Celebrate Black History Month by confronting racism with … information

Michigan State University School of Journalism

The absence of diversity in #OscarsSoWhite is a symptom. A new guide, out for Black History Month, looks at the wider, longer story.

It is 100 Questions and Answers About African Americans.

As Oscars, street demonstrations, campus protests and studies show, we have a long way to go on race relations. Many people just have a hard time understanding where others are coming from.

Part of the problem could be that we just don’t know each other very well.

The Public Religion Research Institute asked people about their closest networks in 2013. About 75 percent of White Americans said all their closest confidants were White. About 65 percent of Black respondents said all their confidants were African American. Among Hispanics, the number was 46 percent.

In the Michigan State University School of Journalism, classes of students have been trying to take make cross-cultural conversations less awkward. Here is the class that produced this new book …

Students start this process by asking people what questions they get about themselves, or wish others knew the answers to. Then, the guides answer those common questions. The students hope that these guides answer baseline questions people are curious about, but might be reluctant to ask because they don’t want to embarrass themselves or offend others.

100 Questions and Answers About African Americans answers potentially awkward questions:

• Should I say Black or African American?
• Why is slavery still an issue for some people?
• Why is it that White people can’t say the n-word, but some Black people do?
• What is the Black National Anthem?
• Do Black people get sunburns?

The guide answers some common misperceptions:
• Is it true there are more Black men in prison than in college?
• Are African Americans the chief beneficiaries of affirmative action?
• Does most federal food assistance go to African Americans?
• Did Abraham Lincoln end slavery?

And the guide explains achievement in rising educational and health levels, high voter turnout and accomplishments in science, technology and the arts.

This guide, the ninth in the MSU series, includes videos to answer questions about Black hair and African American fraternities. This is the first guide to use a motion graphic to explain the complicated story of wealth disparities. You can watch it here:

This guide, available in print or digital editions, was one of the most challenging to make in this long series our students have been producing at Michigan State. It was difficult because race issues run deep and because, like many campuses, Michigan State had demonstrations about racial inequity while the students were creating the guide. That was the backdrop for their work. As the professor, I think this made the guide sharper and I was impressed with the way the students treated each other.

Come on … take action …

Order your copy of this new book today.

Joe Grimm is editor of the series and visiting editor in residence in the MSU school of Journalism.

The authors of this guide are Michigan State University students Michelle Armstead, Brian Batayeh, Kelsey Block, Victoria Bowles, Paige Boyd, Stacy Cornwell, Kiana Elkins, Lilliana Forti, Brittany Holmes, Rachel Linnemann, Stephanie Hernandez McGavin, Veronica Muñoz, Cayden Royce, Danielle Schwartz, Caitlin Taylor and Rashad Timmons.

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