Responsible Journalists: Be An Ally

Posted by Erin Hall

It’s hard to believe that today, in 2012, racism still exists in our country. Medical terminology is used in slang to mean “stupid” and someone’s sexual orientation can be used to mean “dumb”. Let’s stop the hate speech. But more importantly, for those of us who know better, let’s be an ally and give voices to those who are threatened and correct those who are mislead and misinformed.

Some would say we have come a long way as a country; that 48 years ago we made a milestone in passing the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. I would agree, but I also expect more. A recent incident of hate speech directed to students of color on Drake University’s campus proves racial prejudices are very much alive in our community. President David Maxwell acted as an ally in sending a campus-wide e-mail reminding students and faculty that foolish language and assumptions based on stereotypes are “unacceptable, intolerable, and diminish us as a community.” He went on to explain the campus newspaper, the Times/Delphic, would be running a letter to the editor in response to the incident, and that anyone may sign the letter in support of these concerns as he did.

Another current issue in our society is the derogatory use of the words “retarded” and “gay” in our every-day language. Gay, lesbian and transgender are terms used to refer to someone’s sexual or gender orientation. These words are too loosely used in school hallways where children are often bullied for being homosexual or appearing homosexual.

Mental retardation is a medical diagnosis for someone with intellectual disabilities or a cognitive delay, and is hurtful when used in place of the word stupid. This past March marked my third year working for Special Olympics Iowa and advocating for the Spread The Word To End The Word campaign, a national movement calling all youth to stop the derogatory use of the R-word, and to ask others to take the pledge as well.

On October 5, 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama signed legislation changing the terminology of people with disabilities in federal educational, health and labor policies. Rosa’s Law removes the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” and replaces them with people first language such as “individual with an intellectual disability.”

Whoever said “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” never walked through a middle school hallway. Words are hurtful. As writers and journalists we have the privilege and responsibility to be an advocate and an ally. A passage from the book Race, Class and Gender in the United States edited by Paula S. Rothenberg simply explains how to be an ally:

“You do not have to be rich or powerful or well-connected to erect a sign in your yard. You do not have to be a salesperson to hand out informational leaflets at a bus stop. You do not have to be young to volunteer with an organization. Do something. Do anything.”

These are some of the ideas that I am passionate about. Lastly and most importantly, as my favorite talk show host, Ellen DeGeneres, would say “Be kind to one another.”

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3 responses to “Responsible Journalists: Be An Ally

  1. I really liked this post! It’s really important for journalists (and everyone for that matter) to be an ally for those who are made fun of, bullied, etc. for their race, gender, or sexual orientation. I think it’s especially important for journalists because we will be writing articles that have to deal with these topics and they might be of a sensitive nature. For example, the writer who wrote “chink” in the article about Jeremy Lin. This is an offensive term describing his race, and the writer made a terrible mistake when he wrote that. As journalists, we have to be aware of things like this so we can be a good writer and person.

  2. I really enjoyed this post! In the School of Education we talk about how as educators, we see these words being used in our classrooms, on our playgrounds, and in our hallways. We should be doing everything we can to stop the use of such terms. I never thought about how as a journalist, I also have the power to change the way people speak and to change what people think is appropriate to say. I don’t think enough people understand the impact that these words have on our others, our youth especially. Way to go in picking such a influential topic!

  3. Thanks ladies! I think it’s good for all of us to remember that we can speak up and make a difference. We don’t have to wait for bad things to happen or for people to say mean-spirited things for us to say what’s right.

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