Ferguson Shows the Urgent Need for Diversity Still Exists

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For all your friends who believe we’re somehow “post-racial,” I hope they’ve been watching the news unfold in Ferguson, Missouri.

If we’re celebrating 50 years after the signing of the Civil Rights Act, it’s hard to believe after watching the news there’s been that much progress.

50 years? All negated by a few days in Missouri.

I lived in St. Louis just 13 years after the Civil Rights Act passed and can attest to the segregation that existed back then. Give it time?  St. Louis has only calcified in its segregated trends since then, and it has established a negative legacy in everything from housing, education, employment and particularly in law enforcement.

Would more Black cops have helped in Ferguson?

You bet.

And when the Missouri State Highway Patrol was put in charge to help the majority White cops, they weren’t much better. A 2011 report showed the troopers had a minority employee makeup of just 4.62, plainly stating that “the largest disparity exists among Blacks.”

When Capt. Ron Johnson was trotted out there like the White bureaucracy’s human shield, it was embarrassing.

All Johnson could do over the weekend was apologize to the community with a heart-felt, “I’m sorry.”

And then Missouri’s Gov. Nixon called in the National Guard.

It shouldn’t take more Black officers to help law enforcement to understand what it means when a Black 18-year-old approaches with his hands in the air. That should be enough communication needed. But with the absence of trust and a lack of diversity, only skin color mattered to the cops in Ferguson.

While all this was going on, I was at the Asian American Journalists Association conference. Remarkably, it wasn’t officially topic A, and most were not talking about it. This is an organization of journalists formed out of concern about race and equity, and there’s no mention of Ferguson?

Privately, of course, there was some talk.

But the organization has changed to be mostly millennials.

They see Kanye and Kim get married and think the race issues in America are solved.

And what does Ferguson really have to do with Asian Americans?

Well, plenty. Asian Americans are too often seen as foreigners — that can contribute to all sorts of confusion based on hair-trigger stereotypes. Japanese are Chinese? Filipinos are Mexican? South Asians with turbans are terrorists?

But my diversity moment came when discussing the coverage of Asian American communities, and I made the point that diversity improves in media when employment goes up, because that means there’s more editors and reporters of Asian descent who know these stories. That leads to better coverage, and an improved sense of media diversity.

I then mentioned my minor Jackie Robinson moment. I was the first Asian American to host a national news show on NPR, when I was senior host of All Things Considered, in 1989.

I was also the first Asian American male to host a national network news show.

I had to quickly do the math. It’s been 25 years.

And since that time, how many other Asian Americans have been at the permanent senior host level?

No one could mention one. And if there was, something sure is keeping it a secret.

It was a milestone moment for me. That and Ferguson showed just how little has been done and how much further we have to go.

Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race, culture and politics for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (www.aaldef.org/blog). Like him at www.facebook.com/emilguillermo.media and on Twitter @emilamok.

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