Suburban leaders share how media can help bridge racial divide
News media can play a meaningful role in closing a widening racial divide in suburban life, participants at a Thursday forum said, and here's how:
• By publishing more positive stories about minority groups;
• By hiring more minorities for their newsrooms; and
• By encouraging election of qualified minority candidates for local school and municipal offices.
About 80 civic leaders and residents of the Northwest suburbs discussed the impact of media coverage of minorities at a program titled "Narrowing the Black/White Divide" hosted by the Daily Herald in partnership with the civic group Bridge the Black/White Divide.
Participants met in small groups to discuss specific questions about news coverage of minorities. Some speakers noted that media outlets could better understand and provide a more nuanced portrayal of people from minority communities if newsrooms had more reporters and editors of color. Others said news media could improve the public's understanding of diverse cultures and religions by covering more festivals and events hosted by minority communities.
In introductory remarks, the Rev. Clyde Brooks, chairman of the Illinois Commission on Diversity and Human Relations, told the gathering that diversity among civic and government leaders and in public sector jobs has gotten worse in the Northwest suburbs in the years since a 2005 study first examined the subject.
"In 2005, there were more African-Americans on police departments than today," Brooks said, and he noted that as some corporations have moved their headquarters to the city, more white people are returning to Chicago neighborhoods while the suburbs continue to diversify.
"Things are changing and the communities in the Northwest area today are not the communities of tomorrow," he said. "We need to be very much aware of what is going on ... who we elect to office."
Brooks said a more recent study by ICDHR into the suburban racial divide emphasized that racism is not always overt, can be implicit as well as deliberate and often stems from "exclusion" or the failure of communities and agencies to actively recruit and hire minorities.
Participants said the media could help combat racism by publishing editorials supporting candidates running for office who value inclusiveness and diversity, by reaching out to minorities to include their perspectives and by better representing them in all types of stories.
"Semantics matter with media," said Heidi Graham, president of the League of Women Voters serving several Cook County communities. "The language used makes a huge difference in how we read (stories). We as a community also have some culpability here. We have to hold the paper accountable."
Daily Herald Editor John Lampinen agreed the newspaper must do more to connect with minority communities and depict their full experience in the suburbs.
"We are not in touch with the minority communities in the suburbs as much as we'd like," Lampinen said. "The paper is not resonating in minority communities as much as it should."
Participants in Thursday's sessions called for building mutual understanding and respect among diverse groups.
"Our communities are disconnected," said Anisha Ismail Patel, Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 school board member. "The power of personal narratives ... really highlighting those different cultural celebrations ... (is how) we get to know our neighbors."
The ICDHR spearheaded Thursday's forum as part of a series of workshops to promote conversations about race. Previous workshops have focused on schools, religious bodies, police departments and local government. More than 1,000 residents and leaders have participated, Brooks said.