When Is a Minority the Majority?

As I prepared to distribute the LA Progressive newsletter this morning, I was struck by something that’s been gnawing at me for a while. Finally, for reasons that would take too long to explain in this short essay, I’d reached a point where it caused me to stop and write. What troubled me this morning was that every article I was set to distribute today was written by a white man.

We publish at least six articles everyday so this doesn’t happen every day. But having a line up of articles written exclusively by white men happens often enough that, for whatever reason, I was motivated to write about it today. When you consider that white men represent only about 32% of the American population, it should seem curious that they are often looked upon as the “generic American” and their point of view as the generic “American” point of view.

To be fair, I think our writers (white, black, Latino, Asian, lesbian, gay, trans, queer, straight, atheist, Christian, Muslim, Hindu,  male and female) provide us with some of the best progressive editorial pieces you’ll find on the web. Writers like Tom Hall, Jerry Drucker, Robert Illes, Sherwood Ross, Charles Hayes, Brad Parker, John Peeler, Ron Wolff, and Berry Craig write on a full range of topics including the prison industrial complex, same-sex marriage, misogeny, police misconduct, our relationship with Central and South America and other topics not typically covered in mainstream “American” publications by white male writers. But what troubles me about overrepresenting a single demographic is that, by definition, when we do that we’re not publishing the voices of the underrepresented.

If this isn’t something you’ve noticed, check this out. Since the inception of the LA Progressive, we’ve posted over 4,000 articles — 4060, to be exact. Of those, 74% were written by white men and women. Not surprising, the overwhelming majority of writers are also straight and able-bodied. But the point of this piece is that more than 2,500 LA Progressive articles were written by white men. So it came as somewhat of a surprise when I  learned that some of our readers have the perception that our e-zine primarily focuses on issues of race and immigration when, in fact, the vast majority of our pieces fall into two categories, the economy and elections, irrespective of race or immigration.

Although the perception was way off the mark, it is an important one to note. Why? Because the perception highlights that, in America, when a publication or an organization has more than a token amount of minority representation, it is often viewed as a minority publication or a minority organization. It is further assumed that the organization  focuses on minority issues, whatever that means. What ends up happening is the organization/publication is ignored by the dominant culture — relegated to the domain of sub-culture. This happens as much in the progressive white community as it does in other areas of white domain. But we do ourselves a disservice when we fall prey to this perception.

I struggle with this issue because we, as a society, often miss opportunities to improve our policies. We’re often so focused on the speck in our brother’s eye that we miss the log in our own. This message was driven home in a big way with the rise of the Tea Party and the outcome of the November election.  White progressives expressed outrage when overtly racists placards and comments were heard from the Tea Party. But their is plenty of racial segregation on the left and a person of color is hard to find in progressive media.

Writer/filmmaker Mitchell Bard posted an article in the Huffington Post entitled, “Why Sarah Palin’s North Korea Flub Matters”. It would have been just as accurate if it were entitled “Why Sarah Palin’s North Korea Flub DOESN’T Matter”. In it Bard argues that Palin is not fit to run for the highest office in the land because she lacks the knowledge at the most cursory level. But I comment that whether or not she is fit is irrelevant to her supporters.

In 2008, just after Obama won the election by a landslide, many on the Left dismissed Sarah Palin as an anomaly, but minorities– especially blacks and browns who are all too familiar with this archetype — were watching and waiting for the next shoe to drop.

As could have been forecast, Palin’s lack of knowledge hasn’t had any affect her popularity. It hasn’t been an issue for her constituents because they lack appreciation for nuance. They don’t seem to understand the need for understanding complex matters. Palin is clearly running — yes I believe she is already campaigning — on celebrity. She appeals to a large enough percentage of the American population to make her a key player.

These are the same Americans who often argue that racism is a thing of the past, global warming is a non-issue, the U.S. Defense budget is just fine, speaking Spanish makes one a second-class citizen, and homosexuality is a psychological disorder. This is the face of America that I worked hard to protect my children from — to no avail.

This is the face of America that the canaries in the coal mine have warned about for years — to no avail.

sharon kyleIn part, many don’t notice the unequal racial and gender representation among LA Progressive writers because we’ve got such a fine collection of authors who present provocative points of view on a wide range of issues. But also, it may go unnoticed because we’re accustomed to hearing from certain kinds of voices and not others.

The challenge of the LA Progressive and specifically my challenge is to find some more canaries and promote the heck out of them.

Sharon Kyle

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Comments

  1. Tom says

    32% of the populations is white men. But “74% were written by white men and women” ! ? What percentage was written by white MEN? Using the “men and women” percentage inflates the number.

    But even inflated, what’s the inverse? 26% were written by non-white men andwomen. How does that compare with NBC, Faux News, the NY Times, Huffington Post, Daily Kos?

    LA Progressive’s writers may not exactly mirror the population demographics. But without having studied the numbers, my sense is that you are doing a WHOLE lot better than many other publications (including broadcasters). And you are doing it in an environment which aggressively limits the educational opportunities for minority voices of all sorts.

    Be frustrated – sure. But don’t let the frustration gloss over the reality that you are providing an important venue for a higher percentage of minority voices than most publications. Recognizing that achievment, let’s look forward to you continuing to open the door for such voices, until the day they are not seen as “minority” or “alternative”, or “other”, but simply as part of the whole.

    • says

      Tom — thank you. This type of encouragement goes a long way. Paul Rogat Loeb wrote a powerful book, “Soul of a Citizen” that I have to reread occasionally to stay focused. You are right. We are offering a place for voices that haven’t always had a place and I have to remember that. This is an improvement. By the way, white male writers represent 62%. White women, 12%. Black men, 7%. Black women, 11%. Latinos, 1%. Latinas, 6%. We have had few articles written by Asians – a little less than 1%.

  2. marshall says

    Well now, which is the non-progressive, Deick? or Sharon? I do not see any non-progressives that have a article of their own. The blog owners do allow such folks to respond but then no one knows the race of other traits of those writers. Does it really matter? If you read my words on their own valuse, who cares who or what I am? I note that all the regulars are progressives but that is the name of the site. Maybe you need a token non progressive..

    • says

      Marshall — you have been commenting for a while. Dick and I value your input although we disagree with you most of the time. truth is, we don’t always agree with each other. The site is called the LA Progressive because, like you suggested, we wanted a place for the progressive voice. But that doesn’t mean we won’t allow other voices. So submit an article. We’ll take a look at it and see if or where it can fit. And thanks for the comments.

  3. Richard Packard says

    Hey Sharon,
    Great comments and “on the mark” observation about the participation of more white authors than “other” authors from the varying communities. I hear the challenge that you put forth to “the other” communities about authoring more comments in the LA Progressive, I also understand that from some folk in the black community they might believe that their comments will hit “deaf ears”, is “not relevant” to the dominant culture agenda and “won’t make a difference” anyway. I too believe that the opinions of other communities are just as relevant to the public discourse about economics, education, business, military intervention, etc. but the challenge is to “motivate” these communities to participate with the discourse and help them realize that their opinions and concerns are important, relevant and “action worthy” to this ‘nation of immigrants’. Its an uphill climb that we all have to be willing to face and overcome the heartships that is associated with such an endeavor.

    • says

      Richard — your point is well taken. We have to continue in the struggle to bring more people to the table. Several reading this post don’t understand the impact diversity has on achievement. Some have asked what difference does it make if a writer is white, black, brown or purple — as long as the piece is well written, they argue, it shouldn’t matter. As much as I’d prefer to just ignore those questions, I know that if we don’t or can’t answer this very valid question, we’re not doing our part. So thank you for agreeing to add another view point. We welcome your input. And I’ll keep working to formulate an answer to some of the other readers questions.

  4. GreenAdvocate says

    If we need a media which reflects the realities of today’s (and tomorrow’s) America, we also need a political party which does.

    One that actively represents, educates, and fights for its goals and values — through its vision and leadership, not merely slogans and rhetoric.

    If we have not made progress politically and in fact may well soon have Neanderthals in charge of Congressional committees on energy, health, education and other social issues, it is because we have no political leadership pointing the way, creating the narrative of our times.

    It’s easy to say that Republicans are now there, because Democrats have caved on most issues, but that misses the point.

    It is we who have caved to the myth that somehow this “2-party” system covers it all — it’s all there is. Both parties cater to a corporate agenda, admitting no other options, like Single-Payer healthcare insurance or an immigration policy that deals with underlying causes like industrial-strength low-wage magnets and an aggressive foreign policy. We get this bad-cop, badder-cop scenario every two years and call it “hope and change.”

    Oh, there’s little doubt that with huge treasure chests and a largely locked-down media, most Americans cannot even conceive of building something NEW, something that looks and sounds like what most of us want and aspire to. Yet that has to happen if we really want change.

    Unless we can create an organized leadership seeking real change, like a growing Green Party could, we can only expect a downward slide of our economy, freedoms, rights, environment — faster some years, slower in others.

    Visionary economist, lecturer, and author of “The Great Turning” David Korten addresses this, saying, “…a new economy of life and partnership is struggling to be born. The outcome is ours to chose”

    Time do whatever it takes to put new representative (and visionary) leadership at the helm.

  5. Cheriel Jensen says

    Thanks for your article Sharon.

    And you wonder why I (or women like me) don’t contribute an article to the LA Progressive.

    It is now 12:19 AM. I have spent the last four days getting ready for our family gathering on Thursday and another one tomorrow (Sunday (actually today since it is after 1:00 AM)). I have shopped in several places for the various parts of the various meals, cleaned house, washed clothing, towels and sheets, hung them on the line to dry, and prepared six complex salads, cooked a large turkey, made chestnut stuffing and gravy, and several accompanying dishes, made soup with the bones of the turkey entailing cooking beans for 12 hours and the bones for 5 hours, then fishing out the fat, bones and skin, another 2 hours. In addition I have served several other meals in those days as well. I have cleaned up the kitchen, pots and pans, and dishes for these meals. I was not the only one cooking. My daughter-in-law made additional dishes for the meal and two pies spending all of Thursday morning in her kitchen.

    In this last 4 days I have have not had a chance to sit down for 5 minutes until now to read and answer email or snail mail. My husband, on the other hand has watched several football games on TV, spent at least 8 hours wandering in stores, read all his mail and answered his mail, watched 3 movies and other TV while doing nothing whatsoever with his hands. He has read all his newspapers. He has chatted on the phone a number of times. (I however never watch a movie or anything else except when I am opening a pomegranate, sectioning a grapefruit, pealing chestnuts, ironing, mending, doing my hair, processing snail mail at the same time, etc., and never see a movie or program all the way through due to interruptions of things needing to be done. I never get to read the newspapers. I never have time for a real visit, or conversation, phone or otherwise)

    I would love to compile statistics and write articles about the need for a one-child family policy and the need for childbearing to begin later in a woman’s lifetime. Before “retiring” I was a planner. I worked on the census as well as land use. I tried my best to preserve the critical watersheds and farmland of California.

    Also, a disabled person (I was poisoned in my workplace) I would also like to write about the critical need for discontinuing the use of toxic materials.

    Who is writing about these issues? I should be. But I am expected to make all the traditional celebrations whole. I am expected to “keep the home fires burning” so to speak. When can I get the time to write about these issues? I am 71 but my life and responsibilities have never slowed down. I thought by now I would have had time to write the several books I wanted to write, but there is no time.

    If my husband wanted to write articles, he has time to do so and could easily turn out an article every couple of days.

    • says

      Cheriel,

      As I read your comment, I jumped up and down yelling, YES, YES, YES, this woman has her finger on the pulse of the problem. I plan to write more about this but where can I find the time. Like you, many women do more in an hour than their male counter parts do in a day. I was going to make that point in this article but I avoided it for two reasons — first, my husband is one of the hardest working human beings I have ever known — I didn’t want to cast a poor light on him and —- second, I hate negative responses and expected to get a bunch if I threw that angle into the article. I don’t avoid all battles but I believe you’ve got to pick battles and this isn’t one I wanted to deal with this weekend (after spending 14 hrs in the kitchen preparing for Thanksgiving). Thank you for saying what I (and no doubt countless other women) were thinking. Bravo!!!!

  6. says

    Yeah WTF? I’m helping to run LA Indymedia, and most of the posts seem to be from white guys. It’s not mostly white American guys forming the core of the group, but the people who write and think their opinion has value (even when it doesn’t) are white and male. They also seem to be mostly middle class or even wealthy.

    Another thing is that it seems like a lot of articles in the progressive press are “echo chamber” articles. They’re articles about articles, about books, about pundits, etc. So a lot of space and time is spent participating in the white-male-dominated dialogue.

    • says

      jk2001- What I think we’re experiencing is an unintentional by-product of our gender and race based hierarchy. Some demographics have more free time and more resources than others partly do to (as Warren Buffet recently said) coming in through the right womb. It is what it is. The unknown is what we’ll do about it.

  7. DavethNative says

    I have seen ZERO articles on Native American issues. But I guess that minority is not interesting to the bottom line thinkers.

    • says

      Dave: We published a couple, coming from a site that Russell Means maintains. We would be delighted to have Native American writers, Can you direct any our way? — Dick & Sharon

  8. Mad Jayhawk says

    To keep all your liberal readers happy I suggest that you clearly label each writer as to his/her race, religion, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, and have a prominent graphic showing the percent of each.

    Myself, I will keep reading those articles that appear to be interesting timely and well-written. Who really cares what little subgroup the person is a member of? People should only care about the ideas, quality of the writing, logic, and timeliness of the article and not worry about the race, ethnicity, religious, sexual orientation, etc score card. I would no more read a crappy article written by a white liberal born-again male than I would a crappy article written by a black conservative Muslim transsexual. Everyone is equal when it comes to reading about political events in my eyes. Just show me the facts, the logic, and some decent grammar and I am happy. Quotas are a bad thing that demeans us all.

    • says

      Mad Jayhawk — your comment brings to the fore the importance of presenting a complete, well written, argument. I apologize for not being more clear. It was not my intent to convey the message that physical differences themselves dictate diversity of thought. What I was alluding to is that diversity of thought yields superior outcomes. There is a whole body of work that supports this claim. Research suggests that progress and innovation may depend less on lone thinkers with enormous IQs than on diverse people working together and capitalizing on their individuality.

  9. Judy Bertelsen says

    Sharon,
    I must be missing something. Seriously. Isn’t this website run by you? So the question is why have you selected the authors and articles you have? Conversely, why haven’t you selected others?

    • says

      Judy — You are correct. I run this site with my husband, Dick. But we have a harder time finding writer’s of color and women. The reason for that is a whole other article.

    • GreenAdvocate says

      Privilege breeds privilege. Advantage engenders advantage. Control molds everything. Reinforcement builds habits.

      There is simply still a greater likelihood today of having white males prepared and eager to make their opinions heard today (whether or not they individually have greater analytical capabilities or better access to the facts), than other groups.

      It’s a political and cultural phenomenon.

      Only awareness, equalization of opportunity, culture change and time will likely alter that.

      This article deals with the “awareness” part.

  10. says

    Typically, any media outlet comes to represent their audience. If the articles written are mostly written by Middle Class White Males, then the subject matter is like read by the same. So, what does that say about “progressives?”

    • says

      John — you make an excellent point. This is, quite possibly, an accurate observation. It’s one of the many reasons I do the LA Progressive. We have to cast the net further.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *