Minority journalists to meet in Seattle Group picks Wash. despite affirmative action vote


A coalition of minority journalists' groups has ended one of the most fractious, if least visible, civil rights debates of the year, agreeing to keep its convention in Seattle despite Washington state's vote against affirmative action.

The decision by the coalition, Unity: Journalists of Color, came after a debate that threatened to cripple the organization, which brings black, Asian, Hispanic and American Indian journalists under a single roof. Organized 10 years ago in the belief that nonwhite journalists have common goals, Unity nearly split over how to confront the rollback of affirmative action around the country.

It was a snapshot of the problems inherited by a generation of successful minority professionals who fear that once-open doors are closing, and an illustration of the perils built into a cross-cultural coalition.

In this case, leaders of the National Association of Black Journalists said that holding the convention in Seattle would break faith with history by having 6,000 minority professionals spend $20 million in a state rejecting government-sponsored affirmative action.

But leaders of the Native American Journalists Association, with support from Hispanic colleagues, argued that a boycott would break faith with their groups, which could be financially crippled by hotel cancellation fees of $500,000 or more.

So painful did the six-month debate become that some participants unsuccessfully sought a diversity training session to clarify cultural differences among themselves.

"We as the next generation are trying to figure out how we continue the civil rights struggle," said Vanessa Williams, the president of the black journalists' group and a reporter who covers city government for the Washington Post. "The target is not so blatant. Now there are clear differences of opinion and also some confusion about how and when to fight."

Other Unity members, including some blacks, thought that a boycott was one of several possible responses but that the goal of holding Unity together was more important than any particular tactic. "There are hardly any other organizations in North America that operate the way Unity does," said Paul DeMain, the publisher of News From Indian Country.

Pub Date: 11/08/98

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