To paraphrase James Brown, I’m a Black journalist and proud. It’s not easy, glamorous or particularly safe being one as the president of the United States routinely refers to the profession as the greatest enemy to the United States but I am here to be counted.
As with all humans, I have my bias, POV and subjective opinions. Behind my desk as an editor, I do my best to remain a neutral observer of the truth. My job is to give you facts and when an opinion is being offered, I make that clear as well. Contrary to the talking heads across the dial and on Al Gore’s internet, the majority of us did go to journalism school. Sallie Mae reminds me every month that I really did graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in journalism and not the one in nursing my mother wanted.
It’s not that being a medical profession has no value. It does and I bear witness as someone profoundly grateful to the staff that card for my mother recently. They provided a comfort that my mind and heart could barely grasp. My ministry to nurture is of a different kind. I want to bring forth the narratives of those who don’t have a voice or have been silenced. I’m a five feet, petite translator that makes another’s echo vibrate through a bullhorn. Words are my armor of choice and I get suited up each day because if not, our stories are told through the lens who have no care or take it for granted.
The latest examples being that of Sen. Kamala Harris and the Covington Catholic teenagers who wore MAGA hats to intimidate and harass. In both instances, perspectives mattered and the ensuing coverage made that clear.
Harris announced on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday that she would be running for president in 2020. It’s no secret that I’m an admirer of hers but that is with the knowledge that she does not get a free pass. There are valid and constructive criticisms of her record as a prosecutor in California. She supported the three strikes rule, denied transgender inmates sex reassignment surgeries and made it harder for sex workers. Harris has taken full responsibility for her choices.
Each person can decide if her words and subsequent deeds are enough but what she won’t do is show her papers in in the year of Our Lord 2019!
Chris Cuomo of CNN ultimately apologized.
Nonetheless, the underlying problem persists. Conversations about her identity and ethnicity have been started by bad faith actors and indulged by those in the mainstream press who should know better. Some of these folks are not just asking to ask or curious. They are woefully ignorant and invalidating her just as President Barack Obama was similarly smeared by Donald Trump who demanded proof of his birth. Obama, a Harvard educated and constitutional lawyer, had to show his papers and it still wasn’t enough. To this day, there are those who believe he is a secret Kenyan or Muslim. Obama may have laughed off the matter but that is a degradation that hurts. Now the same Beltway press that played along with Trump’s antics are giving light to this new smear but yet it’s crickets about Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz being born in Canada.
Speaking from experience, I had to show my papers just last year or rather my purse after being accused of stealing from a Family Dollar in Philadelphia. I lived there for almost 20 years and was welcomed home by being accused of being a thief. I’m a little bitty thing that the wind will knock over but still I go out of my way to smile and be non-threatening to the eyes following me around in stories. Much like Obama, my efforts weren’t enough and I was confronted by the security guard who demanded to see what was in my brown bag.
I opened my purse to show a book, pens, candy and too many receipts from CVS. After, I cussed him out. No, I didn’t go high. Yes, it felt good.
Harris and Obama aren’t afforded the pleasure of just going off. In all honestly, I’m not given the freedom of weaponizing my anger and to this day, I thank God’s grace for shielding me because we’re never allowed to be angry. We are shamed into forgiving those that hurt us while others are given so much benefit. When I first saw the Covington Catholic clips spreading on social media, I instinctively knew what Nathan Phillips felt as those teenagers sneered, jeered and taunted him. Others also recoiled in disgust and asked how this could be happening. Why that is a serious question in this day and age, I don’t know.
As the events unfolded, many white journalists took the initiative to declare that boys would be boys, planting their flags that everyone makes mistakes and to let them be. Where was this understanding for Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin and the Michael Brown’s of the world deemed as no angels? The ink didn’t runneth over but it sure ran out to create a new narrative that the teenagers were the true victims of fake news and knee jerk reactions were the media’s undoing. A lack of diversity in the newsroom is.
Prior to this “Show Me Your Papers” spectacle, CBS was called out for its lack of Black representation and a Washington Post reporter said members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. were screeching at Harris when it fact it was the AKA greeting skee wee.
I’m not the loudest voice in the room. In fact, I’m a bit mousy and tend to observe but I’m going to stay in one and keep banging my small hands on doors for an opportunity. In the tradition of those that came before me, especially the founders of the National Association of Black Journalists, I can’t leave it to chance that stories of those who look like me will be told correctly. If at all.