Black Journalists and White Supremacy | Letters | Chicago Reader

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Black Journalists and White Supremacy

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To the editors:

Concerning your story in the Jan. 13th Hot Type column, "The Black Track: Minority Problems at the Tribune":

Most people listening to talk shows that have discussed the dilemmas of African Americans in the media probably detected what an implacable set of problems black journalists have. The problems are, of course, indigenous to all African American professionals. But journalists, dealing as they do in the realm of the word, have them in spades.

W.E.B. Du Bois called the turn years ago, when he observed the great difficulties inherent in trying to be black and American at the same time (or as we might say nowadays, African and American). He called it the curse of "Two-ness." The white world, pursuing a course of white supremacy, has judged African Americans in this two-ness framework since the beginning of African sojourn on these shores. It was, after all, the best way to justify slavery. The slaves were not subsumed under the category human beings, and hence could be more easily dealt with as chattels.

African Americans have ceaselessly tried to escape that dual categorization. Today's young (as well as the not so young) black professionals are burdened with the insistence by society that they are not just American, but black and American, or African and American; whether they like it or not. The maintenance of white supremacy demands it. Many of the black professionals are extremely unhappy with the situation; even though, individually and in the aggregate, in much better position throughout the society, than their predecessor African Americans ever were. But society keeps pushing the modern black professional to have to ask, in varying degrees of intensity, who and what are they? Are they Americans first, as some would like to insist? Are they blacks or African heritaged first? Some would even like to insist that those names are not important; that they are human beings, period. But Du Bois' proposition still holds them in an ironclad grasp. They are judged by the dominant white supremacy to be something different than whites; that difference being from the beginning one that could justify the subordination imposed on black people by white people.

Black journalists must experience huge discomfits from this state-of-affairs. Here they are, out there supposedly making use of the most precious freedom, that of speech; and all the while there is no escaping the manacles placed on that so-called "freedom" by the white bosses perpetuating the mandates of white supremacy (just as a natural phenomenon) as though it is their birthright. Aspiring young African Americans go striding forth into the new opportunities opened to them by predecessor civil rights fighters, bent on being the best they can be as journalists. But lo and behold, what do they find? That there's no hiding place from "two-ness" in today's less suppressive society either. And so the Reader can print a story like the one on the ". . . Problems at the Tribune."

We know that the insistence of white supremacy is the root of the issue; but how much of the problem is also contributed by the African American journalists themselves? Sure they probably have the mechanical tools to be reporters. But what of their internalized definitions and feelings of "who they are"? When one listens to African American journalists who work in the white media, one easily gets the impression that in the balance, the black journalists don't really know, or are schismatic on the subject. On the one hand, they universally complain (validly) about the "glass-curtain" of racism with which they have to contend for promotions, assignments, etc. On the other, many of them insist on the validity of so-called balanced reporting and that other monstrosity of the imagination, "value-free" reporting. So they want to take, keep, and progress in the media jobs they wouldn't have save for the heroic, value-laden work of civil rights fighters throughout the years, and then disappear into a fog of some imagined "universality."

This, of course, is an impossibility; since the demands of white supremacy relentlessly press "two-ness" on African Americans. Black journalists must become the same kind of ignorers of all the history of African Americans, must blink at the consequences of that history on the "souls of Black folk" in order to practice the sought for universality; to evade the "two-ness." As the saying goes, black journalists, working in the white media, are caught between a rock and hard place. In this observer's opinion, Vernon Jarrett and Clarence Page, probably the two most prominent journalists in the area, are standout examples of the dilemma.

Both of them are, of course, highly talented writers. Yet, there's a difference in their product. Jarrett reads like he lives in another world from every other writer at his newspaper. Judging from what the other journalists write, Jarrett resides on planet X. But then Jarrett insists on more than just muttering incantations about "racism." He backs it up with quoted knowledge of the history of African Americans, past and current. Jarrett projects an identity. Page, on the other hand, also makes well-written allusions to racism; but he gives no such semblance of living in a different world, as does Jarrett. Page's references could just as well be uttered by any competent liberal white writer. His allusions to the African American experience display a blase glibness that marks him a herald easily assimilated by white supremacists. Jarrett, as is known, is just about completely written off by the white supremacist cadre as an overemotional crybaby.

But is the more cool journalist Page any more influential? Perhaps. But if he is, what is his identity? Whatever it is, it is certainly enigmatic, and thus comprising of his credibility. In either case, it would be interesting to hear those two journalists engage in a symposium on the issue of the quandaries of African Americans who work in the world of the white media (along with, of course, a couple of blacks working in Black media).

William Simpson

Park Forest

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