[X]press Newspaper: An Example of White Privilege and Ignorance

Damn, I have never felt so awkward, disheartened, angry, and yet so very proud before in my life. A few days ago while I was sitting in the journalism lab at SF State, talking to the new [X]press newspaper editors for next semester, Ian Thomas, the current head editor, stormed into the room consumed with frustration. He was pissed off at the soon-to-be editor Sean Maher for his column that we published in this week's current issue called "A Note on Diversity from Next Semester's Newspaper Editor." (For content analysis of this article click here) Basically, Maher was inadvertently saying that race doesn't matter and that we need to be colorblind.

Several weeks ago [X]press had made the decision to put together a race package and with that a content analysis on the demographics of our photos for the last 16 weeks. However, in his column, Maher expressed that "what makes a community meaningfully diverse is a wealth of individual beliefs, perspectives and behavior, not just a bunch of different-looking faces. When we define diversity primarily in terms of what people look like, we give credence to the idea that a person is defined by those appearances." By saying this, it was if he was undermining the purpose of why we had even decided to do a content analysis on the paper in the first place. [X]press wanted to determine how accurately we were representing our diverse campus community in our news coverage. Like many other mainstream news periodicals, we found that we had not been and now we were asking our readers to please keep us in check.

Thomas flung the paper behind his head in outrage, exclaiming that he was pissed off. He was also upset that the team of editors did not consult him about this editorial because if he would have known, he wouldn't have allowed it to run. Thomas also didn't want our readers to get the impression that this represented [X]press' true beliefs. He told Maher that what he had said was very typical of a white, straight male to say. Ironically, both editors are white, straight male college students. But obviously, one is more conscious of class, racial privilege, while the other remains color-blind, ignorant, and oblivious to his privilege.

I understand what Maher was trying to get at, that we shouldn't judge people on the basis of the color of their skin but by their ideas and perspectives. However, we can't deny the fact that we do. He went on to talk about how he strives to see people as individuals and not necessarily as the group they're part of or associate themselves with. Well, if he wants to be representative of our SF State community, the majority of students agree that race/ethnicity is really important to their identity that helps define who they are on this campus, according to SF State's Campus Climate survey, explained Jamie Newton, an SF State social psychology who I interviewed for my piece on subtle racism (Apparently, Maher didn't read my piece on subtle racism that I had written a week before). You can't disassociate an individual from his or her group(s), especially if a person defines him or herself by that group. The survey also found that a substantial number of minorities –– not more than 50 percent –– said they sometimes or often felt mistreated on campus because of their affiliation with racial, religious, or sexual orientation, etc. groups.

So now tell me that race doesn't matter.

Not to boast, but I was the one who came onto the [X]press staff as a Filipino American, a person of color, this semester talking about why diversity is important and started the hoopla on it. I pitched my stories that included people of diverse races and backgrounds and then I argued that we didn't have enough stories on the Black student population on campus and in turn, wrote one. I also found that students do experience subtle racism at SF State on a daily basis (Just because we're diverse and liberal, doesn't mean we can't be racist). Now, if I wasn't a person of color, would I have wanted to cover these stories? Probably not, because these are stories that aren't always easy for people who aren't of color to tackle and comprehend. I'm not saying that every person of color is conscious and that all those who are white aren't. Don't get me wrong, I know there are white, conscious people, who aren't afraid to acknowledge social inequalities ( i.e. my boyfriend, Jack Stephens, the founder of this blog; my editor, Ian Thomas). However, it seems to me, not being affected by the struggle is an excuse used by many white people to not address it.

To some, being color-blind may be a good thing. That race doesn't matter. But how can we ever be color-blind when race is so ingrained into our minds, daily conversations, thoughts, institutional structures, systems, ideals, how we perceive things, etcetera, etcetera? Honestly, we've been colorblind for far too long to the extent that it's blinded us to the subconscious racism and racial privilege that exists. Instead of confronting these issues, we hasten to overlook and fail to address them along with other societal inequalities that have been detrimental, yet prevalent factors within American society. We've been socialized by our institutions, media, society, to not respond to race and yet, it's one of the first things our subconscious processes when identifying, categorizing, and relating to someone.

I was very disappointed by our race package. By the end, I was the only one working on it. Why? Maybe I was just too late in turning my couple stories, maybe people just got busy focusing on other things-- but for whatever reason, it was just another example of how race and its entourage of stereotypes, assumptions, and judgments, are once again shoved onto the back burner and neglected.

I was so proud that Thomas spoke up and that the situation literally brought him to tears-- a conscious, privileged male who's attempted walk in the shoes of "the other" apart from his own. With all do respect, I can't say the same for Maher (Sidenote: Maher was willing to continue this dialogue and carry it into the next issue to better address diversity).