Race relations main focus at ‘Black/Brown Divide’ discussion

Race relations main focus at ‘Black/Brown Divide’ discussion
Christina Eddings
Issue date: 10/26/06

Oscar de la Torre, director and founder of the Pico Youth and Family Center, speaks about the African-American/Latino relations and media coverage in the
Media Credit: Carla Acevedo – Eldredge / Daily Sundial
Oscar de la Torre, director and founder of the Pico Youth and Family Center, speaks about the African-American/Latino relations and media coverage in the “Black/Brown Divide” event in Sierra Hall on Tuesday.

Panelists discuss African-American/Latino relations and media coverage at the
Media Credit: Carla Acevedo – Eldredge / Daily Sundial
Panelists discuss African-American/Latino relations and media coverage at the “Black/Brown Divide” in Sierra Hall on Tuesday. From left: Author Luis Rodriguez; Web site creator and gang expert Alex Alonso; history professor Josh Sides; and Pico Youth and Family Center director and founder Oscar de la Torre.

A panel discussion on Tuesday covered African-American and Latino relations, particularly in Los Angeles. The California Chicano News Media Association and Jose Benavides, journalism professor and director of the Center for Ethnic and Alternative Media, sponsored the event. Panelists included “Always Running” author Luis Rodriguez; CSUN history professor Josh Sides; Oscar de la Torre, director and founder of the Pico Youth and Family Center in West L.A.; Alex Alonso, a gang expert and creator of www.streetgangs.com; and Dennis Romero, a writer for Tu Ciudad.

Romero moderated the discussion and began by posing questions of concern, such as whether or not the news media is accurately covering conflicts between African-Americans and Latinos and if it is contributing to such tensions.

Each panelist had their own area of expertise with which they addressed the questions.

“There is an easy set of assumptions permeating journalistic literature,” Sides said.

He added that there is a tendency in the media to compare violence between African-Americans and Latinos to that of conflicts in the labor market.

He listed two things that are wrong with such assumptions: “One, that information is insufficiently historical, and two, it is wrong to extract gangbanging to the labor market.”

He added that conflict over the labor market is almost certainly fabricated, and “there is no comprehensive or quantitative data to say Latinos take black jobs.”

Rodriguez, a former journalist, said, “As long as there is the assumption of a scarcity (of resources), this will lead to competition.” He added that this is a constant issue – that of “the street, drugs, power, neighborhoods, jobs,” and an issue concerning all races, not just “black” and “brown.” He admitted, however, that African-American and Latino conflict is the current focus in the media. He said, “As long as we are caught in this paradigm, we will be caught up in (this conflict).”

Sides, author of “L.A. City Limits: African-American Los Angeles from the Great Depression to the Present,” said that in 1992, there was talk in the media about the Black – Korean conflict which has now virtually disappeared. He believes coverage of the current conflict is purely “a cosmetic way of talking about serious, long-standing issues.”

De la Torre and Rodriguez agreed that the media is wrong in simply covering violence and attributing it to race. They said the media should include social issues and root causes of the violence in their coverage. De la Torre said such stereotypes pervade the media and eventually the youth will be affected by them and carry their own prejudices based on what they’ve seen or heard in the media. De la Torre said Santa Monica and Venice both have a large minority youth population, which many people do not realize, perhaps because of the media. His center offers after-school activities to the youth in an effort to keep them off the streets. He and Rodriguez agreed that society needs more programs that contribute to a solution.

“All the money in Los Angeles goes to big business, such as Hollywood and the entertainment industry, instead of the neighborhoods,” Rodriguez said. He added that historically, racism has been industrialized into society. He said that reporters do write stories concerning social issues, but too often the editors do not include these articles in newspapers.

The topic of media coverage of gang violence came up. Romero asked the panelists whether the media accurately reports on gang crime. Alonso said the media gets their information from law enforcement.

“Law enforcement does not want to jump to conclusions, which is why they will identify people as African-American or Latino rather than by gang affiliation,” Alonso said.

He added, however, that people should not be quick to place blame on police. According to Alonso, police do not want to glorify gangs by naming them in police reports, because it may create more violence, which is bad for business and puts their lives at greater risk. He said naming gangs in police reports will only contribute to stereotypes, because it is grouping people under one brand.

Rodriguez said journalists should not write their articles based solely on information from police reports, because then they are letting police dictate the news. He said reporters should make a concerted effort to get other sides of the story. The vibrant discussion continued and aroused many questions in the audience. In the end, the panel agreed that the media may not have created the “black-brown” tensions, but they do exacerbate them. They also agreed that solutions should be offered and root causes addressed in media coverage of such tension to dispel misconceptions. De la Torre said that might be difficult because there are not many minority-owned publications.

Ferrari, a junior studying Spanish language journalism who declined to give his last name, was satisfied with the panel discussion and the topics covered.

“It was very interesting to learn that not just race and gangs, but the economy and the African-American and Latino relationship within the prison system, has all had an effect on the outside world and this divide,” Ferrari said.

CCNMA member Ana Cubias said that although the discussion often strayed from the main topic of the media’s coverage of the conflict, so many other issues were discussed that it did not matter.

“It is important that CSUN students be aware of the root problems of this conflict,” Cubias said. “Some people might not have any idea (of what caused it).”

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