When will the Daily learn? Almost four years after a plethora of student groups boycotted it for its racial insensitivity and the lack of diversity among its staff, The Michigan Daily continues to publish a newspaper much of the campus’s black community sees as racist.
The Daily has made attempts to improve its reputation and better serve the entire University, but even the most promising among them have failed. The Daily’s Multicultural Commission, for example – a temporary committee created to help the Daily become more accountable to minority communities and increase diversity within its ranks, which I was a member of – is one of these attempts. Even after the Commission made official recommendations to the Daily’s editors, cartoons some in the black community denounced as racist continued to be published, coverage of positive events within the black community was hard to come by, and the threat of a boycott loomed near once again.
Although the Daily is in no way absolved from its responsibility to work honestly toward such a feat, it is incredibly difficult to foster a sense of understanding about racism and the insidious ways in which it presents itself in the face of a staff so devoid of diversity.
At a University where just getting through the day without confronting racial prejudice and the ignorance of classmates can be an exhausting feat, the anger, resentment and sometimes just plain indifference with which much of the black community regards the Daily is not an overreaction. But the overwhelming consensus among the community to do little more than verbalize its disgust for the Daily is a grave mistake.
Sorry to disappoint, but the Daily features no smoke-filled rooms where The Man puffs a cigar behind ornate mahogany doors and plots to destroy the black community. The Daily’s editorial board – the group that decides the newspaper’s official opinions – holds open meetings twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays at 6 p.m. Anyone is welcome.
It is not a conspiracy to further disenfranchise minorities that prevents the Daily from serving the entire University community fairly. The greatest obstacle is a staff that is as predominantly white and affluent as it is largely ignorant of the experiences of minority students at the University. How can the Daily be expected to fairly cover minority communities if so few of its staff are students of color?
There are many students working hard within the black community to create positive change. From holding a Black State of the Union as a way of assessing where progress needs to be made to supporting the extensive volunteer organizations on campus, there is no doubt that there are students committed to seeing the campus’s black community – and by extension, the University – move forward.
But vilifying the campus newspaper is counterproductive and reactionary. No campus community can ever hope to hold equal membership in the University by shunning its greatest opportunity to speak out and be heard. The Michigan Daily is one of the greatest tools for creating progress in the black community, but it is also the most underused. Those who are interested in journalism, business, photography, politics or simply speaking their minds should be encouraged to join the Daily, especially if they hail from communities that are chronically underrepresented and misrepresented in the news.
At Michigan, where issues surrounding race and racism seem to be never-ending, the task of educating our white peers about minority issues seems daunting. It would be far easier, of course, to mouth off about how racist the Daily is, how steeped in privilege its members are and how hopeless the situation appears. Few are the moments when you are able to truly be an individual in the classroom; rare are the days that do not include defending your right to attend the University, justifying the right of every black and minority student on this campus to belong.
The situation is unfair and it is exhausting, but it is the reality people of color have come to know all too well in America. With the constant battles over affirmative action, the seemingly endless stream of racist incidents and the silence from a student newspaper that is supposed to represent our voice as well, the prospect of joining the Daily can be overwhelming. But according to the 2001 edition of Black Issues in Higher Education, only 8.7 percent of blacks in America hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. We have a responsibility to make things better for our communities, even though doing so means hard work and painful interactions at the boundaries of our comfort zones.
The contemptuous regard for The Michigan Daily is reasonable, but it is not productive. It is self-censorship of an already silenced community. And it has got to stop now.
Gay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org