Cross-cultural journalism means presenting people as accurately as possible. Every person falls into five fault lines: class, gender, generation, geography and race/ethnicity. Awareness of your own fault lines and the fault lines of those you cover should not hinder storytelling, but inform it. Entering a situation with an open mind, after researching your story subject to gain familiarity, allows you to capture the reality and truth of people.
With all that in mind, I covered the You in Mizzou race dialogue Thursday, February 7th. The Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative states: “The You in Mizzou program is designed to give MU students, faculty and staff the opportunity to learn about a variety of hot topic issues as well as challenges participants to respectfully discuss their differences and discover their similarities in a safe environment.”
You in Mizzou hosts dialogues the first Thursday of every month in Memorial Union. In honor of Black History Month, February’s topic was: “Race-Conscious vs. Race-Neutral: How Do We Move Forward?”
Two dozen MU students and faculty attended the two-hour open forum. The discussion focused on what affirmative action means without racial quotas and whether or not universities should consider a holistic view of an applicant when making admissions decisions. Some participants felt affirmative action did not lead to true equality, and that race-neutrality levels the playing field. Others suggested the initiative is currently the only mechanism recognizing a history of unequal opportunities for disadvantaged students. The group found consensus in the idea that quality education and diversity early on could provide truly equal opportunity for all students.
Asian, white, black, latino and mixed peoples participated in this dialogue. While racial/ethnic experiences informed their viewpoints, socioeconomic status and geographic culture seemed even more influential in shaping different world views. I say this because my own fault lines had me volleying between different perspectives.
I am a half-white, half-Puerto Rican young female raised in an upper-middle-class, predominantly Catholic environment. I identify with different aspects of who I am based on my context.
Listening to this race discussion, things different people said revealed who they were. Some unknowingly screamed, “I’m a privileged white who doesn’t realize my experience is not universal.” Others subconsciously shouted, “I’m an underprivileged racial minority who resents you for being born into wealthier circumstances. You cannot understand the adversities I face, and if you don’t recognize discrimination, you are ignorant and I will not explain it to you.”
The upper-middle class, white part of me identified with the white privileged students. But the Puerto Rican part of me recognized those students’ lack of awareness of other cultures and discrimination. The Puerto Rican part of me identified with minorities’ frustration in unequal opportunities and representation. But the white, upper-middle class part of me was taught that hard work and active pursuit of goals can open those doors to opportunity.
Before the You in Mizzou dialogue, I hadn’t realized how much conflict resided within me. But now that I recognize the different fault lines at play, I think I can use my own diversity to my advantage.
I will never be able to fully comprehend other peoples’ experiences of the world. But I know now that I can identify with and recognize diverse human experiences. Perhaps having both a minority and majority viewpoint will enable me to remain open to multiple perspectives when researching and covering different groups of people.
I’m aware of the fault lines I stride. I’m open to learning about the fault lines of the people I cover. I’m armed and ready to be a cross-cultural journalist.