Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘African-American

Non-Traditional

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As I read up on the innards of public radio while working on my book about the public radio pledge drive, I’ve found something interesting.  It has been said that it’s important that public radio continue to focus on the audience it has; a 25% or so slice of the total listening audience (described as Innovators and Thinkers) while pursuing other segments of the audience not based on their skin color but on their interests and values.  That assumes the audience members in that sought after segment make no connection between the color of their own skin and their interests and values.

It reminds me of why non-traditional casting, as a rule, doesn’t work in the theater community.  I sat on the board of an African-American theater non-profit for a year and a half.  Audiences are comfortable seeing black actors playing in productions like “Porgy and Bess”, “Ain’t Misbehavin”, “Jitney” and a number of other productions written with the black experience in mind.  They are OK with the ocassional, high star power substitution.

But a black actor in a traditionally white role is a very uncomfortable experience for many non-black audience members.  This 1998 NYT Letter to the Editor makes that argument.  Nearly 15 years later, no less than the director of the London’s Stratford Shakespere Festival is still defending its validity.  Not much has changed.

To me, it’s an example of how even if the story is a human story, skin color is the lens that determines who sits in the audience to see it.  So making the assumption that doesn’t also work in the other direction, i.e., non-whites will consume public radio on the assumption they themselves don’t view culture through the lens of their own skin color, that is incorrect no matter what any data set says.

 

No Platitude Zone

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I won’t be interviewing anyone from the NAACP or the Urban League or the Interfaith Network.  I won’t be talking to the police chief or the mayor or a councilmember.  I won’t reach out to a senator or a conflict negotiator or a psychologist for why this latest violence in South Carolina happened because all I’ll hear is everything I’ve heard before.  And right now, I don’t have much stomach for platitudes.  Maybe later, but not right now.

Written by Interviewer

June 19, 2015 at 00:11

Just Say it!

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Here’s the thing.

Whenever I hear many commentators talking about an issue that involves black people, they almost always hit a speed bump in their pacing whenever the teleprompter rolls up to the words “black people” or “African-American people”.  I’ve noticed this for years now and it really stands out compared to whenever they have to give the nomenclature for any of the other four federally “protected” minority groups, to wit:

Asian-American

Native-American

Hispanic-American, or

Pacific Islander American

There just doesn’t seem to be the same kind of angst there.  Those groups seem to roll off the tongues of commentators, announcers, pundits, whoever.  But when it comes to saying “black” or “African-American”, it seems there’s some kind of an asteroid collision happening in the heads of the talking heads, as if they are torn between not wanting to sound bigoted and not wanting to seem bigoted.

The difference being, in the former, “This is how I should say this which is how other culturally informed, color blind professionals in my field say this in the second decade of the third millennium”, versus the latter “I’m really uncomfortable with this because I’m uncomfortable with a lot connected to this and I don’t want to expose that un-comfortableness but I’m afraid I will”.   Most recently, I heard this on my beloved NPR, the supposed broadcasting paragon of diversity and enlightenment.

For God’s sake, just say it and move on.  As I heard a grown black man, who was no doubt prompted, stand up and say in a Denny’s in Cincinnati on New Years Day, 2000, “This is the year Two-Thousand!  You people need to get over it.”

Seems like we still do.

Written by Interviewer

May 20, 2014 at 02:09