We’re All Racial Justice Media Makers Now

As I end six years at ColorLines, I'm reminded how important a role we each play in framing the fight for racial justice.

By Daisy Hernandez Aug 13, 2010

The other day, I was trying to remember life before YouTube.  

This shouldn’t have been hard. It’s only been around for about five years. But still, there I was in ColorLines’s Oakland office with coworkers trying to recall the days when you couldn’t just hop online to watch videos of protests against Arizona and kittens falling asleep in awkward positions.  

I joined the ColorLines team in 2004, before the advent of YouTube, FaceBook and Twitter. Ok, I’m slightly cringing as I write this. I can’t believe I’ve become like that editor who insisted on telling me how news was copyedited before computers were invented. "Back in my day…." 

Well, I’m thinking about back in the day because today marks my last day at ColorLines. It’s been an amazing journey for me, as hokey as that sounds, and one marked by tremendous changes in media, as well as shifts in how we talk, or rather don’t talk, about race as a country.  

When I joined the magazine and its publisher, the Applied Research Center, we were printing ColorLines four times a year. It seems so quaint now that we ever published news by seasons. At the time, RaceWire was an informal email newsletter about racial justice issues for the ethnic news media. The war on terror and then Hurricane Katrina were at the forefront of the public conversation and for most people the best way to share news about race and politics was still by forwarding emails. A lot of folks couldn’t imagine a Black man in the White House.

We began printing bimonthly in 2006, then publishing more of our content online, and finally became an official online magazine this year. We transformed RaceWire into a blog and merged it with the magazine this summer to give readers a one-stop site for news on race, politics and culture. Along the way, we nabbed awards, riled up a police chief, and tracked the growth of anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona.  

I had the honor of being a part of these changes and of working with a fabulous group of dedicated colleagues and freelance writers–and readers who supported us as we experimented, tripped up and evolved, and who let us know exactly what was on their minds. To all of you: Mil Gracias.  

Of course, the shift of ColorLines from a print quarterly to an online publication wasn’t only a response to the new ways that people are consuming and sharing news. Yes, it’s true that everyone and their abuela is now on FaceBook and Twitter and more likely to read the news on their Droids than in print. But the transformation in media tools has also had another effect: reinforcing and amplifying the national mythology that racism is just what an uncouth and uncool individual of any race does.  

So, the edited video of Shirley Sherrod by the Tea Party headliner Andrew Breitbart grabs the online race limelight for several days. This keeps the so-called national conversation on race focused on individual people –"she’s a racist"–or on one group like ACORN, while still producing big changes of the institutional variety. Sherrod is fired. ACORN, the largest community organization, shuts down.  

The right’s formula for talking about race now seems to be: invest in "you’re a racist" sound bites and the payoff is further institutional injustice. Some people would argue it’s been this way for a long time, but the blogosphere and online social networking sites are taking this to an unprecedented level and have shortened the window for people who care about racial justice to respond.  

This isn’t true only about race issues.  

The decision by Time magazine editors to put a picture of a mutilated Afghan woman on their cover last week, with the headline "What happens if we leave Afghanistan," was the pictorial equivalent of saying, "You support violence against women if you don’t support the war." The image was the sound bite and it nabbed the online limelight on women’s issues for at least a week.  

In this media landscape then, it’s even more urgent then to keep the focus, as Kai Wright reminded us recently, on the real stuff that shapes our lives: unemployment legislation, Obama’s decisions on reproductive rights, studies linking poverty to HIV–and on the efforts of community groups like the Border Action Network and National Day Laborer Organizing Network, just to name two organizations doing amazing work in Arizona right now.  

I’m not so idealist (at least not yet!) as to think that we can change how we talk about race and what we do about racism overnight or even in this decade, but I do believe that we are now, each of us, a little media outlet unto ourselves. Sharing a story on FaceBook about BP dumping its waste in communities of color or about Judge Walker’s ruling on gay marriage might seem like a small act, but really it can be one first step in a larger movement for change.  

On that note, I’m planning to update and formally launch my website in the coming months. For a sneak preview, go to daisyhernandez.com. In the meantime, I hope to see you all on FaceBook, where I’ll keep sharing news, stories and commentaries that offer more than a sound bite.