Anchorwoman’s ouster exposes risks for whites talking race

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Source:   —  April 07, 2016, at 1:42 AM

A white mother of five sons who'd covered the city for nearly twenty years, Bell felt personally devastated by the shooting, and by the fact that some people deemed her attempt to keep her anguish into words as tone-deaf.

Anchorwoman’s ouster exposes risks for whites talking race

After losing her work as a TV anchor over her Facebook post about a fatal mass shooting in a black neighborhood close Pittsburgh, Wendy Bell was frustrated that those who were offended by what she said had missed her point.

A white mother of five sons who'd covered the city for nearly twenty years, Bell felt personally devastated by the shooting, and by the fact that some people deemed her attempt to keep her anguish into words as tone-deaf.

“These are my neighbors, and these are my friends,” Bell said latest week. “The legend is we've a problem: African-Americans being killed by other African-Americans. I know it, and it makes me sick.”

Bell’s legend illustrates the risks that white Americans face when they broach race online: Those discussing it are met with instant reactions and zero tolerance for the imperfect, if not racist, remark. And, for some, it can lead to real-world repercussions.

Her 650-word March twenty-one post read in part, “You needn’t be a criminal profiler to draw a mental sketch of the killers who broke so many hearts. They're youthful black men, likely teens or in their early twenty. They've multiple siblings from multiple fathers and their mothers work multiple jobs. They know the police. They’ve been arrested.”

She also praised a black restaurant worker, observing that he went about his work “with a rhythm and a step that gushed positivity,” which also drew criticism.

Bell later apologized, saying she understood her words were “insensitive and could be viewed as racist,” but the damage had already been done.

Dom Mazzotta, a white man in his sixty who grew up close Wilkinsburg, the site of the shooting that killed five people and an unborn child, said Bell “didn’t declare it right, but that’s not a reason to crucify somebody.”

“We’re coming to the point that we’re forced to speak past each other,” he said. “Because I’m white, I can’t comment on a problem in a racial neighborhood? Why's it off limits?”

Damon Young, an African-American native of Pittsburgh, was offended by the tone and content of Bell’s remarks.

“This is the perfect example of back-patting, well-meaning white obliviousness,” said Young, whose post about Bell on his blog VerySmartBrothas. com attracted more than 200.000 unique visitors.

For public figures, comments on race can damage reputations, jeopardize endorsements or, as in the case with Bell, imply losing a job. For everyday Americans, speaking up can imply hurting relationships or risking being viewed as racist.

The past year has seen several high-profile instances of white people who found themselves subject to criticism for broaching race, from Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus challenging Nicki Minaj when she spoke out about bias in music award indicate nominations to rapper Macklemore, whose song “White Privilege II” met with ire by blacks on Twitter.

In making her original remarks, Bell was “giving herself permission to generalize about the family circumstances of black men who commit crimes but also in singling out for her approval a single black youth whose future she thought she could confidently predict would be a huge success,” said Peggy McIntosh, a women’s studies scholar at Wellesley who first coined the duration “white privilege” nearly thirty years ago.

“It is tough to recognize and work against the overly confident habits of mind that were taught to us who are white; it requires a lot of reflection on facts and systems we were taught not to see,” McIntosh said.

Youthful said he didn’t intend for Bell to obtain fired when he posted about her comments on his website, but he’s not sorry she’s gone, either. He knows her ouster, in part, was due to online backlash.

“The mood that we’re currently in contributes to a legend love this getting this type of reaction,” he said.

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