Looking at diversity and the Daily

It is crucial for journalists and readers alike to think critically about the assumptions that underlie seemingly benign stories.

by Diana Fu

Sit down, shut up and stop complaining. You should be grateful you’re here. This is your subconscious talking, but you’re too afraid to say it out loud because, god forbid, you might be labeled a racist. You don’t have to be a WASP to be caught with “politically incorrect” thoughts. It’s the insidious white privilege at work.

Before you get defensive, consider this: You pick up the Daily and a front-page headline, “Group honors Latino culture,” meets your eye. Your subconscious thinks: Latino culture – a homogenous entity made up of illegal immigrants. Who’s honoring them?

You read on: “Delicious churros, sweaty tango lessons and saucy Latino music attract students to La Raza Student Cultural Center to celebrate Latino Heritage Month.” Why not taste some of their food, sway my hips like those sexy brown people and clap to their exotic tunes? After all, the “other” is more interesting. I’m sick of my colorlessness.

The system is white supremacy. The tool is control over representation and narration. It’s the power to differentiate between us and them. You’re a part of the normal crowd, an average white American who doesn’t have to celebrate your heritage because it’s celebrated every day.

You don’t have to read hypothetical articles such as “For the month of October, we invite you to cheer with us as we celebrate our heritage of watching sweaty men bulldoze each other over a football. This month only, you get to taste the deliciously oily fries at Annie’s and then get wasted at Sally’s.”

For those of you who complain that as a white student, you feel unspecial, let me ask you a question: Would you like to feel “special” in the way that we feel “special”?

Would you like to be constantly asked where you are really from? Would you like to put your culture on display annually by picking out a few hit songs, a salad or two and a handful of experts to educate the public on your history? Would you like to have others make a big fuss about honoring your heritage and feel like they are good liberals who stood by the colored people?

As a columnist of color for the past three years at the Daily, I have a secret fear. Do people think I am obsessed with race? With gender? With social justice? Why do my columns always sound so militant? Am I a raving radical? I feel pressured to diversify my columns so they’re not always about “heavy, rebellious topics.” I want to deny those labels.

But when a colleague of mine approached me about La Raza Student Cultural Center, Black Student Union, PRISM (multicultural student journalism group) and American Indian Student Cultural Center’s joint effort to raise awareness of media portrayal of minorities, I could not resist writing abut it.

The recent display of solidarity among the student cultural centers is fantastic. It lays a blueprint for students of color banning together to confront injustice. Instead of spending all of their energies on planning social events to celebrate the separate heritages of blacks, Latinos and American Indians, these student leaders took a unified political stance.

The Daily is responding to this challenge. As a part of its efforts, a multicultural council has been created to discuss issues such as the portrayal of minorities. The council meets monthly and is open to any University student. The Daily’s editor in chief, Britt Johnsen, encourages students to attend the council and hopes attendees can give critical feedback to the office of the publisher. Students can also go to public forums as well as voice their complaints to the readers’ representative.

In short, there isn’t a lack of communication channels. The challenge lies in sustaining an open and critical dialogue on both sides. After all, it’s not about guilt-tripping white people; nor is it to attack the Daily as an isolated entity. The task is for all readers, regardless of color or lack thereof, to recognize the subtle practices of daily life that insidiously reinforce a system of white supremacy. It is to see how media, including student newspapers, are embedded in a cultural context. It is to jostle people out of a false consciousness that white privilege is a phantom.

In the end, it’s not my place to berate individual writers at the Daily. I understand that with such tight deadlines, it is almost impossible to ponder over each sentence, wondering if someone will be offended. In fact, in speaking to the writer of the La Raza article, I confirmed that she had the best of intentions when writing the article. The question is, why do well-intentioned articles or projects end up hurting the very people it intends to honor?

It is crucial for journalists and readers alike to think critically about the assumptions that underlie seemingly benign stories. Journalists are taught to write headlines that can “grab” the audience. But which audience are you writing for? If it is a multicultural one, then perhaps the best “grabber” is one that doesn’t perpetuate stereotypes.

Violence is often committed without a gun and without openly hostile words. Rather, it is rooted in problematic ways of perception, narration and representation. Whom do you choose to quote? How would readers perceive the subject of the article? It all happens in the subconscious.

“Get It Daily” is the mantra of the Daily. But why do many students of color simply refuse to pick up the Daily daily? This should be a concern for every individual on campus.

To join the multicultural council or to learn more, please contact Britt Johnsen at [email protected] Check out PRISM by contacting Sean Conejos at [email protected]

Diana Fu welcomes comments at [email protected]