Feministing Interviews COLORLINES editor

By Andre Banks May 08, 2007

Our friends over at Feministing recently interviewed Daisy Hernandez, the Managing Editor at COLORLINES. Reposted here, for your pleasure…

Daisy Hernandez is the Managing Editor of ColorLines, a bimonthly progressive magazine based in Oakland, CA that takes the issue of race in America to the forefront of national debate. It is published by the Applied Research Center based in New York City.

Daisy is the co-editor of Colonize This! Young Women of Today’s Feminism. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Ms., Newsday, National Catholic Reporter, The Progressive Media Project, Bitch, Curve, Criticas, and In These Times.

Here’s Daisy….

How did you get involved in print journalism? What made you want to pursue journalism?
I started reporting for my school paper when I was in sixth grade with the encouragement of teachers. More formally, I went to NYU for a master’s degree in journalism and then started an internship with the editorial department at The New York Times. That came about in part because I wrote an op-ed about the murder of a Latina lesbian in the Midwest. She was killed by her partner’s brother, but police were reluctant to call it a hate crime. At the time, I was dating a woman who was closeted and the story was a wake up call for me. Not that I thought my girlfriend’s Right-Wing conservative brother was going to kill any time soon, but the reality was that I didn’t know how her family would react.

I wrote the op-ed and shared it with an editor at The Times and that led to an interview there. I share this story because I think it’s important for women to write from the heart, to write about issues that they feel strongly about—whether it’s going to get in print with The Times, Feministing, or your own blog. I think these kinds of stories, the ones we bring our passions, are the strongest ones.

For me I came at journalism from a Latin American perspective. I did my masters’ in journalism and Latin American studies. Journalism is very dangerous work in Latin America and I knew that growing up—my father’s from Cuba where there is just state media and my mother is from Colombia where journalists’ lives are threatened by the civil war. So, I’ve always been aware that journalism work is about truth telling and that it’s not easy but very necessary. And that we’re pretty privileged as journalists in this country (i.e., we’re not usually gunned down for what’s in the paper that day).

Journalism also appealed to me because I enjoy writing, telling people’s stories and….giving my opinion. It was a career path in which I could do all that and also do my part to change the world.

What do you see as your mission as the Managing Editor of ColorLines magazine?
I’m actually the Managing Editor now and my mission is to cultivate relationships with writers. One of my favorite writers for ColorLines at the moment is LaVon Rice. I think I first got in touch with her when she saw an email that I sent out looking for writers of color. I was working pretty hard to get more writers for the magazine from all walks of life and LaVon pitched a book review. We usually assign our book reviews but it was a good idea that she had and the review she turned in was great. Since then, we’ve collaborated: she pitches great ideas to me and I assign her pieces. In the May issue of ColorLines, she did a great job with a story on the state of queer activism in Africa.

The working relationship I have with her is ideally what I want with writers. ColorLines is singularly posed to get newer writers out there with their ideas and journalism and I’ve had some great mentors so I enjoy giving that to other folks. When I first picked up ColorLines in the late 90s, I had an ‘Aha’ moment. I was used to working in white media and I had some exposure to Latina media but here was a magazine that was for all people of color and it had progressive politics. I knew then that I wanted to work for ColorLines and I think a lot of writers and people who are new to journalism have that feeling, too. So, a big chunk of my mission is to match the people to the magazine, learn what areas of journalism they excel at and put out a magazine that puts race at the forefront of conversations.

What are some of your favorite features you have edited at ColorLines and why?
I edited the cover story for March issue on colorblindness and health care. It was great to work with a seasoned writer like Kai Wright and to really tell the story of an idea, in this case the idea of colorblindness, and how the Right is using that to argue that racism doesn’t exist in health care. It’s a bizarre situation. The statistics on everything from death rates to dental check ups spells out the disparity between whites and blacks. But the Right Wing is still trying to say that the difference is biological rather than political.

Another favorite story is from last year. Dulce Reyes wrote a great piece on the boom in sex talk on Spanish language radio. I knew a little about this story from listening to Spanish radio myself (and turning it off because sex was all they talked about) but the bigger story was crazy: the Spanish radio ratings were beating Howard Stern! Anyway, Dulce’s a great reporter and writer and she got a bigger story of how Latinos are finally getting to talk about sex in a way that is still not possible in Latin America. It was great to brainstorm the story with her and work with her in structuring the story, too. And to boot, we got a great illustration for the story in the magazine.

Congratulations on ColorLines’ Facing Race Conference last month! Can you talk about the purpose of the conference and what topics were discussed?
The purpose is best described at http://facingrace.wiki.zoho.com/: “to change the rules so that privileges and punishments are not determined by the color of our skin.” To add to that, it’s an annual conference to pull together the best thinkers on race from across the country. There were a ton of topics including everything from immigration, affirmative action and child welfare to a keynote by novelist Walter Mosley and a look at the future of racial justice with folks like Winona LaDuke.

I organized the panel on the links between immigration and criminalization that Sandip Roy, of New America Media, moderated. Immigrants are the largest growing population in prisons today and so we wanted to see what these amazing activists would share about the connections between what African Americans and Latinos and other immigrants face. The activists on the panel included Emmma Lozano, who runs Centro Sin Fronteras, an immigrant rights group in Chicago that’s at the head of the sanctuary movement to keep Elvira from being deported. Elvira took sanctuary at a Chicago church to stay in the country with her American born son. Emma talked about the need for on the street protest as in the kind of marches that we saw last year.

Xochitl Bervera works with kids in New Orleans who’ve been imprisoned and their families. She’s a long-time kick-ass activist in this arena and shared what she’s seen in New Orleans and some of the successes that they are having. I thought this panel exemplified why the conference appeals to so many people. It’s rare to get folks from New Orleans, Chicago, New York and California in the same room to talk about race and what makes a difference in changing the way government works and the way people think.

What do you think about the firing of Don Imus because of what he said about the Rutgers University’s women’s basketball team? And do you think his firing will spur a greater movement to outlaw the mainstream use of derogatory terms directed against women, especially women of color, in hip-hop lyrics?

The firing is a good message to people that his kind of language won’t be tolerated on regular old TV, but let’s be real about it, too: Don will go on to cable and continue saying whatever he wants. I doubt this will make any impact on hip hop. I could be wrong but I think that after the Imus show was canned, Snoop Dog made a point of letting the world know that he’ll continue putting down women of color in his songs. I may be pessimistic here but I don’t see the put-downs disappearing any time soon.

ColorLines’ May issue takes a different look at this debate actually. We have a great piece from T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting whose new book is called PIMPS UP, HO’S DOWN: Hip Hop’s Hold on Young Black Women. One of the arguments that she makes is just how necessary the images of black women are to the creation of hip hop and to what a great degree black women themselves are consumers of these images. While I think it’s true that white boys in the ‘burbs are buying up this stuff, so are young black women and I think we have been ignoring this part of the equation.

What do you think about the state of race in the U.S.?
I think that race matters in every area of our lives from health care to jobs to retirement but people want to believe that we’re in a colorblind society. Part of the challenge is that we’re still developing a language to talk about race and racism and how it looks different today from 40 years ago.

What I’ve noticed (along with the rest of the planet) is how quick we are to start talking about race when a white man makes a racist comment. While that’s helpful and necessary, it also points to this: that’s the main way that people understand racism. So many of us still think racism is a white boy using the n-word. This seems to be the main reason that a conversation on race gets to the front of the papers, blogs, etc.

What about the racism that runs deeper than a nasty comment? The May cover story in ColorLines by our executive editor Tram Nguyen, for example, looks at how black folks are being locked out of housing. Cities are tearing down public housing and gentrifying overnight. But this kind of story in the press is looked at as a “class” issue. Part of the challenge now is pointing out: hey, racism isn’t just the racist comment of the week. Racism is the decisions that people elected to local governments are making about basic things like who gets to live where and if they get to live in a safe neighborhood. All of that is dictated by race.