“How can we have a productive dialogue without being provoked first?” asked journalism student Lolla Mohammed Nur during a discussion on the misrepresentation of minorities in the media at the University of Minnesota’s Coffman Union November 16. A panel of journalists, activists and educators spoke before fielding questions, like Nur’s, from a crowd of about 100 students and local residents. The event was part of a week of related activities aimed at responding to current patterns and attitudes in the mainstream media, and to a column by Ross Anderson that appeared in the Minnesota Daily, the award-winning campus newspaper.
Anderson’s comments about Muslims, East Africans and sexism in America were widely viewed as provocative and derogatory. Students, alumni, and faculty made their opinions known by posting extended, detailed comments on the Daily website refuting claims made in the column and by writing letters to the editor, which appeared online and in the printed pages.
Several members of Monday night’s audience made comments about the column during the question and answer session of the event. One of them was Holly Miller, co-editor of the Daily. She mentioned her own inexperience in dealing with the issue when it was brought to her attention. She said that even though she had forced the column to be significantly edited before it ran, “that maybe looking back and assessing everything after it happened, maybe I would have made a different decision.”
Miller also said that the evening’s discussion was a positive outcome of the controversy and that the Daily is holding a series of open houses where student groups learn how to pitch stories and bring information about their communities to the paper.
The panel of speakers included representatives from African-American, Muslim, Somali, and Latino groups. Catherine Squires, Professor of People of Color and Mass Media at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, discussed the “disingenuous idea that we live in a post racial world.”
Tamim Saidi, from the Islamic Resource Group and writer for EngageMN.com, defined the differences between Islamic things and Muslim people. He said that, “a lot of people don’t understand; what is religion, and what is culture. They show culture and traditions; they portray it as it as Islamic and religious differences.”
Abdi Aynte, a reporter for BBC and Voice of America, represented both Somali and Muslim communities on the panel and said he often emails reporters to let them know how wrong they got their stories. He explained that, “reporters are given a liberty to talk about issues relating to Muslims as long as they seem to be following the stereotype that’s already out there and the stereotype obviously is a negative one.”
Steven Renderos, media justice organizer with the Mainstreet Project, said that the current problem can’t be solved by diversifying sources because for Latinos, “the misrepresentation is presented in a legitimate way.” Renderos envisions that media needs to, “be a participatory and collaborative process that’s open to all; right now our relationship to media is one-sided.” He said that right now the battle for control and access to the media is being fought over the internet.
The misrepresentation of the media events are co-sponsored by: Al-Madinah Cultural Center, the Muslim Students Association, Black Student Union, La Raza Student Cultural Center, the Somali Student Association, and the Minnesota Daily.