Skip to main content

We Have a Problem: Too Few Native Journalists

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson is a bigot and a braggart.

But so what?

This piece really has nothing to do with that thug in a suit. There will always be racists with dull skulls and deep pockets, and they will get elected to office.

Right. And in 2016, it’ll happen again – in every state across this country. Americans love their shit shows, and an election is the most polished of them all.

Lo, today we’re talking about journalists – my kind. We are the ink-stained rumor slingers, and the final say in what’s tomorrow’s water cooler blabber.

So, when Patterson ripped into Detroit like a holiday ham during an interview with The New Yorker, journalists were quick to print his piercing word vomit:

“Anytime I talk about Detroit, it will not be positive,” he said. “Therefore, I'm called a Detroit basher. The truth hurts, you know? I used to say to my kids, 'First of all, there's no reason for you to go to Detroit. We've got restaurants out here.' They don't even have movie theatres in Detroit - not one.”

Patterson continued his diatribe by arguing that anyone who goes to the city is just asking to be carjacked:

“And, before you go to Detroit, you get your gas out here” (i.e. his affluent community). “You do not, do not, under any circumstances, stop in Detroit at a gas station! That’s just a call for a carjacking,” he said.

Just then, mid-interview, the spirit of Jackson and Custer and Lincoln began to twerk on his tongue to the beat of the ol’ American tune. Patterson pierced:

“I made a prediction a long time ago, and it’s come to pass. I said, ‘What we’re gonna do is turn Detroit into an Indian reservation, where we herd all the Indians into the city, build a fence around it, and then throw in the blankets and the corn.’”

Jesus!, I thought. This man just called for the death of everyone in Detroit! Oh, God, please, I implored, let a single big-name news broadcaster catch this direct reference to germ warfare! But I knew all too well what was already being drafted.

My fellow journos of the non-Native kind courted his two cents re: commerce and not his racist bellow. To wit:

On Jan. 20, ABC 7 Action News reported – in its lead paragraph – that “Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson is facing some heat for comments he said about Detroit in a national magazine.”

… For comments he said about Detroit, folks. Not for his blatantly racist remarks and his what-should’ve-been-obvious call for extermination.

The journalist went on to quote Detroit natives (born and raised natives) and other denizens about the city, not about his racist statement:

“We do bike a lot. There is a ton of stuff to do. The science center is offering a ton of activities, and I go to the DIA pretty often,” Brittany West, who lives in Detroit, told ABC 7 Action News.

And the journo printed more comments from city-goers about their town, especially their eateries:

“They’re so many different restaurants that we haven’t even been to yet. Just driving around, it’s amazing,” said Trisha Hourigan.

Ladies and gents, this news report should’ve been about Patterson’s racist references, but instead it was about biking and restaurants.

I understand Patterson spat on the face of Detroit, and, rightfully, the nitwitted ninnyhammer should face the fire he flamed, but when someone references smallpox blankets (deliberate extermination), herding Indians (Trail of Tears, anyone?) and then building a fence (Auschwitz? … Hello?), you don’t quote passersby about all of the activities of the science center, or how may restaurants they haven’t tried yet.

But this is America, Jack – a red, white and blue monument to willful ignorance, to sweeping under rugs and to skeletons in closets.

And maybe I won’t blame the journalist here. It’s possible that he was imbued in grade school with the same sententious nationalism that we each faced – the kind that ignores the deplorable actions of Andrew Jackson, George Armstrong Custer and Abe “The Hanger” Lincoln.

But while some were "dia-beating" themselves with Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria cupcakes on Columbus Day, the rest of us were hurling those heavy bullshit history books all over their putrid party.

And that same spirit of resistance is why I became a journalist. There are far too few Native Americans in newsrooms. Seriously, folks, I see more African American coverage, Latino coverage and Asian coverage by newsrooms which have a larger demographic of African Americans, Latinos and Asians. Hearken! We need more Native American journalists at major networks, so when they, the captains of newsrooms, run down that revered Diversity List of theirs you can stand up and boom, “Your list needs some revision.”

And then when asshats like Patterson blurt their bile into the wire, you’ll be ready to say during the afternoon news meeting, “Um, hey, is there a good reason why we ignored this guy’s call for forced relocation, internment and extermination?” Right.

So, earlier, I’d considered closing this piece with: “This is getting ridiculous.”

But then I stopped, looked out my window and said, “It already is.”

Simon Moya-Smith, Oglala Lakota, has a Master of Arts degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He lives in New York City.