Massachusetts Avenue connects the ivied walls of Harvard to the gates of a former urban Hell.


The avenue runs from Cambridge to Boston, bisecting the sprawling MIT campus, crossing the Charles River, skirting the 52-story Prudential Center, leaving downtown and less than two miles farther forming the eastern boundary of one of the city’s most notorious neighborhoods, Roxbury.


Using the phrase “urban hell” to describe Roxbury’s past is not hyperbole. In the 1960s and 1970s, after the post-War white population had moved to Boston’s burgeoning suburbs, Roxbury took on a different complexion – black African-Americans from the South and brown immigrants from Cape Verde, a group of North Atlantic islands west of Senegal.


Property values plummeted, victim of a society that associated people of color with a neighborhood in decline. Building owners couldn’t sell or refinance, so they burned – and burned and burned. Hundreds of Roxbury homes and apartment buildings were torched for insurance money in those decades.


The core of this intentional destruction was the Dudley Street Triangle, the poorest blocks within the larger impoverished neighborhood. By 1984, nearly a third of the Dudley Street Triangle’s 60 acres lay empty, 1,300 parcels abandoned by their owners left to decline even further into festering mounds of vermin-ridden trash and garbage dumped nightly by scavenger companies and individuals. Dudley Street, once a thriving blue-collar community, had become Boston’s dump yard.


The journalists participating in the Institute for Justice and Journalism’s 2005 racial justice fellowships made the trip yesterday from one end of Massachusetts Avenue to the other to meet with members of Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, who had accomplished what must have seemed impossible two decades ago. They have driven out the dumpers, cleaned up the abandoned lots, gained the confidence of Boston’s Irish-American political bureaucracy and, with the help of several million dollars in loans it has since repaid, built hundreds of new, affordable homes in the neighborhood.


Life is not perfect today in the triangle. About a third of Dudley Street residents – 40 percent African American, 30 percent Latino, 25 percent Cape Verdean and the remainder white – live below the poverty level. A neighborhood walk passes by many houses with barred windows and many others still in disrepair. Cabs consider the area off limits. A bathroom in a local Dominican restaurant displays cards offering help for battered women. Powerful lights illuminate a pocket park a night to deter drug dealers.


Yet, life is better. New houses rimmed by picket fences rise from once dead land. The voices of schoolchildren emanate from a playground built by residents. A community greenhouse, built but not yet in use, promises fresh vegetables. Hope is replacing anger and despair.


What kind of stories does Dudley Street hold for journalists, especially in the context of race and reporting?


Is it a success story – a tale of recovery perhaps told through John Barros, who volunteered to help clean his neighborhood as a teen-ager, found his way to Dartmouth and returned as executive director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative? Is it a people story, that of Jason Webb, who at age 7 followed garbage trucks on his bike, wrote down their license numbers and turned them in as illegal dumpers? He also helps run Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative.


Maybe, though, it’s a more sobering story, a narrative of a neighborhood that despite 20 years of committed struggle remains still a place where thugs control part of the night and even some of the newer homes show ragged edges – flaking paint, fallen fences, ripped screens – that result from inattention or lack of money for maintenance? Sadly, Dudley Street continues to be a neighborhood where the journalists who visited it likely would not choose to live.

All these stories are true stories. Which should we tell? How should we tell them?

Tim Porter is an editor and writer. Read more

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Race, Class and Katrina Webcast


From Steve Montiel:
Two discussions today on “Race, Class and Katrina” will be webcast as part of the IJJ’s gathering at Harvard of its 2005 racial justice fellows. The topics, times (EDT) and panelists are:

  • Context and Consequences (1:15 p.m.-2:30 p.m. EDT): Ellis Cose,
    Newsweek; Lani Guinier, Harvard University; and Bob Giles, Nieman
    Foundation.
  • Journalistic Challenges (3:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. EDT): Martha
    Mendoza, Associated Press; Bryan Monroe, Knight Ridder; Erna Smith,
    USC Annenberg School for
    Communication; Kevin Weston, New California Media/Pacific News Service,
    Victor Merina, USC Annenberg’s Institute for Justice and Journalism.

The panels will address questions such as:

  • What did we learn from Hurricane Katrina about race and justice in America?
  • How can these lessons strengthen journalism about justice and injustice?
  • What do journalists need to know to report accurately and authoritatively about race and poverty?
  • What questions should reporters and editors be asking to help the
    public understand and care about the complexities and consequences of
    class-based racism in a new world?

The webcasts will be broadcast via the Institute for Justice and Journalism site.

Steve Montiel is director of IJJ. Read more

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Collision with Complexity

From Keith Woods: We watched the movie “Crash
last night as part of our larger mission of pushing the discussion down
to the personal, to the visceral. I’d seen the film in the theater
before and remember how anxious it made me feel. This time, I watched
it in Poynter’s amphitheater with a different trepidation.

Not that I was worried about how the
journalists would react, though it’s funny how much more aware you are
of nude scenes or the number of times actors say the f-word (impossible
to count) when people are in your building watching a movie that you
recommended.

My worry, though, was that I would feel
like a sucker, like a lightweight, new arrival to the race
conversation. Because I really liked the film the first time. I thought
it had achieved a measure of profundity you so rarely see in movies about race.
It was provocative beyond clichés and tricky without being
manipulative. It was angry without being predictable; sentimental but
not maudlin.

Watching it the second time, I waited
for the moment when I’d realize that it wasn’t all that deep after all
– like listening to an old Earth, Wind & Fire song
20 years after puberty. Yet, somehow, knowing how each o the intense
scenes would resolve themselves, I still found myself sitting with
clenched fists and taut shoulder muscles. I still found myself wanting
to stay after the film was over, wanting to talk about the truth
underneath this box office underachiever.

The journalists
in the room sat for the longest time as the credits rolled, as the
lights came up, just sitting. Some left without speaking. One member of
the group said she needed to go back to the hotel room and think a
little while. Others went to a martini bar to get away from thinking.

It’s not often that I’ve seen a movie
that gets deep enough or treats race relations with enough complexity
that I dare offer it to cynical journalists as food for thought. “Smoke Signals” comes to mind. Or “Do The Right Thing” Or “One False Move.”

I think we need these kinds of
provocations to push the conversation about race out of the clouds of
intellectualism — where so many people like to hide — and down to the
personal, where you squirm, hurt, feel. Why? Because it will take
passion and personal commitment, gifts of the gut and the heart, to
bring about true change — whether it’s change in the way we do
journalism or change in the way we run our society.

Keith Woods is dean of faculty at the Poynter Institute. Read more

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Good Quotes, Better Lessons

From Tim Porter: Journalists receive less training than their peers in any other profession, due in part to the news industry’s lack of investment in it. It’s natural, then, for journalists to rank training even higher than more pay as their top priority.


Still, I’ve always thought training was a poor word for what journalists need. I prefer learning – or education. Training is to learning what typing is to writing. It’s a sterile word, invoking memories of safety drills, driver’s ed or learning the commands for that new front-end system. Learning, though, involves creativity, stretching of the mind and mastering new skills. It’s professional growth.


A great thing about journalists is that when they get togethers they learn from one another. Peer to peer. That’s a huge benefit of professional development programs like the Poynter Institute and the Institute for Justice and Journalism.


Kay Mills has been doing journalism for 40 years – from Chicago to Baltimore to Washington to Los Angeles – and she’s still learning, from other professionals and from other journalists. Here are some comments from Mills after a couple days at IJJ’s gathering of its 2005 racial justice fellows, of which she is one. Each contains a lesson applicable to journalism.



From Kay Mills: My contribution stems from my years and years of collecting what I call cogent quotes. I want to share what I consider “good lines” from the racial justice seminars this week at Harvard.



  • Heidi Pickman, independent radio producer from Los Angeles: “Economics is a very good tool for expanding the pie but not for dividing it.”


  • Louis Freedberg, editorial writer for the San Francisco Chronicle who is originally from South Africa and who shook Nelson Mandela’s hand soon after Mandela voted for the first time in his life: “The lesson from South Africa is that change is possible.”


  • Brian Smedley, research director, The Opportunity Agenda: “Most of the rest of the world recognizes health as a human right.”


  • Ichiro Kawachi, professor of social epidemiology at Harvard University, speaking about statistics on race from Brazil but a comment that is applicable elsewhere: “The countries that are most embarrassed by some aspect of their society are least likely to collect data on that aspect.”


  • A comment from a member of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative about housing construction in Roxbury, a Boston neighborhood ravaged by redlining, arson and other ills, in the film “Holding Ground“: “I believe if you build it and it’s the right housing, people will live here.”

Kay Mills is an author and freelance writer from Santa Monica, Calif. Read more

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Wednesday, Sep. 21, 2005

Covering Race — or Covering It Up?

From Sally Lehrman: Listening to the discussion about the biological non-reality of race (led by  Harvard School of Public Health professor Ichiro Kawachi), I wonder if the idea may be all too easy. If we can just wipe away race, won’t racial bias fall away with it? If we realize that race isn’t a biological fact, won’t the social hierarchies based on race finally disappear?


Well no, as our speakers (at the IJJ fellows conference) on health disparities so clearly showed. But I wonder — do we journalists sometimes wipe away both race and racism in the hope that they will go away? Do we avoid using terms like “segregation” or “bias” or “privilege” in favor of more comfortable terms –”disparities,” for instance? Do we talk about individual acts of prejudice or hostility, instead of the social and cultural institutions that help make racism a reality every day? When we cover health, crime, housing and finance, how often do we point out or even look for inequities based on race? How often do we assume that a white, black, Asian-American, Latino or Native American person’s experience of an event or institution are all just the same? How often do we assume that a white person’s experience of the world is the norm?


Normally, journalists pride themselves on telling truth wherever they see it. But when it comes to covering race, how much do we end up covering up?


Clips



  • Lehrman’s series racial and ethnic health issues: Race and Healthcare — Genes aren’t the whole story when it comes to explaining disparity in illness among different ethnic groups.

  • Report from Harvard School of Public Health symposium on health care inequities.
Sally Lehrman a freelance writer specializing in health and science issues. She is an expert fellow at the Institute for Justice and Journalism. Read more
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Reporting on Race and Health

From Tim Porter: First some data:

  • About
    17.5 percent of American adults don’t have health insurance. If you’re
    Hispanic, though, the number is 35 percent; African American, 22.8
    percent; white, only 12.7 percent.
  • The
    life expectancy of an American male is 73.4 years. But if you are a black
    man in Washington, D.C., it’s only 57.9 years – less time alive than in
    Ghana, Bangladesh or Bolivia.
  • American
    minorities less likely than whites to be treated well for heart disease, receive
    kidney dialysis or transplants or get sophisticated HIV treatment. They
    are, however, more likely than whites to receive “certain less-desirable
    procedures,” such as having a leg amputated for diabetes.

Does this racial disparity in health care sound like news?
Certainly it does – and the U.S. press has been writing about it. A search of
Lexis-Nexis on “health care and racial disparity” produces hundreds of
newspaper stories, including many referring to the report from which the above
information came, of “Unequal Treatment,” a 2002 study by the
Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences.

Newspapers do some of their best work on health care issues
(read this L.A. Times series on
King/Drew Medical Center), but they also do some of
their shallowest on the same subject, writing routine report stories or
focusing on heart-tugging personal stories instead of larger, more
difficult issues.

During a day of seminars devoted to race and health care,
IJJ’s racial justice fellows heard Brian Smedley, an author of the Institute of
Medicine study, describe how minority Americans, even those with private health
insurance, consistently receive a lower standard of health care than their
white counterparts. The culprits are a combination of culture, economics and
various forms of bias – much of it unconscience and manifested in lower
expectations by medical professionals for their minority patients.

As an issue, health care and its unequal access is complex,
deep-rooted and, ultimately, very personal, especially to the poor. It can also
be daunting to cover for news organizations that are feeling resource-squeezed
or feel pressure to report on matters that are more demographically targeted to
capture new readers, growing suburbs, for example. Poverty, let’s admit it, is
a bit out fashion as a beat compared to a couple of decades ago.

What can journalists do, especially those working on
mid-size or smaller newspapers, to tell this story better? Here are a few
stories that can be reported in any community:

  • Emergency
    room use.
    The poor, the uninsured, use hospital emergency rooms as their
    primary care center. Local residents of all economic brackets foot the
    bill. What’s the story in your community. Here’s an example from National
    Public Radio in Minneapolis.
  • The
    private sector
    is collecting racial and ethnic data on medical treatment
    with more precision than the government, says Smedley. What do insurers
    like Aetna know about your community that you don’t?
  • Morbidity
    rates.
    The Centers for Disease Control is a good place to start.
  • Translation
    services.
    Medical facilities that receive federal money – and that’s
    nearly every one – must provide translation services for their patients.
    Do they? What is their quality? Who are the contractors? Are hospitals,
    for example, using the bilingual children of immigrants to translate?

Later in the day, filmmaker Larry Adelman, producer of the
PBS series “Race – The Power of an Illusion,” urged journalists to focus more
on the larger, systemic issue of health-care disparity and less on the
one-person story. You “spend too much time looking at what individuals can do
to improve their health,” he said. You “need to break out of those individual
stories.”

“The message” of the day from the health care scientists,
said Steve Montiel, director of the Institute for Justice and Journalism, “is to
deal with complexity, to not back away from it, to not simplify.”

Tim Porter is an editor and writer. Read more

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Tuesday, Sep. 20, 2005

Is ‘Minority’ Still a Valid Term?

From Heidi Pickman: After hearing this morning from the IJJ
fellows how issues of race had affected their journalism and, later, listening
to a presentation by Brian Smedley on racial and ethnic health care
disparities, I had two thoughts I want to share:

  • Erase “MINORITY” from our vocabulary.

It occurred to me while listening to one of our speakers
that the word minority should be erased from our vocabulary. 

For one, changing demographics in many places are rendering
the traditional interpretation of minority moot.  For example, when talking about minorities in
Los Angeles
, that mean Anglos as well as African Americans.  When we talk about racial injustice, we
aren’t talking about discrimination against white people.  FYI: LA’s population is approx. 47% Latino,
33% Anglo, 12% Asian and 9% African-American. 

Second, play word association with the word “minority.”  You say “minority” I think … minor, less
important, underdog, “not the winner.”

Suggestions for
other words?

  • Life experience that
    shaped my feelings about race.

Right after I
introduced myself and the next person was already talking, I realized what
occurred in my life to shape my feelings about race and justice. 

I’m Jewish, which
means I grew up learning about the Holocaust. 
Jewish people (for good reason) are obsessed with the Holocaust.  All my life, I had it crammed down my throat.  There were after school Hebrew lessons,
watching all nine episodes of SHOAH with my parents (and every other movie
about the Holocaust,) visiting Yad Vashem in Israel – twice.

The main reason most
Jews learn about the Holocaust is to make sure that it never happens
again. 

The other takeaway
for me was that it is not OK to be killed for who you are, however you define
yourself.   (Jews don’t like to see
themselves as a race because that’s what the Nazis called them.  We are a religious ethnicity.)  Seeing the pictures of dead Jew skeletons
piled on top of each other, my people, gave me a sick feeling of injustice and
how the Nazis got it all wrong.  If I
can’t empathize with other similar tragedies, then I can’t honor the memory of
the 12 million who died in the Holocaust (6 million Jews and 6 million others,
including disabled, homosexuals, gypsies).

P.S.: Simon
Wiesenthal died yesterday at 96.  

Heidi Pickman is an
IJJ racial justice fellow. She is an independent radio producer who lives in Santa
Monica, Calif. Most recently, she was the founding producer of “Weekend
America”, a weekly public radio magazine that can be heard on NPR member
stations.
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