Letters to the Editor

Why a young ‘Black’ lady? Reader’s essay touches off discussion about race

Reader Susan Blanchard writes:

I was disappointed that the editorial staff allowed gratuitous racism to appear in the guest column by Samuel H. Winstead (“An America overlooked,” The Herald-Sun, Sept. 3).

While it was nice to have a column that focused on the helpful things that people do for each other, all of the people who helped Mr. Winstead were identified by name except for the person in the Walmart parking lot who was referred to as “young Black lady.” Why was her race mentioned? It had nothing to do with the story – or did it?

Susan Blanchard


Editor Mark Schultz responds: I stopped on that reference too, but left it in because it was a personal essay. Here is the excerpt with the sentence in question, followed by what some of you said yesterday on my Facebook page, where I posted a link and asked, “Is this racist?”:

“For years, I’ve been impressed with kind people who step aside and let this 92-year-old stagger through, people who open doors and let me pass in front of them. On a recent trip from Durham, I stopped at the Walmart in Roxboro. Not knowing where to find what I was looking for, Harold Whitlow guided me through the store and helped me find what I needed.

“During the process, I ended up in a part of the store unfamiliar to me. When I stepped outside, nothing looked familiar, not even my pickup truck. Gazing around, I noticed a young Black lady with her eyes on me. Finally, she asked, “Have you lost your vehicle?”

“I replied, “I surely have,” and she said, “Be calm, we’ll find it.’”

(Read the full essay here: http://www.heraldsun.com/opinion/article170345697.html#storylink=cpy)

Dee McDougal: No. Why would it be? The person who helped the writer was an African-American woman, and he decided to describe her as a black lady. No problem there. But, ugh. People should focus their attention on things that matter. This doesn’t.

Liz Paley: News media normalize whiteness. Why not just write “I noticed a young lady with her eyes on me”? Had the author not mentioned that the nameless “Black lady” was “Black,” the assumption would be that she’s white. I’m assuming, of course; maybe the other folks named in the article are of assorted races that the author never mentioned because he knew everyone’s name. But news stories often say things like “the suspect is in his mid-to-late 30s” when the suspect is white, and “the suspect is a [insert race here] male in his mid-to-late 30s” when the suspect is anything but white.

Rachel Adams: When my family talk about each other and our families, we use the terms black and white (we have a family of both races). We don’t go around saying Caucasian and African American. It’s actually a point of humor between us. It’s something that, if I were speaking academically or to a group of people gathered or in some official capacity, I would probably use the term African American or Person of Color, but this is written as a personal story told from this person’s specific perspective. I don’t see that as racist or at least not badly intentioned.

Juan Bellamy: OK, so what’s the problem here? The fact the the author called the woman a black lady, really people, that’s not racist. Trust me I would rather be called black than African American. I hate the word African when it comes to describing me personally. I’m a black American. I haven’t lost a damn thing in Africa.

Karen Jones Perron: Liz Paley expressed the perspective of those who are frustrated by someone NOT saying “white lady” but “ lady,” then identifying someone else as “black lady,” instead of just “lady.”News reports of suspects are often most upsetting to some of my black friends for this reason. BUT many in the black community seem to shrug it off, as unintended. And no, I don’t think it qualifies as “racist.” Juan Bellamy expresses his own very different view. It’s a new day. We are ALL learning, and “vocabulary” is often the trigger we need to sort out.

Nia Wilson: I actually agree with that analysis. I also think we should be more honest and transparent about how we describe each other on the average day. As a Black woman, discribing someone I don’t know, I may say that white dude over there, or the brother (referencing a black man) over there. Despite what some people may want, we use skin color to describe and relate to people. If we use it to manipulate opinions (like the media often does to measure threat levels) that is a different conversation. Context does matter. As do questions and conversations like this.

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