Last week our managing editor, James Phillips, dealt with one of those situations. A man came to his office with a complaint about the paper’s Opinion page. His criticism: too many African-American columnists.
James impressed me with his composure as he talked with the reader. James asked the man what exactly was offensive about the columns. The man replied that he did not read the articles because, as he put it, all blacks are radicals.
As far as I know, we have two African American columnists out of the dozens that regularly appear on the Eagle’s editorial section. One is Leonard Pitts of The Miami Herald, whose column we receive from a wire service. The other is Thomas Sowell, an economist from Birmingham.
James attempted to explain to the reader that Sowell usually falls on the conservative side of the political spectrum. However, the man could not be swayed.
I would argue the world suffers from too many assumptions rather than too many black columnists.
Any time Alabama is mentioned in the national media, an almost-guaranteed jab to our education, income or civil rights history is included. Even in news reports, seemingly benign census data and quotes from natives converge to sketch a portrait of barefoot hillbillies shelling peas and wrangling pigs.
If the South is ever to scrape off this stereotype, however, people like the Opinion page critic must see that they perpetuate that image with their assumptions.
I wish those who live above the Mason-Dixie line could witness the South I know. Not the clichés about sweet tea and Mama’s biscuits — though I’m quite fond of both — but the storytellers, the hard-workers and selfless acts I see each day. Then again, I’m white.
The funniest, or perhaps the saddest, thing is that the Opinion page critic might have found he and Sowell have several political ideals in common. Sowell is no fan of Obama or of health care reform. But because of something as mundane as skin pigment, those similarities will go unnoticed by the reader. I suppose, though, in Sowell’s case the critic is a non-reader.
Also, the upset reader might see my white face pasted onto this column and read it, confident in the safe, conservative opinions that rest inside my Anglo-Saxon head. More than likely, however, he will find we share few political principles.
That’s another thing that irritates me — when people assume, because of my white skin and Southern accent, that I oppose health care reform, that I believe all Muslims are dangerous and that I despise President Obama.
Despite a large soapbox beneath my feet, I do not mean to sound more enlightened than anyone in this community. I’m probably guilty of a multitude of assumptions. Two immediately come to mind. As a young boy I assumed that racism would be long gone before I reached this age, and now assume I will have red dots waiting for me in the morning.
Daniel Gaddy is a staff reporter for the Daily Mountain Eagle and a Walker County native. He can be reached at daniel.gaddy@ mountaineagle.com