May 28, 2008

Too Male, Too White

I saw this feature on the NY Times website today. In his blog post, Nicholas Kristof raises the issue of Op-Ed pages being the domain of old white men, and indeed, the NY Times is guilty of this; I don't think they have anyone but Dowd (white female) and Herbert (black male) representing. I like Kristof's piece, but quite honestly, I find it somewhat disingenuous. When I and other Asian Americans wrote him before complaining about his treatment of Asian American culture, he blew us off, implying that he somehow knew what was best for us.

I agree that it's important to get a diversity of ideas on the Op-Ed pages. Guys like Friedman, Krugman, and (my favorite) Brooks wield great power over public opinion with what they do in that space. What I find funny, however, is that when major newspapers do diversify their Op-Ed section, they often staff it with minority guys who give the typical responses that one would expect from a black guy, or a Hispanic guy, or an, I guess I've never seen an Asian Op-Ed person.

Take Bob Herbert, for example. He is a black columnist who only talks about race, and when he does talk about race, his viewpoint is always typical. He doesn't practice the hypothetical gymnastics that Friedman uses, nor does he deliver the caustic one-liners like Maureen Dowd, nor does he get ultra-creative like David Brooks. Herbert only talks about race, and he only does so with observations that society believes a black man is supposed to have. Ruben Navarette from CNN is exactly the same--these Op-Ed commentators white-wash their non-white views.

Does this help us? I guess it does to a certain extent since there are obviously black guys who think like Herbert or Hispanics who think like Navarette. Some diversity is better than none.

However, there are also some extremely creative minorities out there who could do better. Cornel West, for example, has been very creative when dealing with race, as have people like Claude and Shelby Steele. Francis Fukuyama, despite the fact that he is probably wrong, wrote an absolutely brilliant political masterpiece with "The End of History." Amy Chua (and I know she may not be a favorite here) wrote what I thought was a very intelligent piece on markets in East Asia. Intelligent and creative minorities are out there.

Now I realize that the Times can't hire Fukuyama to write their Op-Eds since Fukuyama has bigger intellectual mountains to conquer, but there has to be someone who possesses a combination of Fukuyama's depth with mainstream wittiness. And minorities don't always have to write about minority issues. If the mainstream media is serious about diversifying its ranks, it needs to look harder not only to find minorities willing to take the job, but to find minorities who exemplify the wit and range of its white writers. These people are out there.


burnt sienna said...

If I'm not mistaken, he is married to a Chinese American woman who recently published a book on China. The title of her book had the word "Dragon" in it...I...think?

B said...

No, that's right--he's married to Sheryl WuDunn. He's made some pretty ridiculous comments on account his his so-called familiarity with China because of his marriage to WuDunn too.