Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | Discussion of race in America is black and white — even among journalists
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Discussion of race in America is black and white — even among journalists

I missed this column by Howard Kurtz the other day in the Washington Post: “Little Diversity at White House.”

The first part of the column is about the lack of journalists of color in the White House Press Corps, and focuses on TV and newspaper reporters assigned to cover the presidential beat. It’s an important topic, but it saddens me that as usual, the dialogue about race in America is all about black and white. No Hispanics, no Asians, no Native Americans — the spectrum that’s included in the mission of Unity, the uber-organization of Journalists of Color, which just last summer was graced at its convention by a visit by then-candidate Barack Obama.

I understand the point is that we now have a black president and there could be more black reporters covering the White House.

That’s fine for the members of the National Association of Black Journalists, who are probably happy to have gotten their perspective in with Kurtz. But Kurtz dances around the topic of other minorities, hinting at a broader color spectrum but never taking the time to call and quote someone from the Asian American Journalists Association or National Association of Hispanic Journalists or the Native American Journalists Association.

Kurtz’s column has this near the lede:

“The numbers dropped not because of a lack of minority correspondents, but because of the ownership of many papers and networks, at a time when diversity is very important,” says Ryan, who reports for American Urban Radio Networks. “Imagine you’re president, at the lectern, looking out at those faces — is this a representation of America?”

But doesn’t follow through on the broader topic of “minority correspondents,” “diversity” and “is this a representation of America.” The next paragraph drills right down to the issue of African Americans in the media:

Eight days before Barack Obama is sworn in, the relative paucity of black journalists at the White House is striking. A mostly white press corps at 1600 Pennsylvania would be cause for concern no matter what the color of the Oval Office occupant. But the advent of the Obama administration seems to underscore that racial progress has been uneven in a business that chronicles that very subject.

While there are some exceptions, most major news outlets that regularly chronicle the White House do not have a minority reporter on this, Washington’s most visible beat.

The opportunity to write a more inclusive column item was there, and Kurtz let it slip away because it was more important to make the point about the black President and white press corps. The dialogue remains as limited as it’s ever been.

Look at the headline. “Diversity” is more than just black and white, folks. There’s an awful lot of gray area being ignored.

We now have a president who was backed by an enormous swell of both Hispanic and Asian American support. Where’s the coverage?

Additions Jan 15: A Boston Globe commentary by Jeff Jacoby, “Why should a journalist’s race matter?,” says Kurtz’s column is misguided because the White House press corps doesn’t need more black journos, just better journos:

The plain if unfashionable truth is that the White House press corps, and journalism generally, don’t need more black reporters. They don’t need more white reporters, either. Journalism needs good reporters, and good reporting isn’t a function of race.

And the New York Times today has a story about on “interracial anxiety” and how Obama’s election has opened up discussions about race in America… but focuses only on black and white. Where are the Asians? Hispanics? Native Americans? It’s distressing to be marginalized to the point of invisibility by the nation’s news source of record.

Cross-racial discussion about the topic of race seems to have become more common, and somewhat less fraught, with the rise of Mr. Obama, according to historians, psychologists, sociologists and other experts on race relations, as well as a number of blacks and whites interviewed around the country.

If Obama’s election is leading to the opening up of dialogue about race, shouldn’t that dialogue include the spectrum of colors between lack and white? Asian Americans practically consider him one of our own, because of his upbringing in Hawai’i and his Asian step-family.

And in a related issue, here’s a blog post yesterday about Hispanic candidates being left out as potential job candidates for Colorado government positions, a follow-up to a Denver Post editorial.

(Thanks to Leland Rucker for the heads-up about the NYT article, and to Juan Lozano for the link to the blog link about Hispanic job candidates.)