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Monday, June 21, 2021

You can’t yell ‘fire’ in an Internet theatre; the RiShawn Biddle fiasco

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The career of African-American journalist RiShawn Biddle came crashing down in a blaze of racial self hate last week.

The week included professional journalists debating and our African-American community is wondering how a seemingly intelligent Black man could hate his race and people so much.

Biddle lost his Indianapolis Star editorial writing gig when, in a fit of rage against African-American leaders and politicians, he wrote an essay titled The Indianapolis Black Democrat Minstrel Show, in Expresso; an opinion space on the Star’s Web site.

In it, Biddle called City-County Council President Monroe Gray a vile, vicious, hateful racial slur. A slur usually uttered by white supremacists just before they’d maim, murder or lynch Black folks.

Biddle called Gray a “Zip c———.” The latter word, four letters rhyming with “soon,” is a word Webster’s Dictionary defines as an “(ethnic slur), offensive name for a Black person.”

“Zip c———” didn’t meet the language standards of the Star. For that and probably because Biddle distributed his racial slur-filled essay via the Star’s e-mail system to Indy’s Black-hating internet blogs, he was fired.

Star Vice President and Editor Dennis Ryerson moved quickly to tell the entire community, including African-Americans, that Biddle’s actions were an aberration. Ryerson told me, “I do offer a sincere apology not just to African-Americans, but to all who rightfully are incensed by this language. This is not my standard. It is not the standard of the Star.”

At 17th and Broadway where Sen. Robert Kennedy condemned hate the night Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, Ryerson publicly apologized for Biddle’s insensitivity, “I want the Star to be a model of civility. The Internet should be a center of electronic dialogue, not diatribe.”

Biddle claimed the odious minstrel show term was used to make a satirical point. But it’s stunning that Biddle believed he could use such a word in a forum operated by the Star, a family newspaper.

With freedom of speech and press, comes responsibility for all of us who work in media. Your Indianapolis Recorder is a family newspaper, with standards and there are words our editors, reporters and columnists, including me, may not use.

A good writer and journalist can use blunt language to make a point, without resorting to slurs and vicious hate speech.

Now unlike Don Imus, Michael Richards or Dog “The Bounty Hunter,” RiShawn Biddle’s refused to apologize directly to our African-American community. He made no statement to any Black media or community organization.

His only public statement, in the Star, was insincere and halfhearted. Regarding his actions, Biddle said, “The comparison I made … was not appropriate, nor was the use of the word itself.”

Then he defended using that hateful slur saying, “It is the kind of language that many of us as Black people use in describing and comparing the kind of negative, corrupting behaviors done by our fellow brothers and sisters.”

Sorry, RiShawn, but you’re flat wrong. You may have thought that because regrettably Blacks call each other the N-word, B-word and H-word, that you could use the racial C-word without consequences. But that word is so revolting Blacks don’t speak it anywhere. Not even rappers!

RiShawn Biddle worked at Forbes Magazine and the Los Angeles Business Journal before joining the Star a few years ago. He became the sole Black editorial writer after the Star fired James Patterson under circumstances, which are part of a Federal lawsuit.

As an editorial writer, Biddle spearheaded the Star’s coverage of Indiana’s high dropout rate and other failings of Indiana’s educational system. His editorials won several awards and honors.

Biddle was fascinated by the Internet and blogging. He had his own blog, contributed to numerous others and helped launch the Star’s Expresso blog.

But Biddle had a threatening side. His Expresso essays demanding the forcible eviction of the homeless from downtown, because he didn’t like their aesthetics, made him the city’s Scrooge. His shrill, bitter attacks against our African-American community earned him not commendation, but scorn.

Biddle refused to address his feelings about Black folks to Blacks, preferring to speak only to white-majority audiences. Biddle was virtually invisible in the Black community, never speaking before Black organizers or groups, refusing to belong to the local Black journalists association.

RiShawn was one of a new breed of African-American journalists the Star has hired who disdain their blackness; refusing to acknowledge our community; not even wanting to be caught anywhere in our community.

For example, there’s a Black Star business reporter and weekly columnist who has a serious mental block about writing about Black-owned businesses. And if she does, she only writes negative things; never anything positive.

In a conversation with veteran African-American journalist Richard Prince, in Prince’s Internet column Journal-isms, Ryerson admitted that African-Americans don’t hold the Star in high regard.

“Newspapers in most communities are referred to by readers with these words: ‘Our newspaper,’” Ryerson told Prince and the Star’s staff. “You don’t hear that reference to the Star in Indy’s Black communities. We must do better.”

Haven’t I been saying that in this column for years?

Perhaps that’s the legacy of the RiShawn Biddle debacle. Finally opening the eyes of the Indianapolis Star that our community doesn’t regard it as “our” newspaper.

What I’m hearing in the streets

Thirteen years ago I had lunch with the new general manager of WTHR/Channel 13. I told him about the lack of African-American anchors and reporters in Indianapolis. Rich Pegram then said, “Don’t hear what I say, watch what I do.”

Pegram resigned suddenly from Channel 13 last week. But his tenure changed the complexion of local television news in Indianapolis forever. Under Pegram’s leadership not only did Channel 13 excel in quality television journalism and community service, but Pegram broke the racial glass ceiling for African-Americans.

Under his tenure, Channel 13 hired more African-American reporters and anchors than any Indy TV station ever. His hiring of the late Liz Daily and Angela Cain as Channel 13’s community liaisons were masterstrokes. As was his decision for Channel 13 to air the yearly UNCF telethon.

And Pegram’s hiring of Andrea Morehead and her ascendancy as lead prime time female anchor, helped make Indianapolis TV news representative of the communities it serves.

A regular Recorder reader, Pegram never failed to express his feelings if he thought this column hadn’t treated his station fairly. His contributions to his industry, Indianapolis and our African-American community haven’t been properly recognized. But, I just did.

See ‘ya next week.

Amos Brown’s opinions are not necessarily those of the Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper. You can contact him at (317) 221-0915 or by e-mail at ACBROWN@AOL.COM.

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