Sunday, September 27, 2015

Understanding White Privilege

Rachel Hartwick

Understanding Racism A Little More

When I attended Netroots Nation this summer, I had the chance to see 2016 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speak. In a protest that garnered national attention, I watched first hand as members of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement chanted over Bernie, demanding that he “Say her name,” citing the names of African Americans who have died at the hands of police violence.

In the moment, I stood, frustrated at BLM’s chants. I was there to see Bernie, and protestors weren’t letting him talk. I wanted to shout at them to please quiet down. I wanted to tell them “Bernie is on your side.” I wanted to tell them he cares deeply about black lives and his track record proves it. I wanted them to go protest Donald Trump’s insensitive comments, not Bernie. 

It wasn’t until after the event, reading up on what exactly happened and talking to people involved that I realized what I’d just experienced.

A Black Lives Matter protestor took the stage with Governor O'Malley shortly before Bernie.
source: The Nation

As a white person of privilege, I’m not used to getting talked over, shut out or not listened to daily. I realized that I’d been hit with just a taste of the cold reality of being an African American: every day, people of color are talked over, ignored or told to be quiet. Every day, people of color feel inconceivably frustrated by the ignorance and privilege of white people.

I’ve interviewed a few people from the BLM movement, I’ve covered a rally and I follow the news, but I’m not going to pretend I know what people of color go through. All I have are the words I’ve absorbed from the times I’ve spent listening. It is true that you cannot fully grasp the effects of racism until you experience them. Being a white ally goes beyond a singular declarative statement; it is a constant detox of racism in a society where black people are vilified.

That’s why racial inclusion is so important.

In a society in which Black Americans killed by police are twice as likely to be unarmed as white people, we need to take every measure we can in assuring equity.

Equality vs. Equity
It’s important to note the difference between equality and equity. Equality’s simplest definition is treating everyone the same, whereas equity aims to give everyone what they need to be successful—essentially, “leveling the playing field.”

Assuring that newsrooms are diverse is an equity issue. The counterargument is that more-qualified whites are being denied jobs for less-deserving minorities in order to reach a “quota.” This, however, is far from true. Diversity is so, so important in the newsroom because people of different races have starkly different life experiences that can affect reporting. 

For example, a woman editor in a newsroom may be able to better point out important statistics in a story about pay equity. A Latino editor may notice politically incorrect statements in a story about immigration. An LGBT editor may notice that a writer used an incorrect pronoun on a source. With a newsroom full of cis, white, heterosexual men, this alternate perspective is simply not possible, because we cannot ever fully understand prejudice if we cannot experience it.

Diversity in Practice
Our reading states that “Just as Poindexter et al. (2003) found in their analysis, minority student reporters in this study were significantly more likely than Caucasian student reporters to take on the task of racial and ethnic inclusion.” 

In the video below, a reporter challenges Bernie on the Netroots conflict; however, this news station chose a white reporter to challenge him. In my opinion, it would have been much more appropriate to have a person of color reporting on this, as opposed to having two white men attempt to understand racism. I don't know if the newsroom didn't have a person of color reporting that day or if they purposefully chose this reporter, but I think this explains why it is so important to have newsroom diversity.



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Brittany Oblak

    Wow, it's really cool that you got to go to that event and hear Bernie speak. I really agreed with all your points. These are things that I would have felt completely different about a few years ago, especially with the topics of newsroom diversity. It really is hard as someone of "white privilege" , especially someone who maybe never necessarily felt like they experienced it personally, to kind of, for a lack of better phrase, un-do their thinking and see that the lack of diversity is deep-rooted and a huge issue on so many levels. White people have to start putting much more critical thought into this topic and stepping out of their comfort zones, so to speak.