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.
In 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.