By Jessica Peraza
I grew up in a border town that’s 95% Latino, and I’m still trying to figure out if that was a blessing or a curse.
Ignorance is bliss, but obliviousness is reckless. Fortunately, the Black Lives Matter movement has ignited household dinner-table conversations about racism across America. Last month, I spent an hour on the phone with my grandma talking about racial injustice – a sharp contrast from our usual conversations centered around relatives and sewing projects.
These conversations are crucial, even if uncomfortable at times, to confront racism within our own communities and homes.
While I don’t normally consume my news in Spanish (hello, biculturalism!), that’s not the case for millions of Latinos, including my grandparents. In fact, Univision Network reaches an average of 5 million Hispanic adult viewers (ages 18-49) per week, out-delivering its English-language broadcast competition by 34%. However, both Univision and its leading competitor, Telemundo, have been called out in recent weeks for perpetuating racial bias in their coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In June, national political advocacy group Mijente launched a petition urging the two major networks to shift their news programming to allow Spanish-speaking Latinos to better understand anti-Black racism. The group said in a statement that the two networks have “contributed to the Latino community’s skewed and incomplete understanding of the current crisis.”
Unfortunately, an anti-Black narrative has long existed within the Latino community, mainly in the form of microaggressions. Colorism exists among Latinos, and those with fair skin are frequently viewed as “ideal.” And while many national outlets diligently reported the news from the protest scenes across the country, some scrutinized Telemundo and Univision for sensationalizing the relatively smaller percentage of violence and looting that occurred at the same time as the protests, rather than focusing on the majority of peaceful protests and the central message of the movement. Many people also took to Twitter to express their frustrations, urging changes toward unbiased reporting and more inclusive newsrooms.
Spanish-language news anchor Jorge Ramos recently wrote about the lack of representation of Afro-Latinos in today’s media landscape in The New York Times. He noted that while Afro-Latinos account for 25% of the overall U.S. Latino population, they’re less likely to have a college education and more likely to have lower family incomes. Afro-Latinos often struggle with navigating racist comments from those within their own communities, based not on their culture, but on their skin color or hair texture.
Neither Univision nor Telemundo have publicly responded to the online petition, which nearly 14,000 people have signed. However, both have continued to cover the Black Lives Matter movement.
Whether their news coverage was purposely biased or implicitly racist, this moment has inspired many of us to reflect on the type of news we consume and how it might skew our actions. I believe in the positive power of journalism – after all, my job depends on it! And I hope younger generations of Latinos continue to hold news outlets accountable, because there’s no place for racism in our world, let alone our newsrooms.
Jessica Peraza is an account director at Allison+Partners in the Phoenix office. She focuses on community and media relations strategies for consumer clients and specializes in reaching Latino audiences.