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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

curated: NPR erases the work of a woman journalist… in a story about her work


posted in:
books | talent buzz
  • Bluejay

    So disappointed in NPR.

  • althea

    Thanks for publishing this. I wouldn’t have come across the article otherwise, and I’m glad I got to read it.

    There’s so much to think about, so much to say and do, as we stumble through the changes over the next hundred years or so. I’ve thought for a long time that we’ve counted too much on the alterations that have been made in the structure of society since the abolition of slavery and the growth of the notion of true equality. (The notion, you understand, is not the same as the thing itself.) The minute after the slaves went free, they weren’t equal. The minute after women got the right to vote they weren’t truly able to determine their own destinies. Minds have to be changed. I’m hanging onto the belief that they will be, but it’s going to take a lot more time. Yes, a LOT more time.

    I look around and see mixed-race couples and their mixed-race kids and marvel that they can live unmolested in many places. I see teenagers in pairs and groups of different colors and ethnicities and breathe a mental sigh of relief that they’re happy with each other. But then some asshole stirs up hatred at Muslims or I listen to a podcast that examines the case of a man persecuted by a small-town DA who’s kept him in prison for over 20 years on flimsy evidence and refuses to admit that anything he’s done is wrong. (Don’t get me started.)

    We’ve come so far that it now startles/disgusts/horrifies those of us who haven’t had in our faces every day the egregious failings that are still the norm – more’s the pity. But this past year has opened a lot of eyes, I think. We will do better. It will still take a long time. I’m guessing another hundred years.

    All of this is to say, yes, NPR screwed up. Not just the man who produced the piece but those who participated in its production, so it’s fair to say “NPR” screwed up, and the article MaryAnn pointed us to clarifies how deep the inequities lie even in the most respectable places. This is the point at which the whole place should be startled into silence, thinking “Oh boy, that was scary – let’s never do that again!” And then act on it. I’m not disappointed in NPR, Bluejay. If they can’t learn from this, nobody can. I just wish the story would go viral.

  • Danielm80

    I’m puzzled. How do you reconcile

    I’m not disappointed in NPR, Bluejay.

    …with this?

    All of this is to say, yes, NPR screwed up. Not just the man who produced the piece but those who participated in its production…

  • Bluejay

    If you haven’t seen it yet, Althea, here’s a long and pretty thorough piece from the NPR ombudsman discussing what happened:


    So it looks like NPR has gone through some self-reflection on this, and I hope it continues. I *am* disappointed that it happened, but being disappointed doesn’t mean I’ve given up on them.

    I see the same social progress (in some neighborhoods) that you do, and I share your hope that we’ll do better, even if it takes another hundred years. But something else I’ve learned this past year is that nothing is written and nothing is promised. (Not one day, as Lin Miranda says.) Ursula Le Guin said in a speech that any societal arrangement made by human beings can also be unmade by them; she meant this to be inspirational, that oppressive structures like capitalism can be reformed or dismantled just as the divine right of kings was. But we’ve seen that it can go the other way, too. Longstanding laws can be ignored or struck down, as will doubtless happen with the new Supreme Court. Autocracy can infect and replace democracy. Achievements deemed progress by one group of people can be reversed and undone by a different group. We say we are “a nation of laws, not men” — but it is still PEOPLE who write or enforce or interpret those laws, so when cruel, feckless, bigoted people are in charge, elected to their posts by cruel, feckless, bigoted followers, then all the paper constitutions and checks and balances in the world won’t save us. As you say: we’ve counted too much on structures, and haven’t changed enough actual hearts and minds.

    So that’s the work, I guess. I hope we succeed, but nothing is guaranteed. Nothing is written, nothing promised. Always in motion is the future. But we’ll just have to take the next chance, and the next, until we win — or all the chances are spent. And if you’re tired of obscure Star Wars quotes, I can throw in some Lord of the Rings: If this is to be our end, then let us make it such an end as to be worthy of remembrance. And if we cannot defeat them, we will meet them in battle nonetheless.

  • althea

    Why in the world would that be surprising? Everybody makes mistakes, even NPR. The difference is, I expect NPR to acknowledge the problem and learn from it, while I would expect other entities to make excuses and point fingers. NPR is no more immune from cultural biases than anybody else, including you and me. First you have to notice, then you have to care, before you can change. By the way, I also wasn’t disappointed in Starbucks a few months ago when their debacle happened. I knew it wasn’t an institutional bias of theirs, and it was beyond admirable when the CEO mandated sensitivity training companywide. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that NPR is actively making their situation a subject of companywide discussion.

  • Bluejay

    Why in the world would that be surprising?

    I suppose it’s a matter of what we mean by “disappointed.” To me, disappointment isn’t the same as surprise; I’m disappointed in Congress (to say the least), but not surprised. But that’s a discussion in semantics that doesn’t seem worthwhile. I think we’re all in agreement that NPR screwed up and that we hope they’ll learn to be better. (And perhaps the fear of disappointing listeners who hold them accountable will help them do so.)

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