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What Arab American journalists seek from “UNITY”
By Ray Hanania — Arab American journalists just want to focus on being professional journalists, but the profession won’t let us. Soon, UNITY: Journalists of Color will be convening in Chicago for their quadrennial convention. UNITY is a great idea in concept, but it still has a long way to go to reach the ideal.
The organization goal is to bring together “journalists of color,” or those who are outside of the mainstream American media where White journalists dominate the news industry and non-White journalists are but a small percentage.
That’s not diversity and it needs to change. So, Asian American, Hispanic, African American and Native American journalists (representing the colors yellow, brown, black and red) came together to advocate as one lobby for more diversity and “inclusion” in the mainstream media news rooms.
Why is diversity important? In a truly professional journalism industry, diversity brings the full range of individual experiences to the table and helps to insure that news coverage is determined based on truth rather than on politics or group agendas. Having journalists who are Arab, for example, might help the journalism industry do a better job of covering the Middle East conflict.
Those few Arab Americans journalists who have broken into mainstream journalism – there are only about 250 to 300 working half in mainstream journalism jobs and half in ethnic American media – have proven their worth, including one who won a Pulitzer Prize and others leading the way in major media reporting.
The problem is that UNITY doesn’t represent the reality of the problem today, but the definition of what is and what isn’t a “minority” or a “journalist of color” as defined by the White American journalism establishment.
White America has identified who is and who isn’t a minority. Technically, Arabs are not a race, they are more of a culture. But they certainly are a singled out and persecuted group in this country.
So why is UNITY resistant to including Arab Americans among their “leadership?”
UNITY has opened the door to a token presence at their convention by addressing Arab American issue on one panel that includes some prestigious and respected Arab American and non-Arab American journalists. The idea for a panel was proposed by the National Arab American Journalists Association (NAAJA) during the more than two years that the group has been advocating that UNITY open its doors to Arab Americans.
It would be unfair to call the contacts “discussions,” and more accurate to describe it as Arab Americans repeatedly knocking at a door that won’t open for them.
We understand the real problem. UNITY has managed to carve out a spot at the “big table” with the mainstream media. Diversity, as defined by Blacks, Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans, is being addressed in mainstream news rooms. “Diversity” is probably one of the top issues discussed by journalists and is on the front burners of nearly every journalism group, meeting, conference or convention.
But the truth is, there is also great resistance to “diversity” in the White dominated news rooms which not only discriminate against Arabs by excluding them from jobs and hiring, but also discriminate against female journalists who don’t fall into any category addressed by UNITY either.
In other words, there are only a small rare handful of seats at the table and right now UNITY has to divide those seats among Blacks, Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans. Gay and Lesbians are also a part of the UNITY agenda. But not Arabs. Not women. And not other minorities in this country that are also shut out of the so-called “free press.”
They just don’t want to have to share what little power they have. And that, to me, is the real problem.
Minorities and “journalists of color” have been conditioned to accept crumbs believing the crumbs are cake when they are little more than crumbs.
What the mainstream media has done for “journalists of color” is nothing short of dismal and shameful. There is no real diversity in mainstream newsrooms.
Diversity is earning a certain disrespect among mainstream journalists who, mainly White, insist that identifying as a “journalist of color” compromises their journalistic and professional purity.
What should UNTIY do? Well, for starters, they should re-engineer their organization to emphasize the word “unity.” In truth, UNITY’s convention is really four separate organizations holding four separate conventions all at the same time and in the same location.
The second thing is that they should rededicate themselves to their moniker, “Journalists of color.” All journalists of color, those that are popularly accepted and those, like Arab Americans, who are unpopular and rejected, should be welcomed.
In fact, the system should change from four powers to one organization color blind with one agenda to advance the interests of all journalists of ethnic, racial and minority status.
We embrace their goals. But we hope they also live up to them.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and author. He is the managing editor of the Arab American Writers Syndicate and can be reached at
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Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.
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