We are living in the middle of multiple waves of that kind of news now: political turmoil threatening democracies around the world, a pandemic that continues to morph and bloom and kill, an economic crisis unseen since the Great Depression. And eclipsing all that, the demonstrations that continue to grip the streets of Minneapolis, America and beyond, decrying the systemic racism that has led to death after death after death through the centuries.
The threads of these tangled events are too many to count or even yet predict, but crucial for any engaged citizen to follow. Journalists race to multiple fronts and stand there to witness, understand and report so the rest of us can fulfill the most fundamental roles of citizenship: to be informed and engaged.
Anything we say here feels like a distraction to that important work. But given these times, we would be remiss not to remember that as journalists do their work so we can do ours, they are not immune from the news they cover. They risk their own health and that of their families to cover the human toll of coronavirus. Their own jobs are insecure in this economy. They are gassed and beaten and arrested by police as tell the true story from our turbulent streets.
And if they are black or Latino or Indian or Asian or anything but white, they navigate a daily gauntlet of race — on their streets, on their jobs, in their friendships and, sometimes, in their own hearts.
It is impossible to highlight all the important voices that are rising to speak truth to these times. These are just two that stood out in ways that are courageous, vulnerable and crying to be heard, and that hit directly at the challenge facing journalists.
Isaac Bailey is an author and journalist whose 2018 memoir, “My Brother Moochie,” wrestles with his own racial shame after his older brother was convicted of murder. In an essay for Nieman Reports, he explores that theme further with a stunning revelation: He has come to recognize his own racism. This from the essay:
Here’s the cold, hard, uncomfortable truth: No one in the United States is immune to the influence of white supremacy, not even a black Southerner like me.
It is impossible to capture the complexities of his piece in brief, so please don’t make assumptions based on these fumbling words. Just read it.
The other piece that begs is by Doris Truong, a career journalist who is now director of training and diversity at the Poynter Institute. Truong’s column in Poynter.org is framed as a letter to white newsroom managers. But it is also a cry for all of us to try to understand the additional layers of trauma faced daily by journalists of color:
Every day is filled with microaggressions. The co-worker who repeatedly calls us by the name of another Asian American. The colleague who won’t learn to pronounce our six-letter name but who can rattle off Shostakovich without pause. The stranger who touches our hair. The co-opting of our culture. The disrespect of our sacred icons.
Yet we do the work. We do the work because we believe in journalism. We do the work because if we don’t, we cannot trust that our White colleagues will treat our communities with the dignity they deserve.
Both are pieces that must be read with thought, then read again and considered even — or especially — through our discomfort. Journalists are under assault and exhausted as we try to navigate territory that holds new emotional and ethical turns. Hard as that can be, it is essential we don’t turn from the harder news and courageous commentary that mark this history we are living.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A version of this essay was first published in the Storyboard weekly newsletter on June 5, 2020.