Black students at UCLA are accusing the student-run campus newspaper of racism after the publication printed a photo caption describing a predominantly black concert crowd as a “mob.”
Leaders of the Black Students Alliance also are angry about another caption in the same Feb. 19 issue of the UCLA Daily Bruin titled “Music soothes the savage beast,” which described the crowd as “enthusiastic but docile.”
The captions accompanied two photos of a crowd of more than 500 people who gathered on campus Feb. 18 to hear the rap group Public Enemy. The 20-member Daily Bruin editorial board formally apologized for the captions in an editorial published Feb. 24.
“We couldn’t believe they were referring to us as a mob and savage beasts,” said Daron Campbell, vice chairman of the Black Students Alliance. “The Bruin has been known for stunts like this, but this was too much. It’s another play by the Bruin to keep people in the mentality that blacks are wild and crazy and out of control.”
Robert A. Ringler, a student affairs officer with the UCLA Center for Student Programming, said the concert went smoothly and that the crowd was well-behaved.
About 150 black students attended a rally on campus last week to protest the captions, and the Daily Bruin editorial office has received about 20 letters complaining about them, according to the paper’s editor-in-chief, Penny Rosenberg.
Rosenberg acknowledged that the Daily Bruin copy editor who wrote the caption made a mistake, but stressed that the editorial staff as a whole is sensitive to issues that affect minorities. She said new reporters who take the paper’s beginning nine-week journalism training course, offered every quarter, are taught to avoid words and phrases that might offend minority groups.
“What you have here is a lot of people upset, and I can sympathize completely,” Rosenberg said. “Unfortunately, the negligence of one person has reflected on the entire staff. A policy of racism is not something I try to promote at all.”
She said she has recommended hiring a second night editor, who is the last editor to see the paper before it is sent to the printer, to ensure that articles do not contain words or phrases that might be considered insensitive. The night editor now checks for layout and spelling errors, but does not scrutinize the content of articles, she said.
Campbell and other black campus leaders said they are not convinced that the Daily Bruin is doing enough to improve its coverage of minority issues. They said the captions are just another example of what they consider to be a history of racism among Daily Bruin reporters and editors.
Other incidents they cite include:
Last year’s suspension and reinstatement of the editor-in-chief and art director by the Associated Students’ Communications Board, which publishes the campus student newspapers, after the paper printed a cartoon that was seen as ridiculing affirmative action programs. The cartoon depicted a rooster that, responding to a student’s asking how he got on campus, said he had been admitted under affirmative action.
When rebellious Daily Bruin editorial board members in the fall of 1984 called for the firing of then-editor-in-chief Katherine Bleifer because of her alleged lack of management skills, some of the editor’s supporters charged that the board’s real motive was racism because Bleifer had urged more coverage of minority issues.
Bleifer resigned in December, 1984, after a three-week battle with her editors.
“Nothing is being done to address the mentality of these people,” Campbell said. “They’re not trying to educate the people that are writing these stories and these captions.”
Campbell said that, if the Bruin were sensitive to issues affecting blacks, the paper would have printed an article about the Public Enemy concert instead of limiting its coverage to photos and captions. He said the group “has a very politically progressive message that was part of the news.” Many of the group’s songs decry racism and call for an end to South Africa’s system of apartheid.
Rosenberg said the paper does not usually print stories about campus concerts and that the Public Enemy concert was no exception.
In a letter to the Daily Bruin, Omowale Jabali, a third-year graduate student in the UCLA School of Education and a staff writer for Nommo, the black student newspaper on campus, wrote that the captions are part of an institutionalized racism at UCLA.
“The Rosenberg-led band of Daily Bruins, UCLA’s daily misinformers, with their over-representation of Zionists, recently confirmed the beliefs of many black students at this ‘Camp David West,’ ” Jabali wrote in the letter, printed Feb. 23.
“This insensitivity of the Daily Bruin is an affront to the African community because it projects, reinforces and instills the fears and misrepresentations that white people have about black youth, in particular those of us who listen to rap and reggae.”
Rosenberg disputed charges that the paper is dominated by Zionists who have racist and stereotypical concepts of blacks.
“That’s a large leap to make because the Daily Bruin does not have a majority of Jewish people at all,” she said.
Rosenberg said she knows of only seven out of about 80 editorial staff members who are Jewish. Four of those sit on the 20-member editorial board, she said.
Rosenberg said two members of the editorial board are black and two of the 28 staff writers are black. Also, she said, the paper awarded six $1,000 scholarships to minority journalists for the current academic year. The scholarships were given to two blacks, two Latinos and two Asians.
George Taylor, the student publications’ media adviser, said the Daily Bruin has tried to be more sensitive to minorities since last year’s controversy surrounding the rooster cartoon. He said editors attending a retreat last summer were taught ways to improve the paper’s coverage of minority issues.
Reporters and editors also are given a “common sense manual” containing examples of insensitive stories and cartoons that have appeared in UCLA student media, Taylor said.
“There’s no way that we can offset years of insensitivity in other environments--in their home, in their schools, with their peers--but we try to . . . ,” he said.
He said he tries to suggest that one way to avoid insensitive language is to “take a professional approach to journalism--stick to the facts.”
Taylor said the Daily Bruin was negligent, but not “calculatingly racist,” in printing the captions.
“I don’t think it is indicative of a racist Bruin,” he said of the caption. “I think it indicates one mistake on the part of a copy editor. I don’t excuse it, but I don’t think it’s necessary to indict the whole paper, the whole staff.”