An Open Response to the Mountain XPress

We appreciate the Mountain Xpress’ acknowledgement of unconscious bias in the recent “Big Ideas” history of Asheville (Jan. 8-15). And we accept XPress’ offer to engage the community in “ongoing civic dialogue.”

However, we believe that this dialogue must be more substantial than a brief, unsigned response in the letters to the editor section of the print version of the XPress, and more substantial than the XPress’ commitment to update their timeline (presumably online).

One reason that we chose to use an “open letter” format and to publish online rather than just to submit our letter as letter to the editor is that we believe the problem is bigger than just one article and deserves more attention than the typical response from the Xpress editors.

The response printed by the Xpress to the concerned community of Asheville regarding their lack of diversity for women and people of color in their stories left many of the original signers of the letter baffled, confused, and disappointed.

The backbone of an organization’s values is displayed in their mission statement, and the Mountain Xpress’ mission reads as follows:

To build community and strengthen democracy by serving an active, thoughtful readership at the local level – where the impact of citizen action is greatest.

We report independently, fairly and in-depth on local news and issues affecting Asheville and the surrounding region.We chronicle the area’s vibrant arts-and-culture scene.We treat our readers as participants in an ongoing civic dialogue.We honor diversity.We encourage excellent and innovative work in an equitable, respectful and collegial environment.We offer exceptional and affordable media opportunities for local businesses, professionals and nonprofit groups to promote their goods and services.

Local matters!

We understand that newspapers and online publications operate under deadlines. And we believe that a time crunch should never get in the way of living up to your values, mission, or beliefs. Maybe it’s time to take a deep breath, think about the XPress’ actions over the course of the past decade, and take the time to create a publication that mirrors the true diversity of our community and honors local people, movements, and communities in a truly inclusive and unbiased manner.

Regarding the notion that community members are holding Mountain Xpress “to a higher standard,” we would suggest that we are not holding the Xpress to a “higher” standard but to a very basic, minimum standard of fairness. This is, after all, 2014.  What we expect from the Xpress is what we would like to see in all media: fair and accurate, unbiased reporting. Ignoring women and people of color is biased, unfair, and inaccurate.

We believe that the level of community concern and the magnitude of the XPress’ bias merits an apology and a commitment to action from the leadership of the Mountain XPress.

We call on the XPress to take additional action beyond publishing a written response to our letter and updating their timeline.

Here are some examples of actions that the XPress could take:

  • Instituting a program of training on diversity, inclusion, and bias for staff and management.

  • Instituting a  periodic accountability measure or tool that evaluates how well the mission statement is being followed and reports this information back to the community.

  • Creating an advisory board made up of members of the community, with diverse representation, as an accountability measure.

  • Publishing a cover story or a series of cover stories with the stories being collected on the Facebook page and WordPress site for our Open Letter, highlighting the significant contributions to Asheville’s history of women and people of color, in particular African-American and Latino community members, people of mixed abilities, people of diverse gender identities, and the indigenous people of our region, the Cherokee people.

  • Hosting a facilitated event inviting community members to create a People’s History of Asheville, working with co-signers of our Open Letter to organize the event in a way that is inclusive and ensures participation from diverse communities, reflecting the diversity of our city.

  • Active recruitment of writers of color to ensure there is diverse representation of the  community served by the Xpress. Additionally, we challenge the Xpress to include writers of other perspectives and to open its pages to differently abled writers, queer and trans writers and other groups whose stories are most often not made visible by Xpress editorial staff.

We also challenge the XPress to live up to their own mission statement by responding to this community critique with a critical look at their overall approach and long-term, real, substantial change in their editorial choices.

Sincerely,

Lucia Daugherty-White
Tamiko Ambrose Murray
Amanda Rodriguez
Heather Rayburn
Byron Ballard
Sarah Nuñez
Deborah Miles
Jodi Rhoden
Beth Trigg

Note: We would like to mention how much we appreciate the personal letter of apology from reporter David Forbes (posted in the comments here and via FB). We encourage the Xpress to publish Forbes’ letter in their print edition and urge the editors and managers of XPress to follow Forbes’ example and offer a thoughtful apology taking personal responsibility for bias and committing to meaningful future action.

An Open Letter to the Mountain XPress

To sign your name to this letter, please let us know in the comments that you would like to be listed as a co-signer. Also please add overlooked names, big ideas, or important historical events in the comments.

An Open Letter to Mountain XPress Regarding Gender Bias and Racial Bias

We are writing to draw attention to the blatant bias evident in the “Big Ideas” history of Asheville recently published by the XPress (written by Jake Frankel and David Forbes, January 8-15 issue).  

The most egregious example of this bias is the “Big Ideas” timeline, which mentions 11 individual men by name and only 1 woman, and 11 individual white people by name and only 1 person of color.  So for example we see the names of Wally Bowen, Julian Price, and Monroe Gilmour, but not those of Wilma Dykeman, Karen Cragnolin, Issac Dickson, Marjorie Lockwood, Emoke B’racz, Viola Spells, Lillian Exum Clement, Newton Shepherd, Irene Hendrick, Oralene Simmons, James and Barbara Ferguson, Al Whitesides, Annette Coleman, Leni Sitnik, Etta Whitner Patterson, Elizabeth Blackwell, or Marvin Chambers.  

In XPress’s timeline, “big ideas” credited to men are written with active verbs and the men’s names as subjects of the sentence (“Monroe Gilmour hatches, “Julian Price launches,” “Wally Bowen starts,” “Oscar Wong opens”). In contrast, we see wording such as: “desegregation of the city school system begins” (with no mention of the individual activists behind desegregation efforts in Asheville) and “11 key blocks of downtown are nearly destroyed but key real estate is preserved” (written in passive voice with no mention of the activists who fought to preserve downtown, many of whom were women).  

The only women mentioned in XPress’s timeline are Jennifer Pickering and the Sisters of Mercy (no individual Sisters’ names mentioned). Zero women of color and zero African-American men are named. Did women and African Americans really contribute so few “big ideas” to shape our community? Of course not.

In the article that follows the timeline (“What was the Big Idea?” by Frankel and Forbes), 29 men are mentioned by name in bold type, only one of whom is not white. 11 women are mentioned by name in bold type – 10 white women and former Mayor Terry Bellamy. This makes the gender ratio roughly 3:1 in favor of men and the ratio of white people to people of color 20:1.

We know that Asheville’s rich history was shaped by many big ideas, ideas that came from communities and people as diverse as our city is today.  We are dismayed to see XPress present such a skewed, biased view of the history of our community, a version of history that excludes women and people of color.  

In the interest of shining a light on this inaccurate historical record and uplifting and honoring the leaders who were omitted from the XPress’s article, we invite community members to contribute names and “big ideas” important in the history of Asheville that were ignored by the XPress. By compiling a more inclusive list of people and ideas that shaped our community we look forward to presenting a more accurate and less biased history of our community.

Signed,

  1. Beth Trigg
  2. Jodi Rhoden
  3. Amanda Rodriguez
  4. Byron Ballard
  5. Rep. Susan Fisher
  6. Heather Rayburn
  7. Carolyn Mary Kemmett-Comeau
  8. Debi Miles
  9. Sarah Nuñez
  10. Lucia Daugherty-White
  11. Sara Legatski
  12. Lynn Johnson
  13. Jordana Chalnick
  14. Jim Bixby
  15. Christopher Fielden
  16. Mary Trigg
  17. Heather Houdek
  18. Evan Cohen
  19. Bass Byrne
  20. Alexis Bianca Gault
  21. Ned Doyle
  22. Katy Wurster Allen
  23. Anna Pfaff
  24. Celene Syntax
  25. Diana Cerce
  26. Rosetta Buan
  27. Sharon Miller
  28. Duncan Macfarlane
  29. Cassidy Moore
  30. Dee MF
  31. E.V. vonSeldeneck
  32. Victor Palomino
  33. Peter Parpan
  34. Dana Welch
  35. Diotima Mantineia
  36. Sarah Danforth
  37. Rev. Michael Poulos
  38. Elaine Lite
  39. Madalyn Baldwin
  40. Cindy Smith
  41. Rev. Angela Pippinger
  42. Patrick McCormick
  43. Marion A. Bustamonte
  44. Jeanne Soriano
  45. Angela Ryals
  46. Sheri Barker
  47. Ráelin Hansen
  48. Brandi Hubiak
  49. Carol Lani Johnson
  50. Anthony M. Thomas
  51. Patti Liming
  52. Cathy Williams
  53. Tracy D. Hyorth
  54. David Solon Smith
  55. Emmy Bethel
  56. Lynn McElroy
  57. Heather Steele
  58. Tracy Kunkler
  59. BJ Harden Jones
  60. Safi Mahaba
  61. Sharon Bigger
  62. Michelle Smith
  63. Amy Hamilton
  64. Tina Glenn
  65. Barbara Gravelle
  66. Alanna Hibbard
  67. Lori Theriault
  68. Chris Rich
  69. Bill Evans
  70. Aja Wright
  71. Deborah Evans
  72. Christine DiBenedetto
  73. Lael Gray
  74. Andrew Weatherly
  75. Linda I. Larsen
  76. Eva Westheimer
  77. Jeff Murphy
  78. Micah Mackenzie
  79. Lisa Soledad Almaraz
  80. Wendy Kayla Bucke
  81. Leann Ticknor
  82. Nina Zinn
  83. Carol Rogoff Hallstrom
  84. CoreyPine Shane
  85. Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper
  86. Erica Gunnison
  87. Melody Kramer
  88. Melissa Williams
  89. Eamon Martin
  90. Itiyopiya Ewart
  91. Danise Hauser
  92. Christine Garvin
  93. Ryan-Ashley Anderson
  94. Marshall Grandpappy Pyle
  95. Ursula Gullow
  96. Jamie Appel
  97. Anna Toth
  98. John Brinker
  99. Michele Delange
  100. Michelle Van Sandt
  101. Dawn Marie Klug
  102. Kathleen Beebe Balogh
  103. Rev. Michael J S Carter
  104. Liz White
  105. Sarah Cavalieri
  106. Sean Marquis
  107. Julie Sherman
  108. Jill Boniske
  109. Kristine Ratanaphruks
  110. Jacob Barker
  111. Kat Cortellucci
  112. Lowen Gordon
  113. Victoria Kelley
  114. Shane Perlowin
  115. Dave Schell
  116. Teleri Ferch Nyfain
  117. DiAnna E. Ritola
  118. Elinor Bridges
  119. Nathanael Markham
  120. Tara Adinolfi
  121. Alphie Rodriguez
  122. Tamara Puffer
  123. Jim Lowder
  124. Leah Peacock
  125. Kirstie Fischer
  126. Laura Hope-Gill
  127. Christine Longoria
  128. Trish Ciaffone
  129. Kim Taylor
  130. Judy Rudolph
  131. Susan E. Wilson
  132. Steph Hickling Beckman
  133. Sharon Wallis
  134. Pat Barnes
  135. LisaRose Barnes
  136. Laurie Knowles
  137. Sebastian Collett
  138. Greg Walker Wilson
  139. Grace Harrison
  140. Joshua Lawton
  141. Maria Goitia-Adcock
  142. Angelica Wind
  143. Emily Lacy
  144. Lynnora Bierce
  145. Martha Oldham Huggins
  146. Lloyd Kay
  147. Justina Prenatt
  148. Kimberly Morris
  149. Susan Sertain
  150. Martin Ramsey
  151. Talia Winningham
  152. Elizabeth Mount
  153. Kimberly Doyle
  154. Jerri Goldberg
  155. Scott Weisenberger
  156. Amy Waller
  157. Firestorm Cafe & Books
  158. Josh Benson
  159. Sandra Abromitis
  160. Radix Y. Faruq
  161. Leslie Sigmon
  162. Beth Maczka
  163. Ellen Holmes Pearson
  164. Sasha Mitchell
  165. Sarah Judson
  166. Alvis Dunn
  167. Sally Fischer
  168. Ami Worthen
  169. Chelsea Beresford
  170. Allison Cooper
  171. John Paul
  172. Elliot Bass
  173. Julia McDowell
  174. Cynthia Heil
  175. Nicole Marín Baena
  176. Paige Paris
  177. Jesse Junior
  178. Ron Ogle
  179. Clare Hanrahan
  180. Stephanie Barnard
  181. Sarah Catherine Golden
  182. Karen Craven
  183. Tamiko Ambrose Murray
  184. Sadie Rudd
  185. Kimberley Fink-Adams
  186. Christina McKenzie
  187. Scott McKenzie

  188. Coryn Harris
  189. Fred Ingate
  190. Shekiki JBaten
  191. Liana Rhapsody Murray
  192. Tami Forte Logan
  193. Erika Binger
  194. Dan Segal
  195. Alynn Woodson
  196. Sasha Vrtunski
  197. Everest Holmes
  198. Emily Causey
  199. Meredith Bliss Silver
  200. Emily Aderman
  201. Catherine Faherty
  202. Krista Stearns
  203. Kendra Sarvadi
  204. Amy Mandel
  205. Kate Pett
  206. Lance Lobo
  207. Daniele Martin
  208. Mary Snow
  209. Steve Shanafelt
  210. Ashley Cooper
  211. Raven Sinclaire