Taboo the Issue of Race

March 24, 2010 

Growing up in the South and being amongst the first generation to integrate public schools I’ve always noticed how discussions of race with whites can cause discomfort–a subject many would rather not engage. It was one such discussion that prompted this blog. I pitched a story to Sheri Dalphonse Editor of the Washingtonian magazine on an local African American filmmaker and his efforts to turn his award winning short into a feature film. I got the idea after reading a similar story in the prior editon about similar efforts of two white male filmmakers. The editor rejected the pitch. I questioned why white filmmakers merited coverage but the African-American did not. Offended she declared race had nothing to do with it. I left it that. Months later I pitched another story about and a remarkable artist and ex-con that almost made it into print. I sensed her lack enthusiasm believing the subject would not interest Washingtonian’s upper crust white audience.

I knew the risk of raising race and offending the editor would not help getting me into print, but I couldn’t let it go. A year later the Washingtonian ran an article on the top 100 dentist in the Washington area–all white. The editor claimed the survey method was unbiased relying on the local dentist and members of the American Dental Association. I raised the fact that Washington DC was 60 percent black and most black folk patronize black dentists. I questioned why no black dentists were represented at the top. Again, I had offended but the offense gave serious pause for thought, qualifications and patient satisfaction were not determinative.

I let her know that her survey was biased because she neglected to contact any dentist in the National Dental Association. Huh? Unaware the African American dental profession like the medical and legal professions as a result of a history of discrimination had formed their own professional associations, a time honored tradition. The editor had in fact unintentionally discriminated. I had enlightened her and she promised to include the National Dental Association in the next annual survey. I also noticed the magazine has since hired an African American staff writer a former local TV news reporter.

By confronting the taboo I raised the Editors conscience and paved a way for the opportunity of another. The Washingtonian may never publish any my work because of my ethnic outlook, but they’ll think twice about excluding ethnic content in the future. The Washington community is made up of Asians, Latinos, Blacks and others. It’s important to engage discussion on race and ethnicity no matter how uncomfortable—it just good business. A history of opportunity denied by countless editors caused a certain self-reliance. I have herein made my own.

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