Friday, March 11, 2005

Tavis Smiley Show No Longer on NPR

I have to admit, I was a little hesitant when WBEZ shuffled its lineup, and Tavis Smiley was inserted into the afternoon programming. Part of it was my perception that his show was going to focus exclusively on "black" issues. But I came to appreciate the topics that he covered and his on-air style kept me awake at work after lunch. He was definitely one of the more dynamic hosts that I've ever heard on NPR, and I was disappointed to hear that he'd left back in December. Here's a TIME article with Smiley, in which he said: "Our show is the most multiracial in NPR's entire history, it has the youngest demographic of any show in NPR's history, so progress was being made. My concern was the pace the network was moving at -- it wasn't fast enough."

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Anonymous Vivian Darkbloom said...

I think part of the problem is that "black" issues aren't considered the issues of society at large, when they, in fact, are. Lately I've been reading some books that address issues of racism and racial identity in our modern American nation--including "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race" by Beverly Daniel Tatum and "Democracy Matters" by Cornel West--and they've helped me to recognize some things about white privledge in a racist society. One of the most basic is how "white" is considered the norm and against which everything else must be referenced. This point was driven home in my mind when I recently attended the final competition of a large youth poetry slam in Chicago. Most of the kids who performed (from diverse socio-economic backgrounds around the city and suburbs) were from "minority" groups--African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans. Almost every single poem referenced racism and racial identity. I thought of my high school--a majority white middle class suburban one--and recognized that issues of race were barely discussed in that context. And the luxury of not having those discussions was directly derived from our embodiment of the societal standard (as "raceless" in a way). Certainly the content of a poetry slam composed of students from my high school would have been quite different.

This experience made manifest my feeling that people--even well-intentioned progressive type people--need to step out of their bubbles, and start listening to what is going on in the world around them. Listen to what these kids at the poetry slam have already recognized at 15, 16, 17 years of age. Even so-called liberal NPR listeners need to hear programs like The Tavis Smiley show and not some whitewashed version of African American programming, sanitized for their pleasure. I was deeply disappointed when Tavis left NPR--that to me represented a profound failure on NPR's part.

5:34 PM  
Blogger mlliu said...

I'll have to check out those books that you mentioned.

I've been thinking more and more about race lately since I've realized that most of my good friends in grad school are Asian! That was never the case in high school (where my circle of friends was pretty racially mixed) and only sometimes true in college. I don't deliberately set out to make friends with only Asians, so why is it that I have so few friends of other races in grad school?

Part of it I'm sure is ease from being around people who have a similar cultural background. Even though my friends and I consider ourselves pretty Americanized, we can talk about our families and Asian upbringing (e.g., respect toward elders, pressure to do well in school) without feeling "different." Maybe there is also ease from being around people who look like oneself!

I also think that as much as schools try to bring in racially diverse classes, many times they don't succeed, for whatever reasons. Maybe it's just my program, but I find that my class is pretty homogenous racially and socioeconomically. For a program in a school in New York City, I find that really disappointing.

Then there are times that I even forget that I'm Asian. When I'm in a majority-white crowd, I do feel a little self-conscious about being there. But then I feel there are greater qualities that define me more -- my age, my interests, whatever.

I have a friend whose boyfriend is white and grew up abroad (his father was a diplomat). My friend said that he never felt like he belonged anywhere, living among Hispanics and then among Chinese people. It wasn't until he came to America that he felt accepted. I think more white Americans should have that experience -- of being somewhere where they not only do not look like the rest of the population but where the rest of the population subtly and not so subtly looks down upon them -- before they will understand what minorities in America experience.

5:27 PM  

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