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Renee Syler (YouTube)

The last time many viewers saw René Syler, she was a co-anchor of CBS News' "The Early Show," with her hair chemically straightened and then hot curled. After four years, that job ended in 2006. She dealt with breast cancer surgery and other medical issues, wrote a book about being a "good enough mother," started a website for those who have been laid off, and freelanced.

"I cannot describe to you the completely freeing experience this has been for me," Syler told Journal-isms by e-mail on Monday, "how I cried in the chair after the last of the perm was snipped off and I-WAS-FREE! This is such a difficult thing for anyone other than black women to understand, but if you have a moment, do a quick search on YouTube under Big Chop. There are thousands of videos from black women who were like, screw this, I'm out... and have done the same thing as me :)"

Syler was reacting to the story of Rochelle Ritchie of WPTV-TV in West Palm Beach, Fla., who decided to let her straightened hair "go natural" during sweeps week and let viewers see the transformation process. It was a ratings success, as reported in this space on Friday.

"I do hope things are changing," Syler wrote. "I went natural almost two years ago when I had bronchitis and ended up in the hospital. I had a meeting with CNN the next week so when I got out I went RIGHT TO THE BEAUTY SHOP for a touch up. Well, of course, my hair fell right out of my head. It was the last in a series of pretty bad events (I felt like Job!), some of which you know about. Anyway, as traumatic as that was, it was life changing for me in that I decided I would never take another TV job that required me to relax my hair! But over the summer I met with [a television executive] and when I told him my story he said 'But I LOVE your hair!' Cut to the chase, I am going back to TV with a project for them . . . It has not been announced yet but I will tell you more as soon as I can. But the bigger issue is I can be ME.. all my God-given curls will be on full display and I LOVE it!

"But that is entertainment where I think diversity of style is a bit more accepted, not so much in TV news, which is why Rochelle's story is such a big deal. . . . I say all this to say I hope times are changing."

*Deron Snyder blog: Hair Today, ‘Gone’ Tomorrow

*Tonya Mosley, theGrio.com: Black newswomen break the mold by 'going natural' (Nov. 30)

 

"The word 'diversity' has popular appeal, maybe more so these days than 'affirmative action.' But who knew diversity and affirmative action are in conflict at many businesses and colleges?" Kenneth J. Cooper wrote last week for thedefendersonline.com, website of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

"Shirley Wilcher does. The executive director of the American Association of Affirmative Action says human resources professionals who are members of the Washington, D.C.-based organization report that vaguely-defined diversity programs are crowding out or taking priority over affirmative action.

"The Harvard-trained lawyer, who interned at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, knows well the difference between superficial efforts and the sound practices that make workplaces fairer. During the Clinton administration, she directed the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, the Labor Department agency that enforces Lyndon Johnson’s executive order requiring federal contractors to take affirmative action to ensure they have diverse workforces.

" 'We’ve kind of lost in private industry — they use the term "diversity" now, have a lot of diversity programs,' Wilcher says. 'But if they don’t deal with the issue of opportunity in terms of hiring and promotions — the representation of women and minorities in the workplace — you might as well call them "Kumbaya programs," as far as I’m concerned. Because they won’t really address the issue of getting people in the door and retaining them because they’re qualified and simply deserve a chance.”

"Too many of those programs, she says, do nothing more than make employees feel good; to cite two examples: Black History Month celebrations or speeches about how diversity improves the bottom line. Her blunt assessment: 'Maybe they’re good for morale, but they make no change, so therefore they make no difference.' "

Cooper told Journal-isms, "There are a lot of stories for enterprising journalists to pick up, looking at specific businesses and colleges."

"A quiet tension settled over Haiti on Monday as people waited to learn how electoral officials proceed in handling Sunday's chaos-marred national balloting and the international community hoped the earthquake-ravaged country did not descend yet again into violence," Joe Mozingo reported from Port-au-Prince Monday for the Los Angeles Times.

"A leading presidential candidate, singer Michel 'Sweet Micky' Martelly, who joined 11 others the day before in asking for the elections to be canceled, suggested he was now open to letting the results be counted, while still insisting 'massive fraud' had been committed. . . . Word was spreading that Martelly and Mirlande Manigat, a professor and former first lady, were the front-runners, despite allegations that President Rene Preval tried to steal the election for his Unity party and its candidate, Jude Celestin."

At the Miami Herald, at least, the "chaos-marred national balloting" was no surprise, according to John Yearwood, world editor.

"The Miami Herald has been reporting for months that the elections will be chaotic. And that's exactly what we've seen," he told Journal-isms by e-mail. "It helps that our own Jacqueline Charles, who has been on the ground almost continuously since the earthquake, has covered previous Haitian elections and knows the players. Nothing that has happened so far has surprised us. It's good, however, to see that the elections have brought renewed interests in Haiti from a large segment of the American media. For a long time, it appeared that we were almost alone — along with The AP, Al Jazeera and a few others — in continuing to report the Haiti story."

In fact, the voting irregularities were in plain sight. Randal C. Archibold, covering the elections for the New York Times, told Journal-isms by e-mail, "I can only tell you what you probably already know, that there is a massive international media presence here and, in chit chat, most of us saw one or more forms of the irregularities ourselves. It didn't seem pretty but whether it amounted to a 'massive fraud,' as the candidates assert, remains to be seen."

He also said, "we reported seeing some of the actual tallies showing martelly ahead, well ahead in some cases. i do not believe many other media had that." Those tallies "are basis of 'quick counts' that insiders use to get a feel for how it is going," he said.

*Jenice Armstrong, Philadelphia Daily News: More help needed for Haiti

Links to terrorism have given Somalis in the United States a bad name. On Monday in Norfolk, Va., Jama Idle Ibrahim became the first pirate in nearly 200 years to enter an American prison. A federal judge gave him a 30-year prison term.

On Friday, Somali-born teenager Mohamed Osman Mohamud was arrested in Portland, Ore., as a crowd of about 10,000 people watched the illumination of the LED lights on a 75-foot Christmas tree at Pioneer Courthouse Square. The FBI said he twice tapped in a number on a cell phone that was supposed to set off a bomb in a van across the street from the plaza, as the Associated Press reported.

"Federal agents are worried these young men are training in Somalia and could end up returning to the U.S. to launch a terrorist attack."

In the news media, the task of separating Somali terrorists from ordinary Somalis has been more than a casual responsibility in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., home to the nation's largest Somali-American community. And the coverage has rubbed many the wrong way.

Duchesne Drew, managing editor for operations at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, acknowledged at the time, "It's a hole in our organization that we don't have a lot of Somali people in the newsroom."

But on Monday, Drew told Journal-isms, "I’m proud to say that we’ve made meaningful progress in improving, expanding and sustaining our coverage of issues in the Somali community. We haven’t stopped covering the crime stories that arise, whether they’re terrorism-related or less nationally significant. But we’ve been more intentional about covering a wide range of issues and people within the Somali community."

Part of the problem has been the many dimensions of the Somali community and that many in the news media were responding chiefly to the loudest voices. Three Star Tribune reporters — Allie Shah, Richard Meryhew and James Walsh — have been assigned to the federal investigation into terrorist ties within the Somali community, "but have not limited themselves to that topic, especially not Allie," Drew said.

He provided these links "to a good cross section of stories we have produced. It’s far from exhaustive but gives a sense of range":

*"I included it because we don’t approach every story that includes Somalis as 'Somali' stories, Drew said. "They live here and should factor in stories that touch many aspects of life in Minnesota."

*Michelle Chen, Colorlines: Somali Americans Under Media Siege (July 15, 2009)

*KPTV-TV, Portland, Ore.: Somali, Muslim Communities Hold Peace Rally

*Lolla Mohammed Nur, Minnesota Daily: Is media coverage of Somalis too negative? (Sept. 27)

*Allie Shah and Richard Meryhew, Star Tribune, Minneapolis: New alarm among Somalis in Minnesota (Nov. 30)

"But I actually got a little hot. Once the younger mama grizzly announced that her success would be a middle finger to those who hate her mother and also hate the unwed young mother's soap opera experience, I realized that the Alaskan cub had become the star of a Tea Party reality series tale about the little people being trampled on by the 'elites.'

"As we should know by now, cults of victimization are like the air. They travel everywhere and are inhaled everywhere. That is how the Tea Party emerged — with, of course, the help of Rupert Murdoch's Fox News, which balances smidgens of fair with much unbalanced balderdash.

"What we now need is something I read about when I was a boy hypnotized by myths and legends from the world over. A memorable one was a story of the giant folk figure Paul Bunyan, who lived somewhere as a logger in the cold north. When his fellow loggers spewed one curse word after another during winter, the dirty words would freeze in the air and fall to the ground.

"Bunyan went around and collected them. They were deposited in separate barrels with the names of the men who had done all of the cursing. When spring came around, Bunyan gave each of the men his barrel and they had to sit there as the ice melted and the shouts of every unmentionable word burst back into the air.

"That cured the loggers and, in a fantasy world, would stop those who now play with the truth as though it were Silly Putty.

"Sarah Palin is a political version of those loggers. She would certainly go deaf if every one of her purported facts were frozen, then melted back into life precisely when she was least prepared to explain the machine-gunning series of tall tales as they exploded into the air again in an intentional act of retribution."

*Colbert I. King, Washington Post: Bush, Obama, and the 'socialist' label

*Tony Norman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Tea partiers are savvy — that's the reality

*Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune: Dancing all over with the Palins

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Journal-isms is published on the site of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education (mije.org). Reprinted on The Root by permission.