In today's New York Times there is an article called "A Racial Divide is Bridged by Hard Times" about the effect of the economy on Henry County, Ga. When I read the title, I prepared myself for an interesting and insightful look into the ways the community was coming together and ignoring race. What I received instead was what appeared to be a rushed, one-sided article which supported previously held conclusions despite evidence to the contrary.
It starts off nicely:
During the housing boom, Henry County, a suburb of Atlanta, had its share of racial tension as more and more blacks joined the tens of thousands of others pouring in, creating a standoffish gap between the newcomers and the county’s oldtimers.But then the article goes off course as it proceeds to use infuriating interview excerpts. The article included this graphic which was perhaps the most telling and propelled my frustration.
But the recession has begun to erase those differences.
Blacks and whites have encountered one another in increasing numbers recently in the crowded waiting rooms of the welfare office and at the food pantry, where many of both races have ventured for the first time. Struggling black-owned businesses are attracting the attention of white patrons. Neighbors are commiserating across racial lines.
I wrote to this email to the writer:
After reading your article about Henry County's closing racial divide as a result of the economy, I'm not only appalled, I'm concerned about your impartiality. How is it that you have a statement like, “We’re already used to poverty; they’re really not” next to a graphic showing the median black household income at more than $56,000 which as I'm sure you know is more than double what the government considers the poverty line for a family of 4. Further in your article you have a quote from a man who says, “Where I’m from every friend that I had is a drug dealer, locked up, on drugs or dead.” How is that relevant? And furthermore, how did you managed to find these two "stereotypical" blacks in a place where more blacks than whites have college educations? The most degrading comments are all made by blacks while whites are painted in a more sympathetic swath (which you even allow Taylor to note in the final lines of your piece) -- government workers or patrons of a black-owned business. These inflammatory comments from African-Americans add nothing to the story and cheapen what you were trying to achieve. Sure there is one white couple buried in your article facing foreclosure, but by that point the damage has been done. If you're really trying to show the bridging of a racial divide, this article missed the mark. Instead it reinforced offensive cultural stereotypes where I would and do expect more from any and every reporter, not least of all one employed by the New York Times.
I'm going to bed as I await her response.
Her response: What about the black business owner at the top of the article?
My response: That business owner said nothing. She was just there. That was the perfect opportunity and where your article looked like it would deliver on the promise implied by the title and the opening lines.
What I was really thinking: Are you kidding me? Here is where you had the opportunity to open a discourse with (an admittedly critical) reader about where you could have removed stereotypes and bias from your article and all you have to offer is a poor facsimile of an excuse. WHY DID I EVEN BOTHER?! The woman she speaks of was mentioned in the article and in the photograph at the top but never said a word.