Mayor Lori Lightfoot doesn’t seem to understand what’s wrong with her decision to do one-on-one interviews only with black or brown journalists on the second anniversary of her inauguration. She said it’s a valid way of exposing the implied racism of Chicago media because black and brown journalists are disproportionately represented in the City Hall press corps.
She’s wrong on two counts:
First, it’s so obviously wrong to filter out non-black and non- brown journalists from her interview schedule that it hardly needs commentary. What if I said I wouldn’t interview her or other black officials because they’re black?
Second, her complaint that the press corps is too white seems to be based on the assumption that its the result of racism, of the systemic or institutional kind. She doesn’t explain how that happens. Here I will argue that racism is too simplistic of an explanation.
The second first. In my four plus decades in the Chicago news business, I have never encountered a publisher or editor who would refuse to hire journalists because of their race. Quite the contrary. For decades, they made a special effort to find and hire qualified black men and women. They did it because they believed it was the right thing to do. Employment discrimination became illegal with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A business plan that discriminates black employees would be foolhardy and destructive. They’d be cutting their own throats.
Newspaper bosses I knew were anxious to increase readership in the black communities. They wanted more coverage of the black communities. They hired blacks with that in mind (until some black reporters rightfully complained that they wanted to cover other things, just like everyone else).
I’ll be told that I didn’t see the systemic racism in the news business because it was hidden. But that’s a circular argument, amounting to “We know there is systemic racism because it’s hidden. It’s hidden because systemic racism isn’t out in the open.” Even hidden phenomena require proof of their existence.
The problem with this kind disproportionately argument (e.g. the percentage of blacks in the newsroom must reflect their percentage in the population) is that it doesn’t explain anything. By itself, it is not proof of racial animus. Other variables, as social scientists call them, are explicative: education, experience, savvy, smarts and more. Self-selection also cannot be ruled out.
In other words, people are hired and promoted based on merit, as they should be. That’s an argument for another day.
As for the first argument that blacks will better understand her policies and agenda because they’re black, it’s not just insulting, it’s bull. It’s as if I was assigned to cover only whites, or Catholics, or Navy veterans, because I have a “better understanding” of them.
How, pray tell, is this supposed to work? If I sit down with Lightfoot, would I ask different questions because I’m white? If I didn’t ask the right questions, can’t she point the interview in the right direction?
Does she mean that white reporters would leave out of their stories the points she believes are important because they are racist and out to sabotage her? Is it not important for her to supply white reporters with an understanding of things they are unaware of?
So, I join with the rest of the critics who see her decision as racist. Exactly the kind of racists who judge people on the color of their skin. The ones who thought black students should not sit down with whites. Or sit at the front of the bus. Or eat at a white restaurant or drink from a white water fountain. Or vote.
The ultimate tragedy is that they fail to see their racism.