Racial politics & news reportingSeptember 8, 2008
Either by accident or by design, the news rarely reports on the race of a subject in a story, unless that subject is a wanted suspect and their race somehow comes into play (“police are looking for a Hispanic male, approximately 40 years old” etc).
And I think that’s largely for the best. It would sound jarring if in the middle of stories, the race of the subject were arbitrarily disclosed. Like your aunt or elderly neighbor stage-whispering about the construction workers she suspected might be planning to rob her. “Police said the victim, who was black, was shot seven times,” or “The proprietor of the diamond store, Mr Finkelstein, a Jew, was unavailable for comment.”
But sometimes the race of the subject makes itself an issue; in this article about the tragic death of a toddler, the mother’s name is Summer ManyWhiteHorses. The moment I read the name, I thought – really? Many White Horses? And immediately my mind leaped to the assumption “must be a Native American.”
Of course, by policy, there’s no mention of Summer ManyWhiteHorses’ racial heritage, so I spend the rest of the article scanning for an acknowledgement between myself and the writer that there’s a Native American in our story and that we haven’t been introduced. I guess perhaps because I’ve never met someone with a throwback full on Native American name before, I found it distracting from the thrust of the article, almost as if they had mentioned that Summer lived in a Teepee or had been arrested for drinking too much firewater in public.
I bring this whole subject up to cover up the fact that I can’t find a clip of the following anecdote online: last night, on Iron Chef America, the chef was Tabla owner Floyd Cardoz, an Indian (not Native American, but subcontinent of India) by heritage. When the host asked him which Iron Chef he wanted to compete against, the host said (and I watched this repeatedly, in disbelief that it made air) “Which Iron Chef will feel the wrath of your War Whoop?”
Now, I say racist things all the time, but that’s okay, I’m a wealthy eccentric and don’t need to worry about ever being hired by an employer ever again. But the Food Network should know better. Even Native Americans should find a crack like “your war whoop” offensive, let alone Indians. It’s a testament to the relative low media attention the show gets that a comment like that didn’t result in someone’s job. You can see the look of confusion on Cardoz’s face – again, I wish I had a clip – it’s like having a Spanish chef on and asking him what kind of Mexican food he’ll be preparing.