I was supposed to be on the floor of the Republican National Convention Tuesday night, but after seeing the tweet from Current TV’s David Shuster about the CNN camerawoman who was harassed by someone throwing peanuts at her and told, “This is how we feed animals,” I know that my not being there was for the best.
Because I’ve dealt with so much of this kind of nonsense in 20 years as a journalist, I can say with no fear of contradiction that this incident would have ended a lot differently if I were the person on the other end of those peanuts.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my job as a columnist for the Philadelphia Public Record. Any job where you’re covered by a Constitutional amendment that allows you to ask probing questions and request all sorts of information is a great job.
But at this point in my life, turning the other cheek isn’t as easy as it used to be.
My time in Reading, Pa., had a lot to do with my “radicalization” of having less tolerance for ignorance. That’s where I met Roy Frankhouser, former Grand Dragon of the United Klans of America. I have yet to smell anything that smelled like he did. And I’m from New Jersey, home of the Superfund site.
One day, instead of telling me to go back to where I came from, like he usually did, he informed me that he had somehow gotten a picture of me. And had put it in the newsletter that the United Klans put out. I wondered how he got the picture in the first place — and then wondered what this meant for my safety. Most of my coverage beat was in areas where his buddies hung out: dark, wooded areas with few lights and no blacks.
My mom, who was originally from Kentucky and as a black woman of Southern descent had a far more developed relationship with the Klan, had a fairly advanced meltdown upon hearing about this. But when I shared this with my editors at the paper, they were dismissive. “He’s just Roy,” they’d tell me.
He’s just Roy. Granted, “just Roy” had blown up a Jewish Community Center and had run a friend of mine, a civil rights worker, literally out of town with his threats. But he’s harmless. Just like that guy at the RNC was harmless — and throwing peanuts at a black woman trying to do her job. While calling her an animal.
These people are “harmless.” To white guys. Guys they’d occasionally have a beer with. But they weren’t on the wrong end of the Klan newsletter. I was.
So I left that job.
Unfortunately, the CNN camerawoman does not have the same privilege. She’s got to be there for two more days.
And sadly, like me, I’m sure that it is only one of many instances of racism on the job she’s had to deal with. While having the Klan target me was easily the most in-your-face instance of racism I’ve faced as a reporter, it’s definitely not the only one. I’ve had my resume placed into the mailboxes of every staff member at one of the newspapers I worked for in order to showcase and prove my credentials. I’ve had people at municipal meetings insult me in ways that no white reporter ever would have had to endure. But I had to put up with it. I didn’t like it, and I’m surprised I don’t have an ulcer with everything I’ve had to keep inside over a 20-year-career. But I did it.
Perhaps my “favorite” was the white man with no college degree and no experience as a journalist who told me that the only reason that I got the reporting job that he felt he should have had was because I was black.
Not talented. Not experienced. Just black.
So I knew far too well where this CNN camerawoman was coming from. Covering a political convention is a big deal. It’s a high-profile assignment that editors only hand over to people they trust.
To be on that high, and then get slammed to earth by someone calling you an animal would hurt anyone — a lot.
I’m proud of her for how she dealt with this incident and kept going, and so should every other woman who can imagine the position she was placed in to be the subject of an attack and an insult so vile, so demeaning. She’s not a “hero.” But she’s strong. And she’s a professional. I hope that she knows that her presence is a victory, and that she’s probably inspired another young, black woman to do what she’s doing.
As for the wannabe peanut vendor, I hope he recognizes that he got off easy. It was the act of a coward who didn’t get the memo that this is the 21st century and you just can’t do that kind of thing anymore and expect to get no blowback.
It’s not “just one of those things.”
It’s unacceptable. It’s despicable. And quite frankly, it’s pathetic.
End of story.