Media justice activists develop racial equity pledge


By Charles Hallman

Staff Writer


Nearly 50 persons attended “A Gathering for Media Justice” held last weekend at Hamline University for community members and local non-mainstream media representatives. Sponsored by Community Action Against Racism (CAAR), Main Street Project and KFAI-FM, the December 8 half-day “conversation-based” event discussed media justice issues with an emphasis on local mainstream media coverage of communities of color.

Lissa Jones
Photo by Charles Hallman

“People came [to the Saturday event] because they have a real hunger to see things different,” said Main Street Project Community Organizer Danielle Mikali. “I think oftentimes we feel frustrated and we don’t know where to turn.

“As a media justice organizer, but also as an African American woman and mother, too often I don’t necessary know where to look in terms of the really great independent media outlets that are sharing stories,” Mikali said of the various local media that were represented at last Saturday’s event: the Cities’ two Black newspapers, the Twin Cities Daily Planet “and even cable — there were some cable access show hosts that were here,” noted Mikali.

Lissa Jones, host of the weekly Urban Agenda talk show on KMOJ, was the featured speaker. She pointed out that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and other Blacks who were heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ’60s all warned about mainstream media’s insistence on not being truthful. “Still to this day,” she said, “Black is associated with lowest, sinister and unkind.  The lie still lives.

“The media in the United States, and in large part around the world, are designed to keep us down,” Jones told the audience.  “There are things that have no basis in fact, but it is drummed in fear and the media decides what we see. We get one line and they repeat it and repeat it on any news channel, and they repeat it so that we repeat it. If you repeat it enough, you’ll believe it.

“The media decides what stays on our radar and what does not,” continued Jones.       She is often bothered with how Blacks and other people of color are portrayed in news reports: “You hardly see brown people [on television news] unless they do something wrong. We have to ask the media why that is — a White man can do a horrible thing or a whole bunch of horrible things, and we won’t see his picture. A Black man steals a pack of Wrigley’s Gum and we will know his face for the rest of our lives. That’s not an accident.”

Despite numerous protests over the years, “The ideology of the media waits us out, and they go back to what they were doing,” said Jones. Nonetheless, she strongly urged that “alternative media, television and radio — on-line and blogs” are better used by communities of color because “these are the stories that have to be told. We have got to demand justice in the media.”

Mankwe Ndosi of Golden Valley said afterwards that she agrees with Jones. “We have to not wait for somebody else to do it,” she pointed out on media justice and fairness. “If we can’t get together to tell our own stories and communicate, then there will be no addressing of issues or just coverage of what actually is happening in our communities, both the challenges and the beauty that happens in our communities.”

“I think media justice is telling the truth, the whole truth about what’s happening, and not shaping it or coloring it,” said Jones afterwards.

CAAR was originally founded in 1998 after hateful and racist remarks about the Hmong community were aired on KQRS-FM.  After four months of protests and pressuring advertisers to pull its ads, the station eventually issued an apology. The group was “resurrected” last year after KDWB-FM aired a racist parody on Hmong families.

“When we first started, the members tended to be Asian American. But I’m so thankful to see this array of racial and ethnic diversity here today,” said CAAR’s Sandy’Ci Moua of the mixed audience.

Moua also expressed concerns on how mainstream media portray her community. “I was born and raised in Minnesota, but as a Hmong American woman, a lot of times we are painted as some sort of refugee,” she noted.

The participants in small groups helped developed “a racial and cultural equity in Minnesota media” pledge which listed 12 points, including that media organizations listen to community concerns and respond quickly to them.

“I think people did a lot of great critical thinking… I think people took this seriously,” noted Mikali. “I think the conversations at the tables were lively and powerful — I know that at mine it wasn’t always easy…but we were able to work through it.”

When asked to stand to show support, “I wasn’t sure if people would stand up when I asked,” admits Mikali. “I was moved and felt energized going forward…that they believe in this pledge and stand behind it and see it through to make sure it is the best for Minnesota.”

“We want to make CAAR the face of everybody,” said Moua. “I’m excited to see the next action steps.”


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokes