The University Record, January 28, 1997

CNN's Chideya: America underestimates multi-ethnic numbers

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services


With what amounted to a three-question pop quiz, CNN commentator Farai Chideya grabbed her Michigan Union Ballroom audience Jan. 20 by asking if it were true or false that more young Black men are in prison than enrolled in college, if only one percent of television characters are Latino, and if in the past century the average wages for Black Americans have risen to only 60 percent of those earned by white Americans. Answers: False, True and True.

Using her questions as an example of the lack of context surrounding issues involving Blacks and whites, Chideya said three times as many young Black men are in college as are in prison, that America has not yet solved the issues confronting Blacks and whites, and has severely underrated the multi-ethnic population, especially Latinos, who, she said, will outnumber Blacks in America by 2010.

Images of ethnic groups come from all television, not just news programming, Chideya said, emphasizing that there isn't much integration of any kind on television shows. And that wage disparity? Chideya says Blacks and Latinos are being left behind as the workforce moves towards more service and information jobs.

"Why should America care about people you don't have to see?" Chideya asked. "We cannot exist as individual spheres in this universe. In the next 55 years, we will have no racial majority and our workforce will be dependent on the skills of everyone."

We have to look at the bottom line, Chideya said, and that bottom line is money. "What we have to do as Americans is talk about reinvesting in equality on the ground level. This will take money and will take effort. We have the money, but we are spending it on the wrong things."

The widespread cost of inequality is generally not discussed in this country, Chideya told her audience. Equality is discussed only as a moral aspect, she said, not in the terms of financial costs.

Farai Chideya is a former reporter for Newsweek magazine and MTV and appears on "Inside Politics" and other CNN programs. She is the author of Don't Believe the Hype: Fighting Cultural Misinformation About African-Americans and is completing a new book, The Color of America: How the Nation's Most Diverse Generation Is Reshaping American Culture.

Her talk was sponsored by the School of Information, University Library and Information Technology Division as part of the U-M Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.