Editor's Note: Finding The Right Words For 'Living Black In B-N' | WGLT

Editor's Note: Finding The Right Words For 'Living Black In B-N'

Jul 31, 2020

As journalists, we expect transparency and hold people accountable. That cuts both ways. As our listeners and readers, you should expect nothing less from WGLT: transparency and accountability.

Last month we launched a series called Living Black in Bloomington-Normal, in response to a reinvigorated conversation about racism and police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. A team of three reporters has completed 17 episodes so far, with more to come.

One of the 17 interviews was with Lissette Hall, who grew up in both Chicago and Bloomington-Normal and is a graduate of Parkside Junior High, Normal West high school, and Heartland Community College. She studied at Columbia University, UIC, and ISU before becoming the first person to earn a bachelor's in comedy writing and performance with a minor in arts in healthcare at Columbia College Chicago. Here is the exchange:

WGLT: When and how did you first become aware that racism, the color of your skin, was a problem for some people?

Hall: OK, so let's talk about this question. This question is racist. Does anybody think that, the people who wrote this question?

No.

OK, so your series is called “Living Black in Bloomington Normal." And then you're opening these interviews with that question. The entire series is through a white-centered lens. And it's othering Blackness. And you're associating the concept of Blackness in Bloomington-Normal with racism. Like immediately. Does that make sense?

Yes.

So my first suggestion for this project is that the title of it needs to be changed to “Racism in Bloomington-Normal” and that you're talking to Black community members about racism in Bloomington-Normal. My life in Bloomington-Normal is not all racism. You know what I mean? Like I have a joyful, wonderful Black life. And it's really unfortunate that white supremacy is so internalized in this area, that everyone agreed that all of that is OK.

This week, WGLT became aware of an online petition demanding that we change the name of the series, to “Racism in Bloomington-Normal.” It had more than 270 signatures as of Friday morning.

Hall’s comments and the petition have sparked a lot dialogue in our newsroom about the series, its title, and how interviewers converse with their guests. Hall’s point about the first question we asked, for example, led us to change how we began some of our subsequent interviews. Her comments were also a reminder that our interviews must reflect that Blackness is about far more than racism. We also gathered input from other series participants and community members about the series, including the title.

However, we’re going to keep the title “Living Black in Bloomington-Normal.”

The title leaves space to discuss both the hurtful, racist moments in a person’s life as well as their other lived experiences—from education to representation to much more. We feel putting “racism” in the name would not accurately reflect the interviews we’ve done or those we plan to do.

The series title is a recognition that the lived experiences of Black people and white people in Bloomington-Normal are different. And let’s be honest: A lot of our listeners, readers, and staff are white. At a time when so many people are siloed in their own echo chambers of news and information, our goal was to tell stories in a way that demands empathy and soul-searching within the audience.

We’re proud of the series, which will run for another two weeks or so. It has spurred important dialogue between the series participants and their own family and friends, and within and amongst the community generally.

We at WGLT continue to learn every day – at least we try to. We expect to be better tomorrow than we are today, and even better the day after that. We can’t fully serve our community unless we are constantly educating ourselves. Our community stakeholders are a key component of that process. We need and expect them to keep us honest, and we thank them for doing so in this instance.

If you have questions, please contact News Director Charlie Schlenker at news@wglt.org.