In the spring semester of this past year, The Daily Tar Heel published a deeply tone-deaf article on boba popularity at UNC. A culturally-important drink? No — it’s trendy. It’s a fad. It doesn’t necessitate a quote from a student of its background.
Student outrage was swift. In response, front-facing, management-sponsored apologies were issued.
And then came the true feelings: unapologetic closed-door conversations were held, with emphasis placed on the short-term memory of students and how it would all blow over soon.
And on marched the The Daily Tar Heel.
So when The Daily Tar Heel recently published a piece on student theater over the past decade, I was not surprised in the slightest when it completely ignored the critical role of the Black Arts Theatre Company. Additionally, the author of that piece included a segment on diversity and then jarringly ignored race.
Black Arts Theatre Company, founded in the last year by junior Liz Howard, is a central reflection of the changing face of the arts at UNC. It’s doing what few other organizations at UNC have done: tackling opportunity and representation in the arts for people of color and Black students especially.
But perhaps more importantly, it’s telling their stories — stories that have so often been ignored or censored.
Just two months ago, the BATC performed a powerful rendition of “Black Girl, Interrupted,” a Black journalist’s exploration of trauma and truth. It’s a story created by a Black woman, directed by a Black woman and about Black women. Without the championing of and support for diverse narratives, this story never would have had the opportunity to be told.
So here I am again, faced with the same dilemma I had after the boba article. Last year, I invited someone to write a guest column, and it was a very powerful response. This time, I can’t outsource my opinion. I have to say it — because being silent is being complicit.
The diversity of The Daily Tar Heel, is deeply, critically, painfully lacking. And that is innumerably reflected in the content produced by this institution. But don’t just take my word for it — listen to former University Desk Editor Leah Asmelash:
“The DTH has a race problem. A diversity problem. A problem in general. But it’s not because of recruitment — it’s because this office does not create a welcoming space for its people of color, does not allow them to thrive; they are damned if they speak up and damned if they don’t.”
Damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Huh.
If you’re a student, you can likely scrape by in social isolation, hearing the same stories and promoting the same viewpoints. But if you’re a student journalist, the onus falls infinitely more on you to understand, interpret and then deliver the whole picture. The good, the bad, the ugly. The truth.
The promotion of minority perspectives in both story-telling and staffing is critical to ensuring the integrity and success of the paper. Without reporters of color staffing the Daily Tar Heel, we would never have received Kyra Miles’ incredible initial delve into Black Arts Theatre Company and its bright future; Crystal Yu’s culturally immersive report on immigration and Chinese restaurants in Chapel Hill; Praveena Somasundaram’s exploration of the campaign for an Asian American Center and promotion of the Asian American identity in the South.
Being able to ignore the stories, the lived experiences and the traumas of people of color is privilege in action. It’s the pervasive nature of race dynamics. It’s The Daily Tar Heel ultimately failing our audience.
Support the Black Arts Theatre Company here.
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