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UNITY starts to crumble under departure of Black journalists
By Ray Hanania — In 1991, two Philadelphia City Hall reporters got into a discussion about the lack of diversity in the journalism business.
It was unique because the two reporters were “of color,” one Hispanic and one Black. When I began my 17 year stint covering Chicago’s Chicago City Hall in 1977, I was the first “of color” reporter to be there on a fulltime basis, and definitely the first American Arab.
The Philadelphia conversation led to the creation of a unique idea in an organization, UNITY: Journalists of Color. The purpose was to promote diversity in major mainstream newsrooms, which were predominantly White, including in cities that had large minority communities like Chicago.
UNITY began with a limited, Politically Correct agenda: to push for the recognition of Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and, just to be perceived as “American,” Native Americans. Four journalism organizations for each group became the core of UNITY.
But that convergence of four “of color” journalism groups became the problem. Despite their progress in pushing for the hiring of journalists of color in newsrooms, they group failed to define their objective as seeking “true diversity.” They pushed for “diversity of convenience.” The vast majority being pushed were limited to Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans. Recently, Gay and Lesbian Journalists have been added to UNITY as unofficial members.
It was clear from the outset that UNITY wasn’t pushing for the hiring of other “of color” journalists like American Arabs.
The sad reality is that there are only so many jobs in journalism, even less today than in 1991 when UNITY was founded. Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans had to fight for a place at the limited-sized table. There were only so many chairs. And that explains why the group of four slammed the door shut on other journalists of color.
For the past six years, American Arabs have tried to join UNITY as an equal partner. UNITY has rejected American Arab partnership for a wide range of reasons, including their contention that the American Arab journalists were not professional organized.
We’ll never be professionally organized enough to satisfy UNITY. But the real reason is that while skin color is important to some, when the skin color belongs to an Arab, suddenly, it becomes a liability, especially in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Arabs have become targeted by Americans. In truth, even in 1991, Arabs were the victims of racial and political bigotry.
The public discriminated against Arabs because of the stereotypes perpetuated, ironically by the media itself. And the media discriminated against Arabs because of politics. Our “color” was the least of our worries. The hatreds driven by years of vicious stereotypes kept the doors closed.
And while UNITY wanted American Arabs as dues paying members, they never wanted us as equal partners.
There are four major American Arab journalism associations. Only two of them collaborate, the Washington Association of Arab Journalists and the National American Arab Journalists Association. The other two refuse to partner. Only NAAJA has hosted national conferences, six since it was founded in 1999.
But it isn’t our lack of organization maturity that prevents American Arab journalists from becoming full and equal partners of UNITY. It’s the fact that we are Arab and being Arab is a political liability in the eyes of many of the media barons who control the industry.
Ironically, UNITY has partnered with Gay and Lesbian journalists, most of whom are not of color but are a minority. It’s strange that they would address the issue of gender rights but not fully prosecute the rights of all journalists of color and exclude Arabs.
Last week, NABJ broke from UNITY over funding issues. Blacks are the majority of journalists “of color.” They were not getting their share of funding.
It’s ironic, but typical of the problems minority journalists face in this country. We’re so used to fending for ourselves that we oftentimes are forced to sacrifice in order to help others of color prosper. In the end, the White dominated media has been resistant to the expansion of minorities, hiring many though primarily for token showcase positions.
They want to look good, not become more diverse.
That failure is a failure of UNITY. The truth is the Black community and the Hispanic community are rivals for the same jobs with each other. And UNITY has been rivals for jobs with other journalists of color who are outside of the UNITY circle.
It’s a real hypocrisy, a violation of the very principle that supposedly brought the two founders together to create UNITY.
Today, UNITY is more about disunity. It’s about keeping people out and selfishly protecting the shares of access that each group now has.
It’s a poor strategic goal to simply exist to protect each groups existing share of jobs. It means that the journalists of color have accepted that the majority White community will only loosen the reins of control on some jobs, but not all. You can bring more people in to the mix, because it dilutes the gains.
That’s why I am not crying over the failure of UNITY. It was a failure when it began and it is a failure today. It doesn’t fight to achieve diversity. It fights to protect the diversity turfs carved out by the big four powers, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans.
Our first introduction to UNITY reflected the ongoing challenges that American Arabs have faced over the years. When NAAJA was first founded, we received a nasty letter from the then leader of the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA). They were upset that we had used the same acronym NAJA. We had to add an extra “A” just to keep them from assaulting us more.
Maybe that’s why UNITY still refuses to work with us. But the truth is, UNITY won’t ever respect American Arab journalists until American Arab journalists learn to respect themselves. And we don’t. We are still divided. We are still divided by Middle East politics and divided by the small handful of extremists who have turned the word “Arab” into a four letter word.
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Hanania loves to write about American Arabs in politics, and focuses on Arab life in America.
Currently, he writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com. He writes on American politics for the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News newspaper and the Reporter Newspapers. He also writes for the online websites TheArabDailyNews.com and NewsAmericaNetwork.com (Illinois News Network at IllinoisNewsNetwork.com).
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hanania began in journalism as an activist publishing Chicago’s first English-language American Arab Newspaper “The Middle Eastern Voice” from 1975 through 1977. In 1976, he was hired by the Chicago community newspaper The Southtown Economist (Daily Southtown) and in 1985 was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times and covered Chicago City Hall for both. In 1993, he launched the “The Villager” Newspapers which covered 12 Southwest Chicagoland suburban regions. In 2004, he published “The National Arab American Times” monthly newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East ethnic food stores in 48 American States.
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, he 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. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. Formerly syndicated by Creators Syndicate, Hanania also has written news, features and Opinion Columns for Al Jazeera English, the Jerusalem Post, YNetNews.com, Arab News, Saudi Gazette, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star, the News of the World, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, and Aramco Magazine. His political columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald and Des Plaines Valley News, Regional News and Palos Reporter newspapers in Chicagoland. Hanania is the President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.
Hanania is Palestinian Christian from prominent Bethlehem and Jerusalem families. His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.
His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania
Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com