Today’s edition of our premium newsletter, What Now, features an exclusive interview with Evette Dionne—the editor-in-chief of Bitch Media, the author of Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box, and a critic and writer on the intersections of race, gender and size. She was also one of my very first editors! On Sunday we talked about the state of journalism and how history will remember this moment. (Follow Evette at @freeblackgirl.)
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How have you felt about the way that the corporate media has treated last summer’s Black Lives Matter resurgence and the white supremacist uprising at the Capitol, and are you already seeing these cracks form after this “old normal” has returned?
I think that one of the biggest failures up top is this idea that Donald Trump and Trumpism is the culmination of something really specific and really unique to this single man, and therefore now that that single man is no longer in power, that we can then pretend as if it never happened and move on to something else. That is impossible. And the fact that our media did this whiplash of, “Okay, there was this violent insurrection at the Capitol, we’re going to cover it intensely for four days. And then did you say that Joe Biden has a Peloton bike?” It’s like, what are we doing?
We have this idea that “both sides” are worthy of interrogation, that they both have equal merit and therefore you have to cover them equally. And that is simply not the case. When we are at a moment like in the summer, where you have people across the world at this point rising up together to say, “We need to end police violence against Black and brown people,” that is not the time in which to publish an op-ed with a senator saying that he wants to institute martial law in this country. That is the time to reject that and say, “What side of history do we want to be on?”
Objectivity is a false thing, and they pretend as if it’s a real thing, and then it just dictates all of our media coverage thereafter.
How did writing Lifting as we Climb, a book that is essentially a referendum on [the history of women’s suffrage] and its erasure of Black suffragettes, inform your understanding of who decides and arbitrates history? How do you attempt to apply that lesson to the media, to avoid looking down the line 50 years from now and seeing in history books that Donald Trump was “very stern with these people who stormed the Capitol” or something?
When I started working on Lifting as we Climb, I knew very early in the process [that] if I was going to tell this accurate history of Black women suffragists, my timeline had to be longer than the dominant timeline, Seneca Falls to 1920. Black people in this country didn’t actually get the right to vote unimpeded until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We so often think about these social movements as separate, not realizing that all those things are interconnected, and in order to tell that history in its totality you have to start at abolition because those people mentored the [next] people.
The people who become the most visible, who get photographed, get interviewed in newspapers and magazines, who write pamphlets — those are the people who get to dictate what the history looks like, because they’re the people who get to tell the story. And that in some part is a burden of the press. Who are you seeking out, whose story are you telling? That all dictates what history gets told in the McGraw textbook.
Read the full interview with Evette Dionne, along with more exclusive content, in today’s What Now.