Shades of Black . . .
I just read Art Nixon’s article on his experience as a black man in Los Feliz [“Black Man Walking,” Dec. 15?–21]. It is sad that most people’s response to a black man walking on the street is one of suspicion and fear. However, I believe this is not racism — only the instinct of self-preservation. The knee-jerk reaction is an unfortunate reality of modern city life. Violent crime is an everyday event in L.A., and people are suspicious of males in general. If there was a black woman walking a deserted street, the reaction by others would be quite different. Black activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson said he was fearful of young black men on deserted streets. I doubt the Rev. Jackson thought of the N word when he saw a young black man on the street.
If anyone is to blame for stereotypes, it is the media for sensationalizing violence and depravity. We have become a nation of anxiety-ridden basket cases full of suspicion toward males of most skin tones and origins. The author’s assertion that most people think of the N word when seeing a black man is absurd, paranoid and offensive.
Paul Van Benschoten
I’d like to tell Art Nixon that I’m an equal-opportunity offender; I shy away from men of all races on the street.
. . . and Nuances of Brown
Daniel Hernandez, congratulations on “Shades of Brown” [Dec. 22–28]. By far the best examination I have ever seen on the topic. My good friend Frank del Olmo is smiling somewhere.
It’s pretty ironic that Daniel Hernandez, after faulting the L.A. Times for lumping Salvadorans, Mexican-Americans, Afro-Cubans and Japanese-Peruvians into the grab-bag heading “Latinos,” would use the phrase “Anglo Westsider.” It would be hard to come up with a less descriptive category for “white people” than “Anglo.” Forget Lithuanian Jews — it doesn’t even do justice to white people from England, since it omits the Saxons and the later Normans. And if you want to be really picky, it makes no reference to the Neanderthal heritage of “Cheddar Man.” Maybe we could all make peace by agreeing that we flippantly categorize each other as much for convenience as nefarious intent. I’d be willing to force myself to believe that if everyone else would.
My former colleague at the L.A. Times, Daniel Hernandez, raises some very good points in his piece on the newspaper and Latinos.
However, he missed a few things that I think would have added depth and nuance to the piece.
First, it’s likely that in the United States there’s no more important training ground for minority journalists, within them Latino, than the L.A. Times’ METPRO program. This is the program wherein the L.A. Times trains young minority journalists for 10 months at the paper, then has them do longer stints at sister papers, often resulting in a full-time, permanent job.
Through METPRO’s more than two decades in existence, I’d bet the L.A. Times has done more to train minority journalists than many journalism schools, and thus is a main engine of change in journalism nationwide. (The program has recently been reduced from 10 reporters for 10 months at the L.A. Times to six reporters for six months.)
While we’re on the topic, I’d suggest the L.A. Weekly turn the focus back on itself. Certainly all the alt weeklies in America, for all the piety they display re this issue vis-à-vis the mainstream media in their areas, haven’t done a small fraction of what the L.A. Times has done to promote this kind of change in newsrooms.
So if the issue is newsroom diversity and efforts at change, then I think it strange that the L.A. Weekly would be pointing the finger at the L.A. Times.
As often happens in alt journalism, Hernandez seemed a bit eager to blame the big, easily targeted institution for some large societal failing — in this case, the Times for the lack of Latinos in its ranks.
He didn’t mention that there are — as far as I can see — relatively few Latino journalists willing to put in the (minimum) seven to 10 years at relatively low pay at small daily papers to become seasoned in the craft of newspaper writing/editing/photography, and thus eligible for hiring at the kind of paper the L.A. Times aspires to be.
From working in the trade for 20 years and from talking to editors who’ve tried to hire qualified folks, I feel the pickings are awfully slim. Why is that? The answer has to do with touchy issues that get far beyond the L.A. Times. They deal with the nature of immigrant enclaves, the nature of Mexican immigration in particular, the regard for education within those enclaves, the appeal of newspapers as opposed to television to students finishing J school, the high rates of high school dropouts in the Latino community, and so on. All of which might be worth another story.
Regarding the use of “Latino,” I’d say that it is occasionally improperly used in the paper. But in most instances, it is the only reasonable term available. When you’re talking about all the different Spanish-speaking nationalities represented in the L.A. region, which is often the case in stories we do, then “Latino” is the only accurate term to describe them, certainly preferable to “Hispanic.”
When I write about Mexican immigrants, I use “Mexican immigrants.” When the story is broader, I use “Latino immigrants.” I’d guess most reporters do the same. I try to avoid “Latino community” for many reasons, not the least of which is that “community” has been transformed into such a sappy, mealy-mouthed word. Moreover, “community” has come to mean something — a group of people with common interests — that it really didn’t mean originally, i.e., a group of people with dissimilar interests.
Staff writer, L.A. Times
The L.A. Weekly should earn some diversity points for having a Mexican-American editor in chief.
The “F” Word
From Luke Y. Thompson’s capsule review of the film Eragon: “. . . a nancy boy, about as imposing as Lance Bass” [Dec. 15–21].
“Nancy boy”? What, did you forget how to spell “faggot”? Is it really necessary to throw in a homophobic slur? Could this otherwise humorous rip on a cheesy movie have been written without deliberately offending that minority of us who are gay?
Yeah, it’s not “a big deal.” Kinda like Michael Richards’ rant about n*****s isn’t a big deal. But it is offensive and wasn’t necessary. You just slurred some of your readers for no purpose at all. Gee, thanks. That really started my day off great.
A Freudian slip? In our coverage of the best books of 2006 [“Staff Recommends,” Dec. 22–28], a simple transposition of letters created an interesting, but incorrect, title. Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma is about food, not men, and thus its correct subtitle is A Natural History of Four Meals (not males).