On Friday, my colleague, Sharon Pian Chan, wrote a blog post about the replacement of Ann Curry as a host of the NBC Today show. She expressed disappointment that Curry was going to be moved to a less visible role and lamented that there weren’t enough Asian American role models in the media. It was a simple, candid and conversational blog entry.
What happened next was surprising, with many commenters releasing a torrent of personal attacks on Sharon. There were a few exceptions — some thoughtful, respectful commenters wanted to authentically explore the issue, even though they disagreed.
This highlights the difficulty we have in 2012 — almost 50 years after the Civil Rights of 1964 was enacted — of discussing issues relating to race.and ethnicity. Sharon’s post struck a nerve.
Diversity matters, and so does representation of groups that have not had much in the past. Why else would the Washington State Redistricting Commission, comprising four white guys and a white woman and charged with creating a 10th Congressional District for our state, create a district that has a majority of residents who are members of minority groups? Why would they embrace this value of representation? Because it matters.
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Still, we all have groups that we identify with and its important to have that representation, which is the point Sharon was trying to make. It’s not either/or. Is that right, Sharon?
Here are some thoughts from Sharon Pian Chan: I am all for honest dialogue about race issues and I am thrilled that so many people want to talk about it. We want to loosen up Seattle’s “tight smile” — as you call it, Kate — a symbol of our reluctance to discuss any subjects more personal than the weather. I’m happy to address some main themes from the online commenters:
Theme 1: The blog post and I are both racist. Here’s a comment from user who goes by hammtime:
Sharon, why do you feel someone is not a role model for you unless they are the same race as you? You seem to be arguing that unless someone looks like you do that they are not a role model. Why does it matter to you what someone’s skin color is? Seems a tad racist….
I look up to role models of all backgrounds. Bono is a role model. Bono gets plenty of press about the work he does in the developing world. Bono does not need me to write a blog post about him.
It matters a great deal to people of all backgrounds when a minority breaks through into a leadership role. It mattered to African Americans and people of all backgrounds when a mixed race president, Barack Obama, was elected. It matters to gay journalists and people of all backgrounds that CNN’s Anderson Cooper came out of the closet on Monday. It mattered that after decades, an Asian American sat down in the anchor chair at a major network. Some readers pointed out she wasn’t very good at anchoring the show — that’s a good argument for replacing her, and I love it when commenters bring different perspectives to the conversation.
Theme 2: Talking openly about people’s racial background is racist.
It’s probably racist to attribute qualities to someone because of their race. For instance, if I said Ann Curry was a bad anchor because Asian Americans can’t speak English, that would be racist. It’s not racist to talk about someone’s race when the subject is the lack of Asian American representation in the anchor seats at the major news networks.
Readers seemed upset that I brought up the fact that less than half of all babies in the U.S. are white. That’s an actual fact, like the moon landing. Here, again, is the link to the New York Times story about it.
Theme 3: Ann Curry is not Asian American because only one of her parents is of Asian descent.
Curry does identify as Asian American. She has keynoted multiple speeches for the Asian American Journalists Association.
By the way, I’m also white. My family’s DNA has been tested, and it turns out my great-great grandfather was white.
Theme 4: I don’t care about Afghanistan. Here’s a comment from a user who goes by loooking:
Okay. I’m in the “this must be satire” camp. Very funny piece. Next time put in the ‘humor’ subtitle to cut down on the confusion. “A touch of Afghanistan…” Ha Ha!
Afghanistan is a key election issue, and I’ve asked several of U.S. congressional candidates in endorsement meetings how the U.S. needs to move forward Afghanistan. The line in the blog post was a joke. What am I hearing? Crickets. Now I know how my husband feels when he tells jokes that aren’t funny.
Kate and I think this is could be a great conversation and we want to continue it. Does it still matter when minorities, women and representatives of underrepresented groups make it to the top? Let us know in this form below. If we get some thoughtful, meaty comments, we will run them in the printed edition of The Seattle Times.