Poynter Institute dean Keith Woods identified five fundamental measures of excellence when it comes to reporting on race and ethnicity in America. Woods explained how this set of criteria can lead to more in-depth, honest and original reporting about race relations in America.
The five measures include: context, complexity, voices, proportionality and authenticity.
When telling a story, journalists must provide historical information that helps the audience understand the issue. They must also present race as the complex issue it is and not as just black-or-white, literally and figuratively. Voices of the people must be heard, not just the usual official sources. When reporting on race and ethnicity, the amount of coverage should be proportional to its general importance. And, finally, journalists must be as clear and detailed – or authentic – as possible to provide their audience with enough insight.
After reading the Letter to the Editor (“Having two Homecomings perpetuates racial divides”) in the Oct. 23 issue of The Maneater regarding the Legion of Black Collegians Homecoming celebration, it was obvious that the authors failed to reach the excellence mantel developed by Woods.
Specifically, Megan Bales and Carly Tubridy didn’t provide their audience with enough context and complexity to make an informed decision on the necessity and morality of an alternative — not separate — homecoming celebration for African Americans on the University of Missouri campus.
This may be because a lack of awareness or lack of concern for the thoughts and feelings of Blacks on campus. Seeing as the letter was — more or less — a scolding of LBC and campus administration, there is reason to believe that the letter didn’t take into account the perspective of LBC or its constituents.
If the authors wanted to accurately report on race at Mizzou, they should have presented historical information on how Blacks have been treated at the university since its conception. As The Maneater has reported in the past, Blacks were not allowed into Mizzou until 1950, almost 39 years after Chester L. Brewer “founded” the concept of homecoming. Twelve years before the first Black student was admitted to Mizzou, Lloyd Gaines was accepted into the MU Law School in 1936 but was denied entry due to the color of his skin. By 1938, the Supreme Court ruled that, according to the separate but equal doctrine standard from Plessy v. Ferguson, Gaines was to be granted entrance to the law school. Unfortunately, he disappeared in 1939 and was never heard from again.
Gaines, of course, is one-half the namesake of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center, which was originally built in 1998 as a “haven for Black students at the University,” according to the GOBCC website.
Though the days of overt racism and discrimination of Blacks in America are arguably a thing of the past, one cannot forget that only four years ago, two Mizzou students spread cotton balls in the front lawn of the GOBCC.
This lack of context by the authors directly affects the complexity of race at Mizzou and the use of two Homecoming celebrations.
The idea behind LBC’s Homecoming is not as one-dimensional, or black-or-white, as it may appear, according to LBC President Marnae Chavers.
“It’s not a separate homecoming like people think, it’s just a different way of celebrating,” Chavers said. “People put a lot of emphasis on it because we have a separate [Royalty] Court and because we’re black students.”
Just as with the “Black Hole” in the Student Center, Black students aren’t “perpetuating racism” by choosing to be in a space that is more comfortable for them. If non-Black students were to actually ask Black students how they feel about the racial climate on campus — which, it appears the authors did not do due to the lack of quotes in their letter — then there would be a better understanding of the Black experience at a predominantly white institution.
So, no, having two homecomings does not insult the memories and accomplishments of those who sacrificed their lives to gain equality in America. If anything, it is the failure of some White Americans to make an attempt to understand Blacks — and putting the onus of assimilation solely on minorities — that is an insult to civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr.
Who, by the way, said more in his life than the “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Someone who practices excellent journalism would know that.
— Martenzie Johnson is a graduate student in the MU School of Journalism.
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