Program to discuss race and the media

Pratt library forum to show films set to air on PBS stations

March 18, 2003|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,SUN STAFF

Do we live in a "colorblind society"? Should we? How do the media reflect the growing diversity of America?

"There's something very alluring about the idea of colorblindness, particularly to Americans," says Sherrilyn Ifill, associate professor at the University of Maryland Law School. "The idea of colorblindness is seductive, a kind of lullaby soothing and enticing you into believing, `Yes, we can rest, we can stop now.' ... We should expect to be forever dealing with issues of race."

Ifill, who teaches constitutional and civil rights law, will help moderate a public forum on race and ethnicity with WYPR talk-show host Marc Steiner. The free program will run from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. tomorrow at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, 400 Cathedral St. It seeks to bring together local reporters and the people they cover.

"It's an opportunity for the public to understand how the media works - but it's also an opportunity for the media to learn about its effect on the community," says Ifill.

The forum will begin with a 15-minute film compiled from several new documentaries about race and ethnicity to be aired on PBS stations. Then Ifill and Steiner will invite the audience to share their thoughts on questions raised by the film.

The event is sponsored by Roundtable Inc., a media production company in Waltham, Mass., that works to engage the public and the news media in conversations about social issues. "Ethnicity and Race in a Changing America" is the first of three programs in Round- table's Preview Forum, a project funded by the Ford Foundation. Other cities chosen to take part in the first forum are Phoenix; St. Petersburg, Fla.; Seattle; Madison, Wis.; Philadelphia; San Jose and St. Louis. Program sites include colleges, libraries and community centers.

Project manager Anishiya Taneja says the Pratt was chosen in part because it is "a neutral, non-intimidating gathering spot." Each site participating in the first program received a grant of $7,500, materials, guides and technical assistance.

Ifill expects the forum will consider such topics as the growth of Maryland's increasingly diverse ethnic populations and the underreported histories of discrimination and cruelty against such ethnic groups as Chinese-Americans. She is finishing a book about the need for truth and reconciliation that follows a lynching by examining cases from the early 1930s on the Eastern Shore.

"We need to identify local mechanisms through which we can address effectively our history of racial violence and contemporary racial tension," she says.

Event organizers hope the Preview Forum project can contribute toward that goal.

The free forum is from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. tomorrow at Wheeler Auditorium, Enoch Pratt Free Library, 400 Cathedral St. Call 410-396-5494.

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