Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Shoptalk

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Shoptalk

Article excerpt

TRANSPARENT TRUTH

News makers should be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character: Ditto for news breakers

"Somebody ought to tell her something," someone will suggest with hushed tones and raised brows.

"You know," another will whisper about me, "she's not really from here."

And so the club meeting will begin. Instantaneously. On street corners. In church halls. Across dining-room tables.

You've probably never heard of this club. It has no dues. Meetings are called only when someone is found in violation of the unwritten rules. And your automatic enrollment is based on your skin color.

It's called the See Evil, Hear Evil, But Don't-Say-Anything-Out-Loud- 'Cause-White-Folks-Might-Be-Listening Club.

For years, I was a proud member. When Anita Hill was complaining on prime-time TV about how Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her, I wrote a column for the Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat, where I was working at the time. Here was another black woman publicly dissing a black man, I fumed. Why couldn't she just keep her mouth shut?

I'm embarrassed to have written those words. Now I feel Anita's pain. Since I started writing a Portland-issues column last year for The Oregonian, I too have been found guilty of breaking club rules. I too have been marked in some community circles as a Judas, a sellout. Some blacks even refer to me only as a "Negro," a code word meant to indicate that my status has deteriorated so much that I'm not even worthy to be called "black" anymore.

That attitude saddens me. But it makes me angry, too.

So I called Milton Coleman of The Washington Post. Who better to help me make sense of this conundrum than the poster child for "Negro" journalists? Some black people still consider him a traitor -- 17 years later -- for first reporting the Rev. Jesse Jackson's insults toward Jews in 1984.

Although the furor -- and the death threat -- erupted into one of the lowest points in Coleman's life, he said he would still make the same decision. It's a matter of journalistic integrity.

"It's very unfortunate that we, as black journalists, play an incredibly high tax for the work that we do," Coleman said in a telephone interview. "Yet you have to stick to your principles and realize that journalism is a lonely field. You're out there all by yourself, and what gives you strength is the people who are supportive of you."

And, as I've painfully discovered, those supporters rarely are coming from the black community. …

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