Wick Communications

Posts Tagged ‘Race’

‘A black overachiever’

In Uncategorized on 13 Jul 2017 at 2:18 pm

It is with great trepidation that I choose to write about writing about race. I understand this is a tinderbox topic and that it’s very easy to veer off the page and turn a critique of adjectives and nouns into accusations of racism and worse.

But I’m going to broach the topic anyway, because words matter.

Recently, I had occasion to write a Wick columnist — not an employee, mind you, but a contributor — who had referred to someone as “a black overachiever.” The term was meant as a compliment and the subject was a national public figure. I don’t think the writer intended anything mean-spirited by coupling those words, but it struck me wrong. So I wrote him a note, a bit of it reprinted here:

By any standard, XXXX is an achiever. He is a resounding voice respected by many for his intellect. But by modifying achievement with his “blackness” you A) create the impression that it’s somehow surprising that a black man could overachieve, B) suggest that he is only an overachiever when you consider his race, and C) overemphasize his race entirely. I’m guessing you would appreciate what he said regardless of his race.

To me the test is this: Would you ever write the words “white overachiever?” Would you say, for instance, that Bill Gates is a white overachiever?

To his credit, the columnist wrote me back and admitted that he makes that mistake from time to time. He took the criticism in the spirit that it was intended, even if he didn’t agree with me entirely.

Fair enough.

But he also defended the construction. He said he might refer to a “white overachiever,” for example, in professional sports, because he thinks black folks have a genetic predisposition toward athletics. Which is a whole ’nother topic, as they say. (Whatever the arguments there might be concerning physiology, you would have to take into consideration socio-economic factors, cultural mores, discrimination that precludes success in other avenues and myriad other considerations to have an intelligent conversation about that…) … Read the rest of this entry »


A day at the beach

In journalism on 7 Jul 2016 at 2:24 pm

day at the beach pic

Amid another week of police shootings, another week of protests in the streets, another week of debate over race and violence and our seemingly infinite capacity to misunderstand each other, a magazine bearing this cover slipped into mailboxes across the country.

It is both a simple, obvious slice of life and a profound statement. For us news and magazine types, it is a lesson in inclusion.

The image is the work of artist Kadir Nelson. It features a father and his children at a sun-drenched summer beach – a scene playing out along our coastlines from Wilmington, N.C. to Half Moon Bay, Calif. That the family is black is no accident.

“As a young kid I didn’t really see a lot of representations of African-Americans,” Nelson told CBS News recently. “I felt like I had a self-appointed responsibility to tell that story. That children who would go to museums, or art galleries, or open their books and see images that look like them and be proud of those images.”

Nelson has portrayed Nelson Mandela and produced children’s books full of images of Duke Ellington and Harriet Tubman. He gives extraordinary Americans their due, but he also wants to portray ordinary Americans … like that family on the beach. … Read the rest of this entry »


In Ethics on 28 Jan 2016 at 2:09 pm
Ben Carson faces a decidedly white press on the campaign trail. Courtesy Politico.

Ben Carson faces a decidedly white press on the campaign trail. Courtesy Politico.

The journalism industry has a diversity problem. It’s an old problem, and a pervasive one. I write this as the only woman on a small editorial staff that is all White.

So begins Kristen Hare’s provocative Q&A with Jose Antonio Vargas for Poynter. You can and should read the whole thing.

I think she’s right. Again and again over my decades in the business, the powers that be have made progress toward diversifying our newsrooms only to lose ground each time. The problem is rooted in tradition – many people of color simply don’t see role models in our business and therefore don’t think about a career in newsgathering. It is exacerbated by pay and benefits that are sometimes insufficient to attract people of all colors who have opportunities elsewhere. And it is enshrined when we lose momentum toward diversity in a climate of layoffs, when we’re all concerned about our own jobs, let alone jobs for others. … Read the rest of this entry »

Race and suspect descriptions

In Writing techniques on 20 Aug 2015 at 2:37 pm

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 2.31.54 PM

Let’s discuss a touchy subject: Should you mention the race of someone suspected of a crime? What about if that person is on the loose and cops are searching for him?

It’s something that happens every day. Police tell you they are looking for a Hispanic male who was leaving the scene of a home burglary or a drug deal or a domestic disturbance, etc. Sometimes they have more of a description. Sometimes they don’t. Do you include the race of the suspect in your story?

Christian Boone is a writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (and a very old friend.) He caused me to think about this anew with his Facebook post earlier this week. I completely agree with him. … Read the rest of this entry »

Fair comment, unfair portrayal

In Ethics on 28 Jul 2011 at 2:51 pm

There is a guy named Leland Yee running to be the next mayor of San Francisco. I know a bit about him because he is currently the state senator representing Half Moon Bay and environs.

He and I have had occasion to see things differently. That was true most recently when his ill-advised bill to outlaw the sale of violent videogames to minors was quashed by the U.S. Supreme Court, which had valid First Amendment concerns. He’s a politician. Sometimes he puts his finger to the wind to determine the prevailing political breeze before acting to best represent his constituents.

He also has a colorful past, including some near misses with the law.

Last week the alt-weekly SF Weekly ran a cover story headlined, “Sketchy: Leland Yee can’t erase his past.” It revisited two prior run-ins with city cops who thought he might be trying to pick up prostitutes in a notorious section of San Francisco (he was never charged) and a third kerfuffle in which he was stopped for pilfering tanning oil in Hawaii (I don’t think he was charged that time either.)

That’s fair game for a guy who is running to be mayor of a major U.S. city. But the drawings accompanying the piece really made me wince. You can see a couple of them in this post. … Read the rest of this entry »