Baltimore Beat & TRNN: Is Having a White CEO in a Majority Black City a Problem? (3/4)

Baltimore Beat editor-in-chief Lisa Snowden-McCray interviews Real News senior editor Paul Jay on both the perception and substance of leadership in Baltimore

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Story Transcript

SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: I want to talk a little bit about your ownership. I am a black woman editor of a paper. I don’t know very many black women editors of paper and that’s awesome, I think, both for me professionally, but also …

PAUL JAY: I think it’s awesome, too.

SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: … for other black girls. That’s at least what I hope that other black girls will see me and say, “Oh, you know, that’s a possibility for me, too,” so that’s great, but I still answer to a white boss. You have a lot of journalists of color working for you who are amazing and it’s one of the things that made me so happy to be able to work with you guys. They ultimately also offer to a white man boss. Do you see that as a problem? I’ll start with that question. Do you see that as a problem?

PAUL JAY: Well, in substance, no. In perception, yeah, sometimes. I also answer to a board. We’re a non-profit. I don’t own The Real News. Real News has a board.

SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

PAUL JAY: They can fire me. Sometimes I wish they would. Our board’s certainly half people of color.

SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Okay.

PAUL JAY: Mostly black. Our vice-chair now is black.

SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Is that something that you did on purpose?

PAUL JAY: Oh, yeah.

SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Okay.

PAUL JAY: Yeah. Certainly, perceptually in Baltimore it’s been an issue, but I think it’s highly exaggerated. Majority black city council with a black mayor, does that give us good city politics?

SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: You’re right on that.

PAUL JAY: You know, we had a black president for eight years. If you were in the 1%, you did really well. I don’t think the poor and working people of Baltimore the situation improved. I’m not saying it’s a non-issue and I think it’s great to have a black woman running a paper and I really hope the next leadership for The Real News is, in fact it’s one of the reasons we came to Baltimore. You asked why’d we come to Baltimore, well there’s other reasons. One of the next generation of leadership for The Real News, I hope, is from Baltimore and I hope it’s from black Baltimore. You can ask me why, but …

SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: I was going to.

PAUL JAY: … let me finish the point first. I think black people, people of color, while it’s not a non-issue, it’s far more important to pay attention to the substance. Like, judge what we’re doing.

SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

PAUL JAY: If what we’re doing is from some kind of white privilege perspective, then denounce it, but you can’t make the issue just the white CEO unless you’re going to accept any organization’s great if there’s a black CEO. It’s a totally opportunist position. The position that exaggerates the issue that it needs to be a black person in charge winds up being a position, which is just for career, to open up some jobs and it becomes some black people can now, in fact, reinforce a system that does have white privilege.

SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Yeah, it seems like one of the things that is a problem here in Baltimore that I’ve seen reporting in Baltimore is I think that the black people that do get to these positions of power think that because they’ve earned their way to the seat, then things are better. It’s like, okay, well we’re good now, but really only you specifically are good and when you think that in your head, we’re good now, you’re no longer of use to any other black people because then you’re basically like seeing all those people suffering, well, they must have done something wrong that I didn’t do.

PAUL JAY: Well, you know, I’m not saying everyone that has this position believes what I’m about to say, but I’ve had a lot of conversations with people who believe that it’s the most important thing is that there be black leadership. It winds up being trickle-down economics, meaning if you can get a black elite and blacks can make money and you can get black wealth and all the rest of that, successful black capitalists, somehow that trickles down to the community except on the whole it doesn’t.

SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Yeah.

PAUL JAY: You ask for examples of that and they’re very rare and far between where individual black people who made a lot of money actually come back and do something serious for the community. I’m not saying never, but it’s not a generalized thing. It’s a complicated issue because I’m not saying black leadership of black organizations or even broad front organizations that include black, whites and other people, there is a part where there does need to be black leadership, there does need to be Latino leadership, there does need to be native leadership. In the long run, and this is part of the reason we came to Baltimore, Real News will be better for it because I keep repeating this thing, we believe real change comes from people who need it most.

SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

PAUL JAY: Which also means leadership that will lead to real change …

SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Yeah.

PAUL JAY: … will come from people who need it most.

SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: That’s one of …

PAUL JAY: We do want to get there.

SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: That’s one of the things I think a lot of people that I’ve talked to in the city who work with non-profits or have worked in non-profits, or what I’ve seen in journalism, is that there will be kind of like this … If you put the business into stratus, there’s a stratus where there’s the black people, but there’s no path upward to be like leadership. There could be black writers at The Sun, and there are very good black writers at The Sun. There’s very few positions and black people in leadership at The Sun. In non-profit, it’s the same way. There could be people on the ground doing the real work, but the people that are guiding these non-profits are white, so there needs to be a way to make paths, but also not be like tokenism or put in the wrong people.

PAUL JAY: The leadership group of The Real News, in terms of day-to-day, you know, are essentially three people are, you could say, in the senior, senior leadership. That’s Eddie Conway, Sharmini Peries, and myself.

SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

PAUL JAY: That’s two thirds people of color. A woman of color, …

SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Former Black Panther.

PAUL JAY: … former Black Panther, Eddie Conway, and you know, our journalists and staff are, it’s at least 50% black and maybe it’s more than 50%, but I would actually like it to be more because I want the staff to look like Baltimore, which means 60-65% black. I go back to this same issue. Like, it’s not that it isn’t an issue, but you must judge the substance because it becomes the issue, it opens the door for just opportunism.