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The Internal Debates That We Don't See

Roiling debates and criticism within minority communities don't often bubble up into the mainstream media, which is most focused on the fascinations of the majority.
Roiling debates and criticism within minority communities don't often bubble up into the mainstream media, which is most focused on the fascinations of the majority.

Note: This post discusses and includes a racial slur. Be warned.

At a church near Charlotte, N.C., a pastor recently sent out a note to her congregants asking for greeters — but only greeters of a certain kind.

"We are continuing to work to bring our racial demographic pendulum back to mid-line," the pastor wrote. "So we would like to ask that only white people be on the front doors." (It gets better:) "We would rather have less greeters on the front door if it means that the few that we have will represent us the best."

Oh, by the way: The pastor, Makeda Pennycooke, is black.

Then a father in Tulsa, Okla., made news when he removed his 7-year-old daughterfrom the Deborah Brown Charter School after faculty members disapproved of her straightforwardly natural hairstyle. (The school said such styles were "too distracting.") A lot of people were piqued by the implications: Hairstyles like afros and dreadlocks, which don't require black kids to chemically alter their hair, were verboten.

Oh, and also, most of the administrators at the Deborah Brown Charter School are black!

We also recently saw a jury award $280,0000 in damages to a black woman who sued her boss for harassing and belittling her and other employees. The boss, Rob Carmona, was accused of a lot of ugly behavior, but one of his most egregious trangressions was telling the woman that she and someone else were "acting like niggers."

You know where we're going with this, right? Carmona? Black dude.

When minorities are in the news for criticizing members of the majority, one of the most common responses is that they never criticize their own. After the Trayvon Martin shooting, for example, lots of commentators (and lots of our commenters) wondered just why there was no concern among African-American communities about black-on-black violence.

But that ostensible paucity of outrage was never true, as many pointed out. There are plenty of marches and Stop The Violence events and intervention programs in black neighborhoods. (There's something strange about the idea that suburbanites might be more concerned about inner-city violence than the people for whom that violence is a quotidian reality, but I digress.) Much of the stuff that pundits say about black people and "personal responsibility" wouldn't sound out of place on Sundays at scores of black churches. But since we don't all hear each other's conversations, it's easy to assume that those conversations are not happening.

We don't want to beat up on a strawman here: the complaint is usually that the mainstream media is obsessed with instances in which white folks are being criticized by people of color. And if all you're watching is the mainstream media, it might seem that people of color never call out other members of the groups they belong to. But the collective censure of all of the church bulletins and nonprofit newsletters and blogs in and about those communities — the mass of criticism directed at and created by the community —don't usually find representation in that media.

If you were to dip into any conversation in any minority community, you would see vociferous disagreement and folks getting called out. (Anyone who thinks, for example, that feminists only beef with Phyllis Schlafly need only pay attention to the #solidarityisforwhitewomen debate, which we've both featured, and yes, been called out for, on this very blog.)

If one of the oft-repeated critiques of the mainstream media is that it reflects the concerns and fascinations of the majority — most often those who are white or Christian or straight — is it surprising that minority communities are often most prominent in that media when they're in conflict with the majority?

The three stories above bubbled up into our collective consciousness this week. But just because this stuff might not be all over CNN doesn't mean it isn't happening all the time.

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Gene Demby is the co-host and correspondent for NPR's Code Switch team.