Increasingly, newspapers are emphasizing the need for reporters on all beats to diversify their sources to include a broad spectrum od perspectives in a community.
In this segment, we’ll examine how any story should include sources from a variety of backgrounds and cultural groups.
Read the story by Kevin Aldridge on the use of the n-word by blacks and whites in Cincinnati and the different connotations the work carries depending on who is using it. There is no breaking news in this story but it grabs a reader’s attention because it is a commentary on our contemporary society. It holds a mirror up to the way we live and allows us to talk about something that is happening but may not have a name.
Also read the sidebar that Aldridge wrote to accompany the n-word story. Write a story pitch focusing on a diversity issue that includes a main story and sidebar to go with it.
The Evolving N-Word: New uses divide the races and the generations
By: Kevin Aldridge, Rochelle Thompson and Earnest Wilson, The Cincinnati Enquirer
The makeshift memorial to Rickey Moore, the African-American killed last month in a gun fight with a police officer, reads, “We gon miss you my nigga.”
Using the word “nigga” five years earlier got Thomas Haas, the white officer who shot Mr. Moore, a reprimand and a two-week suspension.
The n-word: odious slur to some, friendly slang to others.
Once considered vile by nearly everyone, the word has undergone profound change, further dividing and confusing the races.
Many young blacks — and some young whites — increasingly use the word as a sign of friendship. Yet use of the word is risky in mixed-race company, even among friends.
Some African-Americans who use the word say whites never should, which bewilders some whites who see a double standard.
And friendly use of “nigga” upsets many older blacks, who know the pain and humiliation that “nigger” has brought.
“Anybody who really knows his or her history knows there is no way you can put ice cream and chocolate syrup on the word “nigga’ and make it sound good,” says the Rev. Elmon Prier, 54, of Middletown. “Some of our younger kids are dying a slow death by using the n-word, and they don’t even know it.”
Young people use it.
In schools, on the streets, at home and at work, younger African-Americans call each other the n-word daily.
“In the black community, it’s like a pet name,” says Gabe Folmar, a black 29-year-old sociology major at Miami University-Hamilton. “We use it as a way to communicate with each other. You may hear it thousands of times a day.”
In more than 100 interviews with people black and white, the Enquirer found that the word is still regularly used in its meanest form, and it remains repugnant to many.
Many blacks are quick to point out, however, that there’s a big difference between saying “nigga” and “nigger.”
When “nigger” is uttered, they say there is no misunderstanding that it’s meant to degrade. But the ability to change a historically demeaning word, and make it a friendly word among peers, represents a bond among blacks and triumph over the word’s power and sting, these blacks say.
Alice Karim, 33, a black Roselawn resident, says she calls her husband the n-word all the time.
“To me, it’s just a word,” she says. “People say, “What’s up, my nigga?’ It doesn’t mean anything. Right now, the only power it has is if a white person calls a black person a nigger.”
In a radical departure from their parents, some younger whites are using the word to express friendship, too.
They’re copying their black friends and taking a cue from pop culture and rap music, which frequently uses the word to tell stories of urban life. Rap music may be identified with black culture, but whites buy more than 60 percent of rap music, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.
“It’s everywhere,” says Misty Hobbs, 17, a white senior-to-be at Hamilton High School. “It doesn’t really surprise me anymore.”
Brian Holzberger’s white friends use the word among themselves, and “they’re not saying it as a racial thing,” says Mr. Holzberger, 20, a white Hamilton resident. “They’re saying it like, “That’s my nigga.’
“They’re saying it as, like, a cool thing in a positive way. It seems like more of the younger people use it the friendly way, and more older people use it as, like, a negative way.”
Yet missteps over use of the word sometimes occur even in pop culture. Singer Jennifer Lopez recently was stunned by the outcry over her use of the word in her new J.Lo album.
Whether or not they use the word themselves, many blacks say it is unacceptable for whites to say it, under any circumstance.
And that befuddles some whites.
Laura Canter, 22, a white Villa Hills resident, says her black cousins sometimes call her the n-word and her black friends use it, too. She never knows what to say.
“You just never know how to respond when people are using it around you,” she says. “You don’t know where to draw the line between the word being friendly or derogatory or when you cross the line. It’s really a tough topic.”
To understand the word’s power, Vincent Staley, 28, a black Over-the-Rhine resident, cites history.
“When (the word is) coming from our people, I don’t take it personal. But when I hear it from white people, I take it personally because of how the word was used by whites during slavery,” Mr. Staley says.
“Words have power. They can produce either life or death. And words can hurt — I don’t care what anybody says.”
Dr. Sherman Jackson, a black professor of African-American history at Miami University, acknowledges a double standard exists when it comes to the word.
“But double standards between blacks and whites have existed throughout history,” he says. “A black person’s reaction to the word depends largely on where, how and who is using it.
“The word could be said in local bars and saloons among black folk and not be seen in a derogatory way,” Dr. Jackson says. “But at the same time, if a white person used the word it would be offensive because it is a word that originated among whites in a derogatory way.”
When Rickey Moore’s friends mourned his death last month, they built a wooden memorial with a cardboard sign for handwritten tributes from friends. One of the first tributes read “To my nigga forever. We miss you already.”
A more recent tribute says: “We gon miss you my nigga.”
Yet the white Cincinnati police officer who shot Mr. Moore was disciplined five years earlier for using the same n-word variation. Officer Thomas Haas says he was trying to subdue a difficult prisoner at the Hamilton County Justice Center in November 1996, when he pulled a knit stocking cap over the man’s face and called him “nigga.”
“Officer Haas claims he used the term in a friendly manner and that he was not attempting to be disrespectful,” a police report of the incident says. “He also claims this is an acceptable term used by persons on the street, primarily drug dealers. He states that he is trying to be a good community police officer by “acting the role’ and by presenting himself in a manner close to the persons he serves.”
Capt. Kenneth Jones, the police supervisor who wrote the report, disagreed with Officer Haas.
“Officer Haas is under the belief that in order to communicate with members of the community, it is OK to talk exactly as they do,” Capt. Jones wrote. “He is very mistaken.
“We must be aware that there are various cultures within our community where certain language may be acceptable within that culture, but not by outsiders.”
Officer Haas’ two-week suspension in 1996 was reduced to a day after arbitration. And Police Chief Tom Streicher, who was criticized for using the n-word during a training session last year, called Officer Haas one of his top officers after last month’s shooting.
That doesn’t surprise the Rev. Damon Lynch III, an outspoken black activist and one of three co-chairmen of the the mayor’s commission on race relations, Cincinnati Community Action Now.
“It seems to be, in Cincinnati, that we are enamored with the n-word,” Rev. Lynch says. “It seems to flow too easily out of people’s mouths.”
Many older African-Americans couldn’t agree more. They grew up during times when the n-word was used solely to dehumanize, belittle and control, and they say any variation of the word is always wrong.
“Blacks want the n-word to be an in-house term. So when it goes outside the house, we get upset,” says James Ewers, 51, a black Middletown resident. “Well, if we didn’t say it ourselves the issue wouldn’t even be out on the table.”
As a boy growing up on the streets of Glassboro, N.J., during the 1930s and ’40s, the word “nigger” had only one meaning for Milton Hinton: war.
“In my youth, one’s reaction to the n-word was such that if you were called that by a white person you fought,” says Mr. Hinton, 74, of North Avondale. “No question about it. There wasn’t no arguing. You simply went to war.”
Sixty years later, Mr. Hinton is fighting the word’s use by a generation of young blacks who have adopted it as part of daily conversation.
Blacks who use the word give white racists an excuse to use the word, too, says Mr. Hinton, past president of the Cincinnati branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“Meanwhile, it perplexes and confounds those whites who hear us when we complain about the n-word being such a bad word,” he says.
Nationally, the NAACP condemns use of the n-word in all forms. The nation’s leading black civil rights group bought the rights to nigger.com to prevent groups from exploiting the word in cyberspace.
“If a black uses the word, it doesn’t lessen the impact of the word itself. It hurts the African-American race as a whole,” says Cecil Thomas, 48, a black North Avondale resident and executive director of the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission.
“Young people believe it’s OK, but the older people will die to see that word removed from our language. And they have died,” Mr. Thomas says.
The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, 79, fought alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in civil rights battles. “Nigger” was one of many racial epithets that whites hurled at him.
Today, he says, he hears the word in the most unlikely places.
“I’m around many friends, preachers as well, who use the word just like that,” he says, snapping his fingers. “In Cincinnati, Birmingham (Ala.), and wherever I have gone to visit, even among people celebrating Martin Luther King’s birthday, at some point in conversation with black folks that word comes up.
“We ought to make it a target, just like racism, as something negative that we need to get rid of.”
The Rev. Prier, the Middletown preacher, grew up in Rhine, Ga. One of his first experiences with the n-word came during a trip to a movie theater in the nearby town of Abbeysville in the 1950s.
“I was a young boy at that time, and I didn’t understand that you didn’t go into the downstairs part of the theater to get popcorn because it was for whites only,” he says. “But I went inside, and that’s when one of the (white) guys looked at me and said, “Nigger, if you don’t get outta here, I’ll slap your head clean off.’ ”
For the Rev. Prier, the word always will be vile.
“I’m not your nigger or anybody else’s nigger,” the retired educator says. “You call me by my name, and I’ll call you by your name.”
“It seems to be, in Cincinnati, that we are enamored with the n-word. It seems to flow too easily out of people’s mouths.’ The Rev. Damon Lynch III
“In my youth, one’s reaction to the n-word was such that if you were called that by a white person you fought. No question about it. There wasn’t no arguing. You simply went to war.’ Milton Hinton, 74, North Avondale, past president of the Cincinnati branch of the NAACP.
“We ought to make it a target, just like racism, as something negative that we need to get rid of.’ The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, 79.
ALDRIDGE STORY #2
Slurs often adopted by those they insult
By: Kevin Aldridge
The n-word isn’t the only slur that’s taken on new meaning by a group it’s meant to hurt.
Gays and lesbians have adopted words such as “queer” and “dyke,” using them as affectionate terms even though they originally were meant to degrade.
Racial slurs such as “spic,” “dago” and “mick” still are considered offensive by many people of Hispanic, Italian and Irish descent. But the words also are acceptable slang to many within those ethnic groups.
Use of derogatory words by the defamed group is not unusual, some linguists say. Dr. Philip Herbst, author of The Color of Words, says some disenfranchised people believe that taking ownership of offensive words saps them of their power.
In his book, Dr. Herbst says the n-word can sometimes be used within the black community to indicate solidarity or affection. However, he adds that African-Americans’ attempts to demystify the word have not worked very well over the years.
The n-word, he says, “maintains its really disparaging, degrading connotations. You can never totally divorce it from its racist history in America.”
Even when slurs take on new meanings, they still retain power to do harm, linguists say. They add that it may be futile to believe that the essential meaning of these derogatory terms will ever change.
Joseph Foster, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Cincinnati, says slurs such as “chink,” “wetback,” “redneck” and “kike” may never disappear from our vocabularies, either.
“At least not until there are no groups that pick on other groups,” he says.
Garlinda Burton, author of Never Say Nigger Again: An Anti-Racism Guide for White Liberals, says no other racial slur is as derogatory as the n-word is to African-Americans.
“I think it can be put in the historical context like the swastika,” says Ms. Burton of Nashville, Tenn. “I don’t think we should ever let this word lose its sting.”
The story on the n-word is uniquely suited for the diversity beat. Break into small groups and brainstorm five story topics that are distinctly topics for the diversity reporter on a newspaper’s staff as opposed to a general topic that should naturally include voices from diverse sources.
His job makes Aldridge particularly sensitive to other cultures, to labels, and to stereotyping. Conduct an interview with a member of a different ethnic or racial group. Discuss with them the labels and stereotypes often associated with their cultural group. Ask them about their own personal experiences with labels and stereotypes and prejudice.
Write a short article about that person and their views on labels and stereotypes.
Read Aldridge’s story on Africans in the suburbs and answer the following questions.
- What was the impetus for Aldridge’s story?
- List the sources he uses in the story.
- State why the variety of people he talks to for the story is important.
- Are there other events or changes that could have served as the time peg for the story?
- Play the video clip of Aldridge discussing when to name s source’s race or ethnicity.
Aldridge’s suburb story is driven by statistics. Read the story and note how and where statistics are used. Aldridge also broadens his nut graph to include a national statistic. One in four suburban residents in America today is a minority, according tot the U.S. Census.
Access the U.S.Census at www.census.gov. Pick a community in your area and analyze the demographics by race. Write a short story based purely on the statistics you gather from the Census and other reputable sites.
Blacks in the burbs see dream's dark edge
Sunday, December 16, 2001
By Kevin Aldridge, The Cincinnati Enquirer
Growing numbers of Greater Cincinnatians are living in two worlds — a “white” world where they choose to live, and a “black” world defined by their heritage and skin color.
African-Americans who live in Cincinnati’s suburbs are trying to reconcile the best of both — while realizing they don’t entirely fit in either.
To many, the benefits of suburbia — a nice house, a big yard, low crime and decent schools — are weighed against a potential for hostile neighbors, racial slights, feelings of isolation and pressure to fit in.
“For some blacks, moving to the suburbs can be a dream come true and a nightmare all at the same time,” says Anthony Robinson, an African-American financial planner living in predominantly white West Chester Township.
“It’s a very delicate balancing act.”
An Enquirer poll of racial attitudes in Greater Cincinnati reveals that suburban blacks, in many ways, more closely mirror their white neighbors than they do blacks who live in the city. They place top priority on quality schools and improving urban sprawl. They feel safer in their neighborhoods. Like their white neighbors, most black suburbanites are very satisfied with their overall quality of life.
But suburban blacks also identify strongly with African-Americans living in the city. They’re less trustful of police than their white neighbors, and they’re more concerned about racial profiling and job discrimination. They rank improving race relations as a top priority.
Understanding the pressures is increasingly critical as more African-Americans move into the nation’s suburbs. One in four suburban residents in America today is a minority, up from one in five a decade ago, according to the U.S. Census.
In Greater Cincinnati, Forest Park and Springfield Township each is home to more than 10,000 African-Americans. Large concentrations of blacks also live in places like Lincoln Heights, Hamilton, Fairfield and Mount Healthy.
But for the most part, African-Americans are few and far between in Cincinnati’s suburbs. A black family may be the only one on the block.
In dozens of interviews, African-Americans said suburbia generates its own problems, including feelings of guilt about moving away from inner-city problems.
“Black or white, I think people owe it to their families to do the best they can do for them,” says Gary Hines, a 53-year-old consultant who also lives in West Chester Township. “African-Americans shouldn’t have to feel guilty about the choices we make, so long as we keep a social consciousness about ourselves.
“We all want to change some of our inner-city neighborhoods, but to what level do we want to sacrifice our families to accomplish that?”
Many blacks lured from cities by the leafy cul-de-sacs and amenities of the suburbs discover a hidden, psychological cost, beyond the dollars and cents of pricier homes.
“It’s not a matter of white resistance, but more a matter of blacks never feeling like they belong,” says Dr. Vincent Parillo, author and sociology professor at William Paterson University in New Jersey. “Even though race isn’t really played up a lot in the suburbs, it still continues to be a dividing line.”
It can be as frustrating as having to drive for miles — usually back into the city — to get your hair done or to buy makeup and other products. Most beauty shops in the suburbs don’t staff stylists with expertise in black hair. Even black dolls for little girls can be hard to find.
Cynthia Finchback-Hines, an African-American who has lived in West Chester Township for 11 years, recently went shopping for a black angel to top her Christmas tree. She ended up driving 15 miles to Forest Park — a predominantly black suburb — to get one.
These subtle, day-to-day challenges are hurtful, and they lead some African-Americans to believe there are whites who don’t want them “to feel too comfortable” in the suburbs, she says.
“You know there is something not quite right, but you can’t quite put your finger on it,” Mrs. Finchback-Hines says. “And because of that, blacks do a lot of beating up on themselves. They ask, “Was I being overly sensitive or paranoid?’”
Dick Yost, white owner of Yost Pharmacy in Mason, says black neighbors shouldn’t assume malicious intent. He says he doesn’t carry African-American hair-care products in his small store mainly because of lack of demand and because he doesn’t know what black customers want to buy.
“Where do we get that education? I guess we have to rely on our African-American customers to come in, and if they don’t find something they want, ask us to order it,” he says. “And like all my customers who make requests, I’ll go out of my way to get it.”
Joe Taylor, a 53-year-old Mason resident, has lived in the suburbs most of his life and says even long-time suburbanites deal with issues of race daily. A next-door neighbor in Fairfield once organized a block party and invited everyone on the street but him.
Was it because he’s black?
“That’s the first train of thought that enters your mind,” says Mr. Taylor, a distribution manager for Miller Brewing Co. “Why else would I be excluded? You never really know, and that sort of thing eats away at some blacks over time.”
Still, he says, you can’t generalize about suburbs. He has lived in mostly white communities where neighbors spoke to him every day, and communities where people didn’t speak to him at all. He’s still not sure if those neighbors were slighting him — or if they just were unfriendly types who didn’t speak to anybody.
“Because there are fewer of us, blacks have to open up a little bit more” than whites, says DeShonne Jackson, 28, an African-American financial investment manager from Colerain Township.
He grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood in Louisville, where he seldom saw or interacted with whites. But when Mr. Jackson attended the University of Kentucky, he realized he had to get over the culture shock and learn to function in a predominantly white surrounding.
He went out of his way to speak with whites and even changed his speech patterns at times.
“Blacks use different language when they are around each other,” Mr. Jackson says. “It’s risky to use that language in the presence of whites because they might misinterpret what you are saying or just not understand it at all. So sometimes we have to speak differently because we don’t want to be misunderstood.”
Adds Mr. Taylor: “You may act one way in order to assimilate in that environment, and when you get home you can relax and be yourself. Blacks are able to maneuver in and out of both worlds.”
Altering one’s demeanor to fit in has been a matter of survival for blacks for centuries. And that’s hard for whites to understand, urban and ethnicity experts say.
“Too many whites assume that blacks who move to the suburbs will be “white’ in the way they behave,” says Robert “Chip” Harrod, executive director of the local chapter of the National Conference for Community and Justice.
“African-Americans may have arrived economically and can afford to move to the suburbs, but the prejudices of which all persons of color suffer will still apply.”
Maintaining connections to the larger African-American community is perhaps even more daunting for black suburbanites.
Many reconnect with inner-city blacks through volunteer efforts, sports, community events or church. Mr. Taylor, of Mason, attends events like Ujima, Juneteenth and the Black Family Reunion. His family drives 30 minutes to attend a mostly African-American church in Forest Park.
He also invites his city friends to the suburbs.
“When I feel the need to be around black people, I go to the places where black people are,” he says. “When I moved out here, my intention was not to separate myself from other blacks.”
African-American suburbanites say such deliberate efforts to stay connected are especially important for those raising children in nearly all-white school districts.
White culture, history and social ideals are so predominant that it’s easy for black children to “lose sight of who they are,” Mr. Hines says.
“For some (black) kids out here, if they were thrown into a situation with a lot of African-Americans, they would have just as much culture shock as some white kids.”
Some suburban blacks form community support groups with other African-Americans to take part in the “black experience.”
In Centerville, a suburb of Dayton, a group of African-Americans started The Children’s Club for black, school-aged children. It has become a social outlet for the parents, too, says Angela Gray, a 41-year-old member.
The Hineses started African-American Families of West Chester Area initially to meet each other and socialize. It quickly turned into an advocacy group that works closely with school and elected officials on diversity, recruitment and training issues. The 100-member group also donates two $500 college scholarships annually.
Despite the barriers, more blacks will continue moving to the suburbs in the years ahead, bringing more of their African-American customs and values with them, urban experts and demographers say.
“Most blacks moving to the suburbs look for the best house for the best dollar,” Mr. Hines says. “Then, once they get it, they just hope and pray there are some other black folk around. Most of the time there are not.”
And therein lies the challenge.
Whites typically become uneasy when the minority population in their community hovers between 10 and 14 percent, says Dr. Parillo, the author and sociology professor. At that “tipping” point, white flight is most likely to occur, he says.
Likewise, African-Americans feel uncomfortable when there are only a handful of black families in their neighborhoods. When minority population levels dip below 10 percent, Dr. Parillo says, many blacks opt for upper- and middle-income black communities.
Mr. Taylor says droves of blacks moving to the suburbs may not be the answer, either.
Existing city communities could become as alluring as the suburbs if African-Americans worked harder at eliminating crime and drugs, revitalizing abandoned buildings and vacant lots and improving schools, he says.
“When you’ve got that kind of foundation in place it doesn’t matter where you live or what color you are.”
U.S. Census Information
One Race: 19.035
Households owned by blacks: 2,623 (55.9%) / 1,789 (41.4%)
Households owned by whites: 1,623 (41.1%) / 2,469 (57.4%)
Mean income 1990: $40,778
Mean income 1999: $43,709
Play the clip featuring Denise Smith Amos, who writes a general interest column for the metropolitan section of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Amos talks about the importance of diversifying sources as she works to cover all special interest groups in the metro area.
Play the cideo clip of Oscar Avila who covers immigration issues for the Chicago Tribune. In small groups, discuss the following.
- Avila echoes Denise Smith Amos’ comment that there is not one person who speaks for an entire group of people. Think about how different you are from others of similar gender, profession, race, ethnicity, age, etc. Could you represent the various interests of all the people in that group?
- Avila also discusses the importance of getting out of your “comfort zone” to find fresh voices and new perspectives on issues. Make a mental list of people you would find difficult to talk to because they are unlike you, talk with a classmate about ways to break down the barriers with such stories.
- Discuss places you could go as a reporter to find such sources in your community.