Civil Society in America faces the challenge of storytelling. Democracy thrives on the free availability of information and viewpoints. We must guard against hegemony that stifles innovation and protect voices of the marginalized. To do so, we should ensure that everyone's story is told.
Making space for new voices is difficult because the majority often doesn't recognize its privilege of having its perspective represented in the mainstream. Being at the table feels normal. It doesn't feel like special treatment. It's taken for granted. But visibility doesn't come easily for the marginalized. Slogans like "news you can trust" (CBS Evening News), "fair and balanced" (Fox News) and "all the news that is fit to print" (The New York Times) go relatively unquestioned.
Who decides what is...
…"news you can trust"…
…"fair and balanced"…
…"fit to print"?
Consider those questions as you read newspapers, see images of beauty in magazines, and watch television. Whose voice do they represent? Who is rendered invisible?
The storyteller matters. Data from Media Matters for America analyzed by ColorOfChange.org revealed every major network affiliate in New York City is disproportionately focusing their crime reporting on Black suspects. The disparity inaccurately exaggerates the proportion of Black people involved in crime by 24 percentage points, on average.
The Emma L. Bowen Foundation (EBF), the organization I lead, produces alumni who change the narrative. For example, alum Rodney Hawkins told a story of black male achievement, not deficiency, when he produced a CBS This Morning piece on Eagle Academy. Unfortunately, the traditional media newsroom was 88 percent white in 2013.
EBF supports diverse storytelling by creating career opportunities for people of color within the media industry. EBF, together with our 41 corporate partners from leading media outlets, creates direct work experience opportunities and supports professional development of students of color students. Approximately 700 students have completed our programs and approximately 70% of those surveyed currently have careers in media.
Philanthropy can help by supporting content production and supplying platforms for every community to create its own narrative. Historically, the majority produces the overarching-mainstream understanding of what is right and normal. Those relegated to "minority status" don't have the power of self-determination. Media matters.
Philanthropy can support diverse storytelling through collaboration. Media Impact Funders is a great place to start. It is a network of funders, working broadly on media, in order to create social change.
Promote storytelling early. Youth Radio, founded in 1992 during a period of heightened youth violence and homicide, was established as an outlet for Bay Area youth to process their experiences and provide an alternative perspective to the prevailing media dialogue. Today, Youth Radio is an award-winning media production company that trains diverse young people in digital media and technology.
Stretch yourself beyond the familiar when seeking new perspectives. For example, the Ford Foundation supports Halal in the Family, a 1980s sitcom parody developed by Aasif Mandvi to challenge stereotypes and misinformation about Muslims and communities associated with Muslims. The Transgender Oral History Project, supported by the Valentine Foundation, the Chicago Filmmakers Fund, and the Crossroads Foundation, collects and shares a diverse range of stories from within the transgender and gender variant communities by promoting grassroots media projects, documenting trans people’s experiences, maintaining a publicly accessible digital archive, and teaching media production skills.
Actively seeking out all voices will allow us to great a robust American narrative that is fair and balanced.
Rahsaan Harris, PhD
President & CEO
The Emma L. Bowen Foundation for Minority Interests in Media