Be like Jackie: The Politics of Pigment

Just as you remember to pay your taxes today, do remember to pay homage to No.42. Jackie Robinson.

He’s one of the reasons most of us don’t have to pay the tax for being a person of color in this country.

Robinson, of course, broke the color line in baseball.  Breaking the color line in anything is no small feat, whether 62 years ago or today.

Most of us do it in some way in our lives, some more, some less remarkably than others. Look around you. In your office.

Are you the only Asian, Black or Latino in the room?

If you are, then you know in a small way what it’s like to be like Jackie.

Even with all the diversity in society, all-white enclaves in professional life still exist.  When companies do reflect the society, we must thank the courts and legislators and activists—and Jackie Robinson. He was a symbolic lever, cracking open the door a bit wider for us all by breaking into that arena we’ve come to regard as “America’s pastime.”  America needed to see a person of color in the all white-game to have the idea of a truly integrated society sink in for everyone.

America needed a rooting interest.

Now more than six decades later, baseball is a leader, the most diverse game among the major sports. There are Asians and Asian Americans, Latinos, and yes, blacks. Jackie Robinson was the first to make a splash in a sea of white.

We honor No. 42 today.

Of Jackie and Cheryl and Journalism

In journalism, where I toiled for more than 30 years, it was odd last week to see that Cheryl Diaz Meyers was let go from the Dallas Morning News.

Diaz Meyers, a Filipino American journalist won a Pulitzer Prize for her war photographs. One of her winning shots hangs on my wall. It’s a reminder to me of the fearlessness to which a journalist must pursue the truth, whether in words or pictures.

That a Pulitzer winner gets laid off is like a baseball team firing its MVP.

That’s how bad it currently is in the financially challenged journalism business.

It can’t afford its stars. Or its values.

Cheryl was the first Filipino American to win a photography Pulitzer, but she wasn’t the first Filipino American to win a Pulitzer (That would be Seattle’s Alex Tizon in 1997).  Still, her departure  comes at a time when journalism seems to have lost more than its  business model.

How can journalism espouse diversity and yet see the layoff of a Pulitzer-branded Asian American?

My Jackie moment?

It happened to me when I was at NPR in 1991. My broken barrier?  I was the first person of color to be a senior host of “All Things Considered.”  (It was no big deal apparently; At one of its major fund-raising events, I showed up in a tux and was still mistaken for the waiter).

What I’ve found since then, is that even though I’ve held other mainstream  jobs in TV, radio and newspapers, of all the work I’ve done, I’m proudest of what I’ve done in the ethnic press.

It’s Journalism’s  Negro League.

I’ll never forget  my Jackie Robinson moment.

But my career is all about my Josh Gibson moments.