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It finally sinks in that some people aren’t white

“Who exactly do we mean when we say ‘we’?”

Is it really true that evangelical voters, or women voters, or rural voters or southern voters have a certain outlook? Or would it be more accurate to say that the trends we’re reporting in a political piece are true for white members of these groups?

Is it really true that that neighborhood or food or hairstyle is newly “cool” to everyone? Or would it be more accurate to say in a trend piece that it’s only recently been embraced by white Americans?

Is it really true that that deceased politician is remembered fondly by Americans for his civility and kindness, or is that much less true when it comes to people who were affected by his firm stances against civil rights and embrace of racist dog whistles?

Who exactly do we mean when we say “we”?

I hope 2019 is the year that members of the media begin to make it a practice to pause and ask ourselves these questions in each and every piece, whether we’re opining or reporting.

Being as accurate as possible is the right thing to do — it’s key to all of our jobs. It’s also essential as we work to hold onto the audiences we have and build relationships with new ones. And when we suggest that something is true of everyone — or of a group of people — when it’s really a more accurate description of what’s true of white people in that group, it alienates readers and destroys trust: If you’ve forgotten that people of color exist, what else have you missed?

It’s perfectly fine to write and report specifically about the experience of white Americans, just as it is to write and report specifically about the experiences of members of other racial identity groups. It’s perfectly fine to announce that trends and neighborhoods are new to white people, or to unpack the way white voters react to political developments. It’s more than fine — it’s something we should be doing. The important thing is that we are aware when we are doing it, and that we communicate it to audiences.

The failure to remember that everyone isn’t white is an ongoing problem, even when we have newsroom diversity. The articles in which this phenomenon rears its head often don’t get the “sensitivity reads” that are reserved for pieces that are explicitly about race, because the people writing them don’t see them as being about race. That has to change.

It is admittedly more of a hope than a prediction that 2019 will be the year that members of the media remember that everyone isn’t white. But I’m optimistic. This is partly because, on Twitter and other social media platforms — where people of color are represented in larger percentages than in most of our newsrooms — users regularly take media outlets to task for stories that seem to have been written in a world in which there are only white people. I hope in 2019 we all remember that is not the world we live in.

Jenée Desmond-Harris is a staff editor in the Opinion section of The New York Times.

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