Race matters at Washington Post

Posted: Aug 30, 2000 12:00 AM
"The Washington Post cordially invites you to the 15th annual National Council of Caucasian Women's White Family Reunion Celebration." Can you imagine the uproar if one of the nation's largest newspapers issued invitations to a cultural gathering designed to enhance "white history," "white heritage" and "white pride"? Substitute "black" for "white," however, and what do you get? Utter indifference. On Sept. 9 and 10, The Washington Post will sponsor the 15th annual National Council of Negro Women's Black Family Reunion in Washington, D.C. It's a major celebration "dedicated to the history and tradition of the black family." Other corporate participants include Coca-Cola and Southwest Airlines. One might argue that The Washington Post's sponsorship of the Black Family Reunion is benign community outreach. But the National Council of Negro Women, which promotes a pro-government, social justice agenda, is not exactly a non-political group. The group's leader, Dorothy Height, for example, held a seat at the table during Jesse Jackson's shakedown of Texaco following complaints of racial discrimination. Race-based gatherings are, by their nature, exclusionary. Julie B. Walker, Dallas chapter president of the National Council of Negro Women, described the event's purpose a few years ago this way: "We are celebrating the black family values, our culture, our achievements, our hope for the future," she said. "It shows unity, solidarity." There may be nothing wrong with private individuals getting together to celebrate these "values." But why is it racist when white Southerners gather to celebrate their history and tradition, and not when black Northerners gather for the same purpose? Why is it promoting "bigotry," as The Washington Post editorialized, when South Carolinians rally around a Confederate flag, but promoting "diversity" when black activists in the nation's capital rally around a multicultural flag? More importantly, why should a purportedly objective newspaper be involved in elevating the solidarity of one race? Isn't this, to use a word invoked often by liberal media types, "divisive"? The Washington Post is notorious for allowing its biased obsession with race to color its coverage. Five years ago, The New Republic magazine exposed countless examples of stories that were slanted or spiked to appease the black establishment in D.C. The paper got scooped on news of municipal corruption under former Mayor Marion Barry; reporters and editors were bogged down by the baggage of racial resentment. Affirmative action advocates assert that their agenda strengthens competition, but in the Post's case, the newsroom has suffered. And so have readers. In its misguided effort to appear racially sensitive, The Washington Post succeeds only in stoking tensions. Last fall, the paper ran a front-page headline that announced: "White Man Gets Mayoral Nomination in Baltimore." What did the candidate's race have to do with his qualifications? The black voters of Baltimore saw past Martin O'Malley's skin color. The Post headline writer couldn't see anything else. The editors apologized, but not for another little-discussed incident of racially based editing. Last month, after the murder of 8-year-old Kevin Shifflett in Alexandria, Va., investigators learned that a man being investigated in the white child's murder had expressed virulent hatred of whites before -- and possibly during -- the killing. The suspect, a black man, had earlier assaulted a white man in 1993 with a hammer. The victim recalled the assailant saying, "What the (expletive) are you looking at, whitey?" Ombudsman E.R. Shipp explained that Post editors deleted "whitey" from the victim's quote because they were not sure about the relevance of race to the unfolding investigation. They'll deny it, but you can be sure that if the young victim were non-white and the assailant's past racial epithets were directed at minorities, the editors would have put the slurs in a banner headline decrying a brutal hate crime. "Sometimes," a reader advised the Washington Post, "the best way to improve relations between the races is just to stop harping on racial differences every chance you get." The newspaper could start by ending its participation in racial separatism and getting back to the business of journalism.