It was disheartening for many of us to read the recent portrayal of Chirlane McCray's life and activism before she met her husband of 18 years, NYC Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. I believe the reporter did not intend harm, but to put this into context, imagine if someone had been called out or ridiculed for once identifying as straight and coming out as LGBT later in life.
People are different. Sexuality is fluid, and all of us need to recognize this in a respectful way. These differences -- of gender expression, of race, of culture and language, of sexuality -- are part of who we are. As a radio host, magazine columnist and blogger, I include myself when I say that the media has to really think about how we use words and stories to either breath respect into this diversity or perpetuate old patterns of prejudice and stereotype. Without meaning to, are we perpetuating the bullying that so many of us in marginalized communities have been fighting?
Many of us have to contend with the sexism and bullying that pervade our media and our culture. This marginalization of public figures rooted in racism, sexism, homophobia and more is dishearteningly common. The outrageous grilling of Anita Hill by an all-white, all-male Senate Judiciary Committee. The constant references to Hillary Clinton's "ambition" (imagine, an ambitious person running for President of the United States) or the questions about her preferred fashion designers. The consistent lies about President Obama's place of birth or religion. The attacks and ridicule of Chirlane McCray and Bill de Blasio's family. Women candidates are "aggressive" or "combative" while their male counterparts are "bold." LGBT candidates are "quirky," while their straight counterparts are "innovative." African-American candidates are "angry" or "strident," white ones are "passionate." All of these incidents -- often unintentional -- weaken our discourse and hurt whole communities.
This does not have to be so. I believe we all have a responsibility to name these accidental missteps and set ourselves up for success. Let me make clear that this is not to shame or punish or "play a card," as such naming is too often called. But because only by naming it can we change it. When confronted, most journalists recognize the bias in their language and I believe many of us are invested and committed to changing this. Calling attention to it helps us educate ourselves, and the public alike, and stirs an important discussion of bias in our society.
As an attorney, and as a radio host, I know the importance of words. Often it is the slightest turn of phrase, or the use of a dismissive term that is probably lost on the reporter but for those of us impacted by sexism and racism the words cut deep. It is incumbent upon all of us -- men and women, journalists, politicians and the public to be vigilant in naming and changing bullying. When Hillary Clinton was asked recently about what designers she prefers, she immediately responded by asking the reporter, "Would you ever ask a man that question?" The audience erupted in applause. The reporter immediately recognized the sexism underlying his question. My guess is that journalist will think carefully before his next interview with a female public official.
This is important. Media is an incredibly powerful tool. Children see and sense these discourses and for a child growing up different it can be immensely hurtful. Every day, an LGBT youth contemplates suicide in the face of bullying in the schoolyard, on their Facebook page and in the media. It is for this reason I feel compelled, when I see the coverage of a respected leader in our community like Chirlane McCray, that I needed to 'name it' and hopefully we can all work towards changing it.