The Breakdown of Discourse

Craig Jenkins, writing for Vulture.

Volatile speech carries with it the potential of inspiring volatile action — they’re branches of the same tree. Activist Shaun King’s brash tweet calling for the destruction of statues, murals, and stained-glass windows depicting Jesus as a white man was treated by right-wing media as a direct edict from Black Lives Matter. The net effect of speech that closes ranks; that reinforces misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia; that draws wedges between groups that ought to be allies in the struggle for justice is the disintegration of communication. Activism that ignores the concerns of the most vulnerable people in the community only reinforces the lines that divide us. If this generation is to overcome the flaws of the last one, the selfishness and fearfulness cleaving the country in half, it’ll be as a functioning unit, not as a network of bickering interest groups. The price of failure this time is the future.

Jenkins, Craig. (2020, July 29). We’re Witnessing the Total Breakdown of Discourse. Vulture.

Country Music’s Approaching Reckoning

Spencer Kornhaber, writing for The Atlantic on the jolts Country music has been hit with by the pandemic and the protests.

The Chicks, meanwhile, are about to release Gaslighter, their first batch of songs since 2006. Back then, country radio’s boycott—cancellation?—of the Chicks for criticizing the Iraq War did not succeed in getting the band to quiet down, and they remain outspoken on Gaslighter. Produced by the pop artist Jack Antonoff, the album is a lively and thumping stylistic pastiche with biting lyrics about personal matters and politics. On the single “March, March,” the Chicks speak out for abortion rights, for gun control, and to raise questions about Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia. Its accompanying video is packed with images from the recent protests, culminating with a list of Black people killed by police. The song’s banjos and harmonies sound like country music, but the listener is left with a jolting, tense feeling far from the soothing haze offered by old Chicks songs like “Wide Open Spaces.” This is the sound of a band insisting that everything is not fine and normal—or maybe that normal was never all that fine.

Kornhaber, Spencer. (2020, July 15). Country Music Can No Longer Hide Its Problems. The Atlantic.

The New York Times on Capitalizing “Black”

Nancy Coleman, explaining why The New York Times is capitalizing “Black”.

Decades later, a monthlong internal discussion at The Times led the paper on Tuesday to make, for similar reasons, its latest style change on race — capitalizing Black when describing people and cultures of African origin.

“We believe this style best conveys elements of shared history and identity, and reflects our goal to be respectful of all the people and communities we cover,” said Dean Baquet, The Times’s executive editor, and Phil Corbett, associate managing editor for standards, in a memo to staff.

Coleman, Nancy. (2020, July 5). Why We’re Capitalizing Black. The New York Times.

Being Black in Publishing

A series of interviews in The New York Times about what it’s like to be Black in the publishing world. This bit from an interview with Tracy Sherrod, Editorial Director at Amistad, stands out.

It took seven years of interviews for an editorial assistant position. I used to make a joke that I was the oldest editorial assistant in the world. But it didn’t matter to me because I was very, very happy to be working with books. Once I discovered that this could be a career, there was nothing that was going to stop me. And I think that’s the spirit of all the Black editors in publishing: There’s nothing that’s going to stop them from doing this job.

I think publishers hold certain beliefs about what is universal, and oftentimes we don’t fit, our stories don’t fit into that equation. At Amistad, I’m trying to feed our community by shining a spotlight on Black stories, Black culture, Black history. Because oftentimes what’s in the headlines is not the full story of our humanity. What I think has changed or not changed in publishing is that there’s more diversity in terms of what is being published in the African-American marketplace, in terms of the variety of stories that are being told. But there’s only like seven of us Black editors who have some authority, real authority and power — and it’s not full authority and power.

Given my sales history, I think if I weren’t a Black woman, I would probably have a higher title. But titles don’t really matter to me, just the opportunity to publish books for my people is what matters most, so I don’t really focus on that. People who have racist ideas and racist actions do not bother me. I don’t let any of those issues influence what I do or the way I think or what I publish. That is a personal problem. I don’t let it become my problem. Racism is prevalent in all aspects of American society, and publishing is no different.

dé Léon, Concepción, Alter, Alexandra, Harris, Elizabeth A., Khatib, Joumana. (2020, July 1). ‘A Conflicted Cultural Force’: What It’s Like to Be Black in Publishing. The New York Times.

A Me-Too Moment for Journalists of Color

Soledad O’Brien on talking about race as a journalist of color.

We are risking jobs and status and a metaphorical stoning by bigots on social media to call out an industry that reports on racism and segregation while shamefully allowing it to fester within.

To be clear, this is not just about how reporters of color are treated when they talk about race in the newsroom. The thin ranks of people of color in American newsrooms have often meant us-and-them reporting, where everyone from architecture critics to real estate writers, from entertainment reporters to sports anchors, talk about the world as if the people listening or reading their work are exclusively white.

There are simply not enough of us in the newsroom to object effectively — not in TV, print or online, certainly not in management. So our only option is to mimic the protester’s strategy: Talk directly to the public and just talk loud.

O’Brien, Soledad. (July 4, 2020). Soledad O’Brien: A Mee-Too Moment for Journalists of Color.

The New Normal for Journalists

Yasmeen Serhan, writing for The Atlantic on the assaults journalists have come under in modern America.

Being a Washington correspondent is among the most prestigious postings available to international journalists—a reward that is typically reserved for an outlet’s most senior or highest-profile journalist. To be a Washington correspondent means keeping up with the unpredictable and tumultuous pace of American politics and, more recently, making sense of President Donald Trump’s broadside attacks on both the countries they report from and, often, the media itself.

Still, the role has never been considered a particularly risky one. “The worst thing they would have to do is sit through interminable hours in the Senate waiting for [Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell to say something,” Robert Mahoney, the deputy executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, told me.

No longer. In recent weeks, journalists—both domestic and international—have been subject to unparalleled attacks on press freedom across the U.S. Several of these incidents have involved the detention and arrest of people who identified themselves as members of the press. Others have been considerably more violent, involving the targeting of journalists with rubber bullets and chemical irritants. A photojournalist was permanently blinded in one eye as a result. Like Floyd’s death, many of these incidents have been caught on camera.

For foreign media, who have been among those assaultedtargeted with rubber bulletsand tear gas, and arrested, the government’s response to the protests—upwards of 400media-freedoms violations have been reported since the demonstrations began—is shifting perceptions of what it means to be a journalist in America.

Serhan, Yasmeen. (2020, June 19). The ‘Absurd’ New Reality of Reporting From the U.S.. The Atlantic.

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