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As Long as We Remember...

April 16, 2010

Gwen Ifill: The Dreams

Kevin E. Dayhoff

These days, the only people who seem to care about race are the political hard right, left-wingers, and the media-elite who are pounding that narrative in order to appear relevant or desperately wanting to impugn critics of President Barack Obama.


In part one and two of this three-part series, the background as to why one may convincingly argue that Gwen Ifill has earned her scars, having lived, and worked through many of the troubling years in which African-American professionals struggled to be accepted for their talents and not judged by the color of her skin.


Ms. Ifill’s first job in journalism in 1977 at the Boston Herald American came in the toxic context of what she wrote in her book was the “sort of racial drama that foreshadows dramatic change.”


It was while working at the Boston newspaper that Ms. Ifill had a horrible experience with race identity politics when she arrived at work one day to find a note on her desk that said “N(spelled-out) go home.”


She recited several cringe-worthy experiences. One moment that she did not mention, was indelibly imbued in the ugly lexicon of marginalization and racial trivialization that surfaced in 2007 during the subsequent furor over the unfortunate remarks by talk show host Don Imus about the Rutgers women’s basketball team when it was revealed that he had once referred to Ms. Ifill as “the cleaning lady.”


It is reported that Mr. Imus said, “Isn’t The Times wonderful. It lets the cleaning lady cover the White House.”


One of her complaints about race politics was not touched upon in her presentation at Gettysburg College last week. It was her dismay that her colleagues did not speak-up. When Ms. Ifill appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press on April 15, 2007, she pointedly challenged her colleagues for not speaking up about Mr. Imus’ vile comment.


“There has been radio silence from a lot of people who have done this program who could have spoken up and said, I find this offensive or I didn’t know… These people didn’t speak up.” Turning to Tim Russert and David Brooks, who were in the past frequent guests on Mr. Imus’ show. “Tim, we didn’t hear from you. David, we didn’t hear from you.” (Watch it here:


It was at this point that I was encouraged that a professional observer with her background might take the opportunity to dismiss the simplistic application of the term racist bestowed upon citizens who express disagreement with the policies of President Obama.


Indeed, during that same Meet the Press program, she said, “You know, I have a 7-year-old god daughter… The offense, the slur that Imus directed at me happened more than 10 years ago. I would like to think that 10 years from now, … she is (not) still vulnerable to those kinds of casual slurs and insults that I got 10 years ago, and that people will say, I didn’t know, or people will say, I wasn’t listening. A lot of people did know and a lot of people were listening and they just decided it was okay. They decided this culture of meanness was fine – until they got caught.”


Earlier in her talk she discussed the media’s pre-occupation with “shiny balloons” that essentially distract the nation from the enormous challenges we face.


However in the question and answer period, Ms. Ifill carefully avoided comment on how history will treat Speaker Nancy Pelosi, yet found herself somewhat unguarded when it came to a question about the Tea Party movement.


Her careful, relatively equivocating, yet dismissive answer included a reference to the shiny balloon that there is a racist element to the movement, although she quickly acknowledged that it is a relatively small number of individuals in the movement.


Well, if it is only a few, then why have that component play any role in her commentary about the Tea Partiers? I’m just asking.


Overlooked in her answer was the angry dissent and vile portrayals of President George W. Bush during his term in office, yet her observation of the Tea Partiers was associated at the end of her response, as her voice drifted gravely that we must remember that Timothy McVeigh was also an angry dissenter…


Watch Rep. Maxine Waters (, – warning for language – of which Ms. Ifill was silent. Was Ms. Ifill not listening? Did she not know?


I share Ms. Ifill’s dream that 10 years from now these kinds of casual slurs and insults of people engaged in meaningful dissent will not be tolerated.


I will look forward to attending more talks by Ms. Ifill in the future. She has described herself as “a professional skeptic when it comes to the people I cover, but not cynical.”


Candidly, now that we established what condition our condition is in, is it not the place of someone of Ms. Ifill’s stature to not fall silent and be skeptical when the word “racist” is bandied about so carelessly when it comes to disqualifying the critics of President Obama?


Since Ms. Ifill opened the door so eloquently about having an honest discussion about race politics in American, would it not be appropriate for her to find her voice and not fall silent.


It is obvious that in her career she has peered into the darkness that is racism in America. Isn’t it time she stepped-up to the plate and denounced the era of “everything is racist. There’s no cure. There’s no answer.”


It is respected journalists like Ms. Ifill that are the answer.


Gettysburg College students were fortunate to have had Gwen Ifill come to speak on their campus. Perhaps she ought to be invited back to take the conversation of the changing media landscape – and race politics – to the next level.


Watch Ms. Ifill's talk at Gettysburg College here:


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