The 2016 presidential election exposed racial fault lines to reveal a deeply fractured country, with citizens who are strangers to one another. We’ve been here before, but what will we say now about race in America?
For some, the work will be what it has always been: attempting to right wrongs by telling the stories of the unseen and unheard. We know now that must also include white people — but not only the ones at the center of the Recent Unpleasantness.
While much has been made about the angry Rust Belt voters we did not know, there was another group we failed to cover — the voters we did know: our neighbors, friends and relatives who made choices we didn’t expect or, according to the polls, didn’t believe they would on Election Day. Talking to them could also yield new insights, if we’re ready to lay down old assumptions. And with renewed interest in the “inner city” — expressed by the president-elect on the campaign trail — must come a renewed commitment to journalism that takes a view of these communities that is more focused on their humanity than body counts.
Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 race riots that roiled cities like Newark, Detroit, and Cleveland. In their wake, the country asked how and why racial tensions exploded after years of unrest and in the wake of some racial progress. The result of that inquiry was the Kerner Report, commissioned the same year by President Lyndon Johnson. Completed in 1968, the report described a nation “moving toward two societies…separate and unequal.”
Its lessons remain salient, urgent, and befitting the moment as we ponder America’s next chapter and the future of our country’s journalism. Among them: to show up in communities, and not just in times of crisis; to report on the daily lives of minorities in a way that normalizes them to the rest of America; and that newsrooms must hire decision-makers, not just reporters, who are reflective of the communities we cover.
Errin Haines Whack covers urban affairs for the Associated Press.