An Anti-Racist Future: A Vision and Plan for the Transformation of Public Media

I was feeling triggered by all the allegations of racism in media, so I got off of Twitter and contributed to this open letter for an anti-racist public media instead. I wrote part of the training section with some great people. Check out the letter and the signatories here.

OUR LETTER: An Anti-Racist Future: A Vision and Plan for the Transformation of Public Media

Racism is the idea that one racial group is inferior or superior to another, and has the social power to carry out and benefit from systemic discrimination. This applies to most, if not all, institutions in this country, including public media. Anti-Blackness and white supremacy shape both the institutional policies and practices of society and shape the cultural beliefs and values that support racist policies and practices.

White supremacy is the political and socio-economic system that allows white people both at a collective and individual level to enjoy structural advantage and rights that other racial and ethnic groups do not.

Anti-racism is the idea that people of all racial groups are equals. Anti-racism is also the work of actively opposing racism and white supremacy by advocating for changes in political, economic, and social life that reduce racial inequity, and the advocacy of policies that support equity for people oppressed by white supremacy.

White supremacist culture and anti-Blackness shape the policies, norms, and standards of public radio. They determine whose opinions are valued, whose voices are heard, whose stories are told and taken seriously, who is promoted, and whose resume never gets a second glance. Historically, Black on-air talent are told their dialect and speaking voices do not fit the public radio prototype. There is a strong bias against journalists who have a distinct ethnic or regional tone in their vocal delivery.

Management pats itself on the back for hiring journalists and editors of color but then does not support them or give them space to grow professionally. While moving to anti-racist principles may require shifting funds around, keep in mind that budgets should reflect an organization’s values, and this is especially true in public media.

Our audience has changed a great deal since the 1968 Kerner Report and the Minority Report on Public Media ten years later. Public media management has not. It remains overwhelmingly white.

The Kerner Commission concluded that news media were not serving Black communities in 1968. That was more than 50 years ago. Public media has had the opportunity and time to change since then, but stations, networks, and nationally distributed shows have not done enough. The first public report on public radio in 1978 decades ago said that “public radio has been asleep at the transmitter” on issues of race.

Complicated decisions — who to hire, who to promote, what stories to cover — require careful thought and consideration. Not instinct, hunches, or strong feelings, but anti-racist processes and systems that prevent us from making biased choices. Processes that are measurable and quantifiable, that can be tracked and articulated. When we don’t follow those processes, when we choose to make decisions based solely on our guts, we must be held accountable.

Racism is not a knowledge problem. We know it’s wrong. We’ve known that it’s wrong for hundreds of years, but we’re making racist decisions anyway. Racism is a behavior problem.

We’re not a mostly white and male industry because we consciously think white males are better, but because we live in a racist, sexist, society that has conditioned us to view white male heteronormative as the standard. Racism and sexism are the norm.

The way we do things, the way it’s always been done, however, is not working.

The systems we’re comfortable with are sustaining the discriminatory system that favors white males. Comfort is the enemy at this point. The work that faces us is painful and frustrating and profoundly uncomfortable.

THE WORK AHEAD

This effort is the result of more than 200 people in public media coming together to identify the primary obstacles to anti-racist public media and create a vision for transformation. Our vision for public media is the implementation of anti-racist procedures and policies, radical transparency, equity and not equality, and no more decisions based solely on instinct. It’s time for a new kind of journalism: anti-racist journalism. We hope to tear down public radio in order to build it back up. We don’t critique our industry because we hate it, but because we love it and hope it can live up to a higher standard of inclusivity that serves our diverse communities.

Creating anti-racist media is a collective task. Everyone in the industry has a responsibility to scrutinize how our work contributes to or challenges white supremacy and racism. It’s a task that requires long-term commitment and accountability with measurable outcomes. But ultimately, anti-racist transformation means cultural change, and we know that some of the most important results of anti-racist commitments appear in how we are transformed individually, and collectively.

There is no easy way to do this work. But the work calls on us and on everyone who listens to public radio to expand their imaginations about who the audience is, who provides leadership, and how decisions are made.

Our open letter is divided into sections:

  1. Amends
  2. Hiring, Promotions, and Pay Structures
  3. Training
  4. Transforming Coverage
  5. Accountability

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