Thursday, May 8, 2014

My response to responses to 'The Princeton Privileged Kid'

Several people have weighed in on my posting a link to “To the Princeton Privileged Kid,” which more eloquently than I ever could makes the case that white men enjoy an edge soley due to the circumstances of their birth (born white, born male).

Let me respond to their responses.

First, regarding advantage v. privilege, let’s not split hairs or play word games. We all know what we’re talking about here. I’ll use privilege, as the nom-de-plumed Violet Baudelaire did in his/her essay.
I could cite many professions where people of color and women are under-represented. Medicine, for example (for women, start with the data at; for people of color, start with the data referenced in Or Hollywood filmmaking (see: Spike Lee or Kathryn Bigelow).  

I'll discuss the area about which I can speak most authoritatively: Journalism, my profession for virtually all of my adult life. Along with my first-hand experience, I have been a student of the field for more than four decades.

There was one woman editor at my first newspaper, The Transcript, in Berkshire County, Mass., when I was hired in August 1978: she handled society events and gardening. The notion of a woman editor handling “hard” news would have been laughable to many. There were no people of color anywhere on the news staff of The Transcript.

There was one woman editor at my next paper, The Cape Cod Times, when I was hired in April 1979: she copy-edited four days a week, and on the fifth was the Saturday-night editor, a dead-end job. There were no people of color anywhere on the news staff of The Cape Cod Times then and when I left, in October 1981 for The Providence Journal, where I remain a staff writer. 

On a news staff of some 200 or more people when I joined The Journal that year, there was one person of color: a reporter. There was one woman editor: the great Carol Young, who made history in 1979 when she was named assistant city editor, the first woman at a newspaper that has been continuously published since 1829 to join news management. When she began at the paper, as a reporter in 1965, she was the only woman of 23 news hires that year. She brought to three the total number of women on the news staff.

Have things changed? Yes, but only to a degree. 

The two top news people now at The Journal are women: executive editor Karen Bordeleau and deputy executive editor Sue Areson. This remains an anomaly in the profession, however. According to hard data compiled by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Media Matters, and other reliable sources, both women and people of color remain greatly under-represented in the media. A Poynter Institute staffer references the data in a recent column, writing: 

“An ASNE newsroom census cited in the report showed that newsrooms were 63.1 percent male and 36.9 percent female in 1999. In 2012, those percentages were exactly the same. For 2013, it was actually worse: 63.7 percent male and 36.3 percent female… the percentage of minorities in newsrooms is far smaller than their representation in the United States population.” Google “women in the media” and “people of color in the media” to find many similar reports.

I come from a blue-collar family that never had a penny to spare; looking back, I see that we could be classified as working poor. I caught a break when I was admitted, on merit (neither of my parents graduated from college, let alone an Ivy League school), to Harvard. Did my degree – my privilege – help in my career? Now that's a silly question. 

Hard work helped, too: working as a hospital orderly and then a baggage handler for Delta Airlines as I struggled to turn free-lance writing into full-time employment.

And what also helped was the fact that, by luck of the birth draw, I was a white male, seeking entry into a profession that was and still is dominated by similarly lucky white men.