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.)

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5 Responses to Discussion of race in America is black and white — even among journalists

  1. Eric Sung says:

    This was an issue back during President Clinton’s dialogue on race and his “One America” advisory board. Activist Angela Oh and Historian John Hope Franklin had a disagreement over the idea of traditional black v white or a new paradigm that involved Asians, Hispanics, etc. I was pretty incensed when I first read about this argument in the one of the papers back in 97-98. While I understand and appreciate John Hope Franklin’s historical perspective, I completely agree with Angela Oh regarding the new paradigm. We absolutely can not move forward in race relations if we can not shift our thinking and embrace the new form of diversity, one that is multi-faceted and multi-colored.

    Frank Wu wrote an article for AsianWeek back in 1998 that explored Angela Oh and the initiative.

    It’s sad to see that after 10 years, we still haven’t really shifted the dynamics of the race conversation despite the hard works of people like Angela Oh.

  2. Leland says:

    I couldn’t agree more. The NYT piece wasn’t much in the way of news, and Kurtz ran with it without thinking, which is unfortunately a casualty of the 24-hour-a-day non-news cycle and Kurtz stretching himself in too many media. We used to have editors. Sigh.

  3. cognitis says:

    Thanks for expressing a Japanese-American’s opinion. US institutions define Japanese, Chinese, or Koreans as ethnic minorities just as Africans; so all above thus discriminated suffer injuries similarly. Institutions use, however, Africans very differently from other minorities particularly in the Media. Of all minorities, only Africans came and persisted long as slaves unprotected not only by US but also by foreign governments; so today, Celts or Germans or Jews et alii perceive Africans to be absolutely defenseless and powerless; thus, for the majority Africans serve, unlike other minorities, as a metaphor and meter for US tolerance and opportunity. Here’s an example: should a Japanese or Chinese have been elected, the majority would not have perceived tolerance but instead many would have perceived a menace or “the Japs are taking over”; most don’t remember that in 1910 Japanese rights here were protected largely not by the USCON but instead by Japan-US treaty. The US President represents US in foreign affairs but also is a kind of salesman or symbol; institutions clearly want to portray US as a tolerant country in contrast to US under Bush, and Obama without a doubt portrays both tolerance and change.

  4. Eric Sung says:

    wow..wait..Chinese immigrant workers came over during the gold mountain rush basically came over as slaves..Asians weren’t given the right to become citizens until the Civil Rights movement..wow..i absolutely disagree w/ the comment above..

  5. cognitis says:


    You clearly didn’t peruse my argument; and you extracted one word “slave” and babbled about citizenship. In 1848, US convinced Mexico by arms to cede California, and US incorporated California next year in 1849 as a Free State; as Mexico had prohibited slavery, California has never permitted slavery throughout its history; so Chinese never suffered slave status in the state denoted by you unintelligibly as “gold mountain rush [sic]” (sounds like an “energy drink”). Your babbling about citizenship doesn’t pertain at all to slavery; since you babble with examples and demonstrate no ability to reason with principles, I’ll provide an example: a German visiting friends in California in 1850, ineligible for citizenship, could neither be detained and compelled to work by his friends nor have his children captured and sold at a slave auction. In any case, you provulgate your “disagreement” with me having clearly not perused my argument; in the future, should you not voluntarily peruse my arguments, just shut up and don’t respond.

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