I got into an unusual conversation with a freelance contributor recently when I asked her if she would cover a praise dance event by the Ross Dance Company.
The Christian dance organization describes its mission thusly: “To use contemporary dance as a way to spread the Gospel and to bring those closer to Christ.” KQED doesn’t do much if any coverage of religious dance, and as such I thought an intelligent write up would shed light on subject about which KQED’s audience might know very little.
In her initial response to my email inquiry, the contributor wrote enthusiastically about the Bay Area’s praise dance community. She seemed to know quite a bit about it from performances she had been to in the past and things she’d read. But she turned down the assignment.
When I asked her why, she wrote: “Because I’m white.”
I pressed her.
She said she didn’t feel comfortable writing about a predominantly African-American community event as a caucasian.
Must one be of a community to effectively comment on it?
Certainly we should have more diverse news rooms to tell a broader range of stories from a wider array of perspectives.
It would be marvelous to have an African-American dance commentator in my stable of freelance contributors to KQED Arts. I’m working to diversify the commentators’ pool and would welcome any suggestions.
But as of now, I have few critics to call on for dance coverage. And these people happen to be white. Should they only cover “white people art”? Or should their beat include paying attention to the breadth of dance happening in the Bay Area, regardless of the ethnic background of the artists involved?
Sometimes being an outsider to a community can help create more informed coverage: A good journalist, when finding herself in this position, adopts a “beginner’s mind” and asks more questions and is more open than might be the case if one is writing as an insider.
I cannot hide the fact that I was disappointed with my contributor’s attitude, though I do understand that this is a delicate issue.