Writers Are the ‘Other’ at Conservative Meeting
It was Thursday, March 3, the second day of the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington, D.C., and Julia Craven, politics reporter at the Huffington Post, and Tyler Tynes, a politics fellow there, were gathering material for what would become a piece the Huffington Post headlined, “What Happened When 2 Black Reporters Attended The Biggest Conservative Conference In The U.S.” The subhead was, “A lot of staring, for one thing.”
“Before we arrived at CPAC, we didn’t have much of an idea of what we were getting into,” Craven and Tynes wrote Tuesday. “Within a few minutes, however, we realized we’d stepped into one of those environments. You learn to recognize them pretty quickly — they’re the places where whiteness is the default way of thinking and being.
“It’s not that people of color are met with open hostility if they show up at places like these (at least most of the time). But it always becomes clear, in a million little ways, that we’re an afterthought, an Other. In places like these, if someone gets up and makes a speech about ‘people,’ they don’t always mean ‘people.’
“A lot of the time, they just mean ‘white people.’
“Most of CPAC’s 2,600-plus attendees this year were white, and during the two days we were there, we saw maybe 30 black people. At times, it seemed as though people thought we were protesters instead of reporters.
“During our interactions with attendees, two assumptions kept coming up: that we were writers for HuffPost’s Black Voices team — who are all great! — or that we wouldn’t report any story fairly. When we clarified that we are politics reporters, the bemused looks we got seemed to say: Only culture writers write about race. What does race have to do with political coverage? When we said we were with The Huffington Post, that seemed to clear things up for people. . . .”
Craven and Tynes also wrote, “Some people stared openly at our clothes and our kinky hair. A group of college students laughed at the Howard University hoodie one of us wore. ‘That’s not Harvard,’ one kid said. (It’s not. It’s a historically black university in Washington, D.C. Thurgood Marshall went to law school there.) Another student looked one of us up and down and said, ‘What is she wearing?’ (Answer: She was wearing a black sweater, black tights and black boots. She looked nice.)
“We also saw a man in a bright red polo shirt wearing a gold pin that read ‘Goldwater for President’ — a reference to former Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), who died in 1998. Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act and was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan during his 1964 presidential bid.
“But if many CPAC attendees seemed dismissive of the thoughts, feelings and concerns of black people, they were only following the example of many speakers. During a panel on criminal justice reform, we sat and watched conservatives of all races argue that mass incarceration was not a human rights catastrophe, but rather a sign of how America’s war on crime has been a success.