When I first moved to Portland in 2003, my late aunt pointed me towards KGW for morning news and KATU for evening weather. Three guesses why she would do that. Never mind, I'm just going to tell you: Brenda Braxton and Rhonda Shelby. We all as humans seek out who we identify with in public and private to set a level of comfort. I instantly loved Ms. Braxton and when I got to meet her in person, she was wonderful. I never made it to the evening weather but I watched KGW mornings for two years.
Another reason we look to see something familiar from the media is to know we are accepted by society as a whole. There are many identifiers that humans look for: fashion style, gender, race, Stumptown coffee cups. So imagine picking up the FoodDay in the Oregonian on April 15 and seeing a full page spread of four families, all White and straight with two children. A friend of mine named Lelo didn't feel so good about it at all. Not only is she a lesbian, but also part of a mixed race relationship. They have no children and live North Portland. The lack of economic disparities, color, and gender and identity differences was disheartening.
But Lelo's reaction reminds me of why I was never allowed fashion magazines as a child and why as an adult I stopped my subscriptions to the women/fashion glossies. There aren't mainstream models - in models in all senses - that reflect our diversity. In an IKEA commercial a year or so back the theme was mixed race families of all kinds — Black woman and Asian partner, White man and Latino man, mixed babies. It was gorgeous. I thought, "Wow, someone's finally gotten it." Alas, that's the last of its kind I've seen. It does make one feel displaced by a society you must participate in when we are not allowed to be mainstream.
I sent along a letter to the Oregonian about the cover and I got a really wonderful email back. I felt great that I'd been heard and got an immediate and thoughtful response. But I wonder, is it the responsibility of the media to portray the world as it is or as we want it to be? Is it a combination of both? Modern news media has the opportunity to be a leader in teaching our community. It should guide the discussion by starting to be more diverse in hiring, reporting and coverage of the diverse landscape that is Portland.
Carol Kollymore writes for the political blog Blue Oregon, and works for Multnomah County Commissioner Jeff Cogen, as North Portland liaison, on Web site communications and sustainability.