A May story on the New York Times website that asserted that more Latinos are considering themselves white riled some Latino journalists so much that a panel on the subject took place Friday at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention in San Antonio.
It wasn't simply discussed. Signs with a range of Latino faces and the hashtag "#What Latinos Look Like" were placed around the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.
The panel's consensus: Stories about Latinos and race require a level of nuance and understanding too great to be left to reporters with no background in the subject. And if mishandled, the results can be damaging. The Times misrepresented the study it reported on, they said.
"I cringed, but I knew exactly how it got there," veteran journalist Ray Suarez, now a host on Al Jazeera America, said from the audience about the Times piece. "Nobody should have been surprised."
The original item was by Nate Cohn for the Upshot, a Times blog on demographics. Its editor, David Leonhardt, former Times Washington bureau chief, has stood by the story but the Times did not respond to an invitation to appear in San Antonio, according to panel organizer Julio Ricardo Varela, founder of the Latino Rebels website. The item gained traction as Cohn returned to the subject in a subsequent posting and the idea was picked up on television.
The researchers whose preliminary work was cited by Cohn wrote their own report this week on the U.S. Census Bureau website.
"We wonder if Cohn will take back his initial reporting?" Varela wrote Wednesday on Latino Rebels, pointing to the researchers' latest work. "He clearly only reported one part of the study and made some incredibly sweeping generalizations that never made sense to us."
No sense and damaging, panelists said. "Latinos are a multiracial identity. It's as simple as that,"Roque Planas, the editor of HuffPost LatinoVoices who describes himself as a white Hispanic, said in his opening remarks. "There is no mestizo box, no mulatto box in the census. . . . The questions are confusing."
Racial categories in the United States are not the same as in Latin America, said Blanca E. Vega, director of the Higher Education Opportunity Program at Marymount Manhattan College. Her family is from Ecuador, and she said she had mostly African but also Native roots.
"In the United States, a different process of racialization occurs," Vega said. That process accelerated after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the racial profiling that resulted, she said.
Yvonne Latty, an NAHJ board member whose parents are Dominican and Jamaican, said it was difficult for her to discuss the subject without emotion.
"I felt, 'here we go again,'" she said. The study was saying "you, too, can still live the American dream, like the Irish and the Italians, but if you're black, you're the minority again. This was very, very divisive. In my childhood in New York City, all the Puerto Ricans and the Dominicans wanted to be white. I was always (considered) ugly, and it hurt. The first time I was called a nigger was by Puerto Ricans. . . . The voices of Afro-Latinos, I don't feel like we're heard. We're not seen."
Planas said, "We have a problem of racism within the Latino community that nobody talks about."
Latty, a journalism professor at New York University, later led her own discussion of Afro-Latinos in a corner of the convention's job fair. Her list of Latino groups that needed more black participation included NAHJ. "If you show more diversity within the organization, it makes people want to join who are black," she said.
Mekahlo Medina, who is running unopposed for NAHJ president, told Journal-isms that he agreed with Latty that NAHJ could be more diverse.
Vega advocated more conversation among journalists, educators and politicians. She said the Times piece follows a troubling media narrative.
First, she said, it was, "Watch out, the Latinos are coming.""Then, watch out, black folks, Latinos are going to pass you now.""Now we have, wait a minute, Latinos are going white, if you can't beat 'em join 'em.
"They scare the hell out of the population."
Latty urged journalists to "be bold" and speak out against such representations. Planas said his social media campaign on the Times' pieces "was hands down the best thing we've ever done."
"We're in a world where it's OK to say as a journalist, 'This is what matters to us,'" Varela said.
- Melanie Balakit, Latino Reporter: NAHJ and NABJ Agree to Convention as Unity Mulls Decision
- Alex Corey, Latino Reporter: What do Latinos look like? (Aug. 9)
"ESPN Digital & Print Media today announced that award-winning journalist Amy DuBois Barnett will join ESPN as Executive Editor of Jason Whitlock’s upcoming site that will provide coverage, commentary and insight about sports and culture directed [toward] an African-American audience," the sports network announced on Thursday.
"In this role, Barnett will manage editorial operations for the site. She will report to Whitlock, founder and Editor-in-Chief.
“ 'Amy’s impressive resume across a wide range of publications and brands, as well as her leadership experience, will ensure that the site will be at the forefront of news and commentary relevant to African-Americans,' said Whitlock.
"'Together, we aim to serve audiences with quality and innovative journalism when the site debuts.'
“We continue to attract highly-acclaimed editors that bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the ESPN Digital & Print Media team, and Amy is a prime example,” added Patrick Stiegman, vice president and editorial director, ESPN Digital & Print Media. 'She and Jason are building a tremendous team that will speak to, entertain, inform and serve African-American audiences about sports and culture.'
"Most recently, Barnett was Editor-in-Chief of Ebony, the oldest and largest African-American magazine in the country. At Ebony, Barnett executed the publication's first top-to-bottom redesign in its 68-year history and also re-launched Ebony.com, both to critical acclaim. . . ."
Robert Lipsyte, the ESPN ombudsman, wrote of the Whitlock site last month, "If the new moon rises and fulfills the expectations of ESPN president John Skipper, its most prominent champion, it will have the potential of becoming the media empire’s signal social achievement.
"The rewards for success are enormous, for ESPN, Whitlock, the staff and the audience. It is also the riskiest of the affinity sites. Race is America's greatest historical problem and its deepest divide. Sports, paradoxically, is the area of greatest visible progress in racial equality as well as greatest hypocrisy. To open a meaningful, ongoing discussion while giving opportunities to a new generation of journalists of color would be an incalculable contribution, well beyond sports.
"'We want to be a birthplace for careers,' says Skipper, who added: 'It's also a commercial move. African-Americans believe ESPN is their TV network, but they are more ambivalent about ESPN.com as their site. We want to be the place to go when the community wants some conversation about Jay Z becoming an agent, about the racial aspects of Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. African-Americans are big sports fans, and we want that audience.' . . ."
"ESPN television and radio host Dan Le Batard was suspended for two days after he paid for billboards in Cleveland that mockingly read 'You’re Welcome LeBron; Love, Miami' and displayed the two title rings he won with the Heat,"Chris Chase wrote Thursday for USA Today.
"The billboards were a sly reference to James’ famed letter to Cleveland, which seemed to thank everybody except for Miami fans and their four years of support. The top line was written in Comic Sans, of course.
"The network released a statement about the suspension on Thursday.
"'Dan LeBatard will be off the air for two days, returning Monday. His recent stunt does not reflect ESPN's standards and brand. Additionally, we were not made aware of his plans in advance.'
"Le Batard had been joking for weeks about playfully sabotaging LeBron's big welcome home rally in Akron. At first, he debated taking out a full-page newspaper ad. Then, he researched the costs of pulling a banner with an airplane. Finally, he and his show took out the billboards. . . ."
John Harper, Northeast Ohio Media Group: 'You're Welcome, LeBron,' reads billboard purchased by Miami radio host
- Jason McIntyre, the Big Lead: Dan Le Batard Suspended Two Days by ESPN for Buying 'You're Welcome LeBron' Billboard [UPDATE]