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Racism a problem, no matter your race

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By Moreland Jeff

In journalism, if you need a source for a story, you talk to someone who has a point of view to share for your story. You do that regardless of the person's background, and particularly regardless of their race.

Usually, I find myself on the side of the news story where I'm the one asking the questions. Rarely have I been the one interviewed. But Monday morning, I received a telephone call that placed me as a source for a story to be aired on television.

A representative from TV One, an independent cable network, called my office and asked me to discuss a story I had written about a few years ago. The story was about an African American member of my community who was involved in a crime.

The person on the phone asked me details about my connection with the story and the writing I did as the story was published in the newspaper.

After several questions regarding the story, as well as details about meeting in person to do a filmed interview about the story, I was asked a question I found myself struggling to believe.

"Are you an African-American?" said the woman on the phone.

I told her I was not, and she then asked if there was an African-American member of my staff who had written anything in relation to the story she was doing. I explained that I was the only person at the paper who worked on the story, and the woman told me her network preferred to interview African-Americans, and she told me she would get back in touch with me later in the day after speaking with her supervisor. She told me she would have to get permission from her supervisor to use me for the interview because I was not African-American.

I said OK, and I hung up the telephone, still a bit in shock that I had just been told the things I was told.

I've been in journalism for 20 years, and never once have I sought out a person to interview for a story because of their race, and I certainly wouldn't imagine anyone who represented an African-American company would do something that rang so clearly of a racist act. If they needed someone who had experience with the case they were covering, it seems they would want to speak to the person based on their experience, and not based on their race. I can't imagine that my knowledge of the case would be any greater if I were African-American, and I'm certain it's no less because I'm not.

Tuesday afternoon, I received a call back from the agency. It seems the person in charge decided that although I didn't meet the original request for an African-American journalist, I would be sufficient to conduct the interview. I firmly declined, and I told the representative for the network why I chose to do so. I went on to tell her that I felt it was inappropriate that she had told me of the network's preference for an African-American, and that I failed to see how race would affect my ability to tell the story they wanted to hear.

Either way, they will not hear the story from me. I'm not going to give my time to someone who would behave in such a way. I find it to be very closed-minded, and I don't want to be a part of anything that would promote what is racism, despite the race of the person against whom it takes place.