Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Covering the Complexities of Racial Identities

Arushi Sharma
The 2008 election brought focus on Obama’s racial identity. From Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s, “Hardball with Chris Matthews” making comments such as, “I forgot he was black for an hour,” in reference to Obama’s State of the Union address to Fox News' Glenn Beck calling him a racist; comments such as these reflect the obvious ignorance of journalists when it comes to covering issues involving people of more than one race.
We need to realize that it doesn’t have to be one or the other. It’s not a choice, but rather understanding that Obama’s election marks America’s first multiracial decade.

In the article, Why the Race Debate is Far from Over, Yumi Wilson discusses the failure of news agencies to cover the challenges citizens face when trying to define their racial identity. For instance she points out that news organizations such as CNN need to cover such topics as news stories rather than as op-eds. As she articulates, “Reporters too often simplify or ignore complex or politically-charged aspects of a story usually in the interest of space, clarity and trying to appear neutral or objective in their story. The result is a story that only scratches the surface, sending readers and viewers to alternative sources for information, such as YouTube.”
As a result, I think reporters need to first and foremost, stop giving people one-word labels such as black or white or others based solely on appearance; rather ask them how they would like to identified. In addition, I agree with Wilson when she states that publications should explore the contradictory aspects of having multiple racial identities in the news section, rather than as op-eds. This will ensure that we perform our most basic role: reporting honestly and accurately about issues that most people aren’t comfortable talking about.
We have our first black —and biracial—president. When’s a better time to talk about it than now?

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