Separate but equal: journalists of color run out of unity

I’m shocked that the National Association of Black Journalists has decided to pull out of Unity, the coalition of media professionals that always reminded me of the true purpose of being a journalist of color.

As always, dollars are at the bottom of the pull out.

I remember going to the first Unity convention in July of ’94, in a hot and steamy Atlanta. There were Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native American journalists all together-6,000 journalists clamoring for diversity in news coverage and employment.

Try to get 6,000 of anyone, let alone journalists in one room, all in agreement. After Atlanta, it felt like we could do anything.

Indeed, one of the goals for Unity was to show how through journalism, we could lead the U.S. into a more enlightened sense of race relations. It was an independent non-profit with a real purpose.

From the Unity website:

UNITY: Journalists of Color, Inc. does not merely espouse the virtues of diversity and cross-cultural understanding; it is a model of diversity in practice. No other organization or professional association can boast that it has attracted equal participation from all four of the country’s largest communities of color and worked to develop a fair and equitable system of governance. UNITY was recognized by President Clinton and the panel of his Initiative on Race as a model in the effort to “build one America.”

UNITY has become a vehicle for the different ethnic groups to work through differences while supporting and collaborating on a common agenda-a constantly expanding mission that is strengthening ties and understanding among communities. Given the importance of freedom of speech in a democracy, journalists play a crucial part in helping to shape American beliefs and actions; in UNITY, journalists learn from their differences and pool their resources in pursuit of common goals.

It may not always be an easy alliance, but it serves a vital purpose by modeling how different_ segments of our diverse country can participate equally in shaping the future.

To date, Unity’s record has been spotty. But maybe that’s because it’s just enough that we manage to come together every four years, like a Woodstock of media diversity.

In the end, that simple act of being all together gives force to the name Unity.

It means a lot more than you think, these days.

As the country becomes more diverse, newsrooms have become less so, losing journalists of color each year. The internet has changed business models, and media profits are diminishing. Diversity is now seen as a luxury, a matter of budget.

It’s always about the dollars, isn’t it? And that is essentially why NABJ is pulling out of Unity.

In a statement worthy of a politician, NABJ still says it supports and likes the idea of Unity; it just can’t afford the diversity Unity-style.

Since NABJ has always had a greater participation rate in conventions past, NABJ wanted a bigger cut out of the next convention in 2012. It wanted a bigger say in what goes on.

Instead of going along with the others this time, the NABJ board voted to go its own way and have a separate convention.

Separate but equal? Or separate and more equal?

That certainly wasn’t the spirit in Atlanta.

But times have changed. The NABJ board voted 12-1 to leave Unity.

The idealists have lost. The bean counters have won. NABJ board members kept referring to the vote as purely a “business decision.” But when has it ever been purely about business?

Besides, how can you have Unity without unity?

Same way NABJ thinks it’s supporting Unity by pulling out.

That’s some message to send the world after years of massive gatherings of journalists of color.

What’s NABJ saying? That sometimes diversity isn’t worth it?

For more on the NABJ withdrawal from Unity, read Richard Prince, Journal-isms, at

Image by AALDEF

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.

The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.

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