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
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125 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Mountain XPress

  1. I would add to the sentiments made in the open letter that the whole notion of “big ideas” is a problematic one, informed by an individualistic framework for understanding how exciting and positive things get done. No “big idea” EVER changed anything–only ideas that many people believed in enough to bring from an IDEA to a REALITY. No one is an island, and although innovators deserve credit for their creativeness, things like gender and race bias thrive on this false ethos of “great [men] building this great nation of ours.” It hides the hundreds and thousands of people whose less glamorous work overwhelmingly supports and makes space for the creativity of those who do get credited for the “big ideas.” The Mountain Xpress should surely be called out for its focus on whites and males, because this kind of erasure of the contribution of women and people of color is an insult, and just plain ignorant. But beware, too, of trying to solve the problem of bias by including women and people of color in the formation of an exclusive club of “big-idea-havers,” as this just leads to a more diverse club of elites to whom society belongs, leaving the rest of us in the dust.

  2. Pingback: Mountain Xpress to revisit 'Big Ideas' story following reader backlash

  3. Thank you Beth Trigg and others for drawing community attention to how often we tell so little of the stories and history that shaped our community. I would like to join this list, and also think about how we can support an ongoing effort to tell the wider more diverse and true stories of our community.

  4. I agree completely with the letter. For my own culpability in a project whose final version did not reflect the diversity and much of the true history of this city, you all have my personal apology.

    A number of us have pressed for an apology from the paper and a commitment to address the serious issues this rightly raises.

    I believe it is a reporter’s duty to help break the silence of a popular narrative that often ignores or underrates the contributions and struggles of women, LGBT people, people of color and the working class.

    Orwell had it right that “to see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” Reporters have blind spots and unintentional biases, make mistakes, and sometimes fail in that struggle, and the public deserves an apology when we do. I thank you for holding us accountable.

    While, as a reporter, I can’t guarantee the paper’s future direction, I can personally promise that I will continue to advocate for Xpress seriously addressing these problems with real action, not just in a series or new issue, but in our coverage as a whole going forward. The ideas mentioned in the responses to the letter are an excellent start.

    I am happy to talk with anyone reading this about their concerns, future story ideas, what Xpress is failing to cover, or anything else. You can reach me directly at 251-1333, x137 or at dforbes@mountainx.com.

    If you want to talk to Jeff Fobes, our publisher, who determines and has final say over the direction of our paper, you can reach him at 251-1333 x109.

    Also, on behalf of those of us at Xpress trying to organize a union and address the many concerns about our workplace’s management, thank you to everyone who has expressed your support for our efforts and offered your experience and wisdom. It means more than I can say.

    Sincerely,

    David Forbes

  5. Pingback: An Open Response to the Mountain XPress | An Open Letter to the Mountain XPress: Bias

  6. Steve Shanafelt

    Please add my name to the petition as well.

    As a former staffer at Xpress, I should note that the racial, ethnic and gender biases examined in the letter are problems that the paper has been well aware of for at least a decade. The management is completely aware of this bias, and there have been many discussions about the topic in the halls and offices at 2 Wall Street.

    To the best of my knowledge, no serious effort to bring in a greater diversity of perspectives has ever been attempted there. In fact, when presented with the possibility to correct this problem thanks to a mass “Xodus” of ten editorial and design staffers late last year, the Publisher and management opted instead to exclusively hire young, white women. Take a look: http://mountainx.com/info/contact

    Were there no qualified black, Asian or Latino applicants for the dozen open positions at the paper? For that matter, were there no qualified males? That seems utterly implausible. There is clearly a bias at work, and both the paper and the community of readers are worse off because of it.

  7. Whoa, I just saw this article on Big Ideas. I created the Herstory Asheville Women’s Heritage Tours 4 years ago so I find the absence of women in the piece especially short-sighted. Asheville has the most amazing women’s history of any city I have known. I have over 40 stories (and growing) of women for my tours and can only tell about 15 on a single tour. This is a city that both produces and attracts strong and talented women and the Mountain Express should really be singing their praises in an article like this one.
    Raven Sinclaire
    Herstory Asheville Tours
    (Please add my name)

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