Can Oregon media help us with the diversity discussion?

Karol Collymore

When I first moved to Portland in 2003, my late aunt pointed me towards KGW for morning news and KATU for evening weather. Three guesses why she would do that. Nevermind, I'm just going to tell you: Brenda Braxton and Rhonda Shelby. We all as human seek out who we identify with in public and private to set a level of comfort. I instantly loved Ms. Braxton and when I got to meet her in person, she was wonderful. I never made it to the evening weather but I watched KGW mornings for two years.

Another reason we also look to see something familiar from the media is to know we are accepted by society as a whole. There are many identifiers that humans look for: fashion style, gender, race, Stumptown coffee cups. So imagine picking up the FoodDay today in the Oregonian and seeing a full page spread of four families, all White and straight. My friend Lelo in Nopo didn't feel so great about it. She shares her view on it at her website.

But Lelo's reaction reminds me of why I was never allowed fashion magazines as a child and why as an adult I stopped my subscriptions to the women/fashion glossies. There aren't mainstream models - in models in all senses - that reflect our diversity. There was an IKEA commercial a year or so back that's theme was families of all kinds that were mixed races - black woman and asian partner, white man and latino man, mixed babies - that was gorgeous. I thought that someone had finally gotten it. Alas, that's the last of its kind I've seen. It does make one feel displaced by a society you must participate in when we are not allowed to be mainstream.

I sent along my own letter to the Oregonian about the cover and I got a really wonderful email back. I felt great that I'd been heard and got an immediate and thoughtful response. But I wonder, is it the responsibility of the media to portray the world as it is or as we want it to be? Can it be both? And can media guide the discussion by starting to be more diverse in their reporting?

Disclaimer: I have been lucky to be mentioned in the FoodDay twice, once with a picture.

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    That commercial where they had the mixed races really caught my eye. Being married to an Asian man, our child is mixed race - in fact she's a first generation American on her father's side. Such ads really catch my eye, because they're truthful to our society. Yes, there are a lot of whites, African Americans, etc. But we have a huge population of people who are mixed - they may appear African American, but one parent may be another race (Tiger Woods and Barack Obama, for example).

    In the 2000 Census, for the first time you could mark that you were of a mixed race - and a lot of people did so - 3.1% of Oregon and 2.4% of the country. For comparison, 3.0% of Oregonians said they were Asian and 3.6% of the country identified as Asian.

    This reminds me of shopping for our daughter, Abby. We can always find white baby dolls, Barbies, etc. African Americans are harder to find, but still fairly plentiful. And you can usually find a Hispanic or Latino Barbie doll, but not baby dolls. But finding an Asian doll is almost impossible, except for the countries of the world Barbies.

    We were so excited to find that in the Kelly dolls (Barbie's little sister) that one of her friends is Asian. And Cabbage Patch put out some Asian dolls. Abby was so happy to have a doll that looks like her.

    I don't think that people understand the importance of being able to have dolls, people on tv, people in newspapers, etc. that look like you. I understood it some, having grown up as a short and chubby girl. But I didn't truly understand it until we had Abby.

  • Brian (unverified)

    Though I find local TV newscasts increasingly irrelevant and obsolete, I have always liked Rhonda Shelby & her meteorological acumen. However, my personal opinion has nothing to do with her skin color.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    I first met Brenda Braxton back in the early 90s. She's had that slot on KGW for ages.. a great anchor! She put me on the noon show to publicize a volunteer program in senior peer counseling I was directing at that time. I think she is an excellent resource for teaching people how to use the media. In fact I met her when she did a presentation at a class for non-profits I was takin. What would be helpful is for some of the people in media who are saavy on diversity issues to put together some seminars for people in the community in how to make use of the corporate media as well as less formal and non-corporate media, like the blogosphere.

  • Opinionated (unverified)

    Brenda Braxton is the daughter-in-law of a friend of mine who is 2nd generation Chinese American married to a second generation Japanese American. So Brenda's husband is half japanese, half chinese. This makes an interesting blend of races and cultures. This is why I find America so exciting. Despit racial prejudices we are a true melting pot.


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    I'd add another piece to this, too--coverage. You mentioned "signifiers," and while the writer/tv reporter is one signifier, so are stories that cover the full range of experience in Portland. The O (which I read daily) and local news (which I watch rarely--full disclosure) seem to have fewer stories about non-whites than it does non-whites reporting them. And last night, when I did happen to tune in, the only two black faces that appeared on the show (Blazers excepted) were two young women who were looking for work.

    It was a story about the economy, and so the reporter went out to a North Portland [what?, unemployment office (I missed it)] to interview people. I felt for the 24-year-old who couldn't find a job; when I was 24, I couldn't find one, either, so I went to grad school. It's hard to find decent work when your 24.

    My sample size is small, and I don't want to get on some kind of crusade here, but it struck me as a little odd that the reporter could only find two black women to illustrate the point that unemployment's on the rise.

  • Randy (unverified)

    Why does it matter? I don't care what color of skin the person reading the news has nor do I care what country his/her grandfather was born in.

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    Jeff, That's an interesting observation. I too rarely watch local news. There is a lot of potential in Portland media to model what we want to see and what we can be. A few years ago, a Willy Week reporter interviewed me for a potential story about why people of color don't move to Portland. It never say the light of day, but I think modeling might be a reason. If you don't see people who look like you, why would you come here? Isn't that why hipsters and musicians and artists come in droves?

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    I did a research project last summer on women of color in the workplace. Some of the statistics I came across, from a 2006 report "Out of the Picture: Minority & Female TV Station Ownership in the United States 2006," by Derek Turner, include that 3.26% of all broadcast stations are owned by people of color and that only 5.78% of all newsroom professionals are women of color. The consensus was (and should be obvious) is that the priorities for news are set by those who cover it, who determine what is "important" which means that issues of importance to communities of color are not covered because there just plain aren't enough people of color in the media.

    We may be a melting pot, but the public face of this country is still very much white-centric.

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    If you don't see people who look like you, why would you come here? Isn't that why hipsters and musicians and artists come in droves?

    This is exactly right, I think. Portland has a pretty ugly history in terms of race, and you often hear that referred to as the reason blacks don't want to move here. I think that's a (perhaps guilt-driven) conflation. We have a hard time attracting non-whites (because we're not just not-black, we're white) because who wants to move to such a lily-white town? Have you seen that blog "Things white people like"? It could be "Things Portlanders like."

    <h2>But little by little, we make progress. Maybe eventually....</h2>

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