Lori Lakin Hutcherson was shocked when she was unable to find a website dedicated to positive news about black people. So she started one
Why did you start the Facebook page that became the website, Good Black News?
I actually started Good Black News by accident. It was 2010 and, in my work as a film and television writer and producer, I was collaborating with author Terry McMillan on the film adaptation of her new book. Before our writing session started one morning, she was telling me about a story she’d barely come across in the news: at an all-black academy in Chicago, 100 per cent of the seniors were accepted to college. Terry was wondering why there was no major news media coverage of this great achievement, and lamenting that the mainstream media primarily focused on negative news about African Americans.
I figured that there must be a site dedicated solely to positive African American news, so searched the internet. To my shock, I couldn’t find one. In that moment I decided I had to create it, even if just a page on Facebook. So I did. And it slowly grew from there.
How do you think the mainstream media is biased towards people of colour? What damage can stereotypes do?
The media bias reflects the bias intrinsic in US culture and society. People of colour are often seen as threats or exceptions, but not commonly enough as typical human beings. More often than not, you’ll see adjectives or nouns that refer to someone’s ethnicity or skin colour rather than their name or age, or you will see images that are dour or intense instead of happy or light. The damage these micro-dehumanisations can do is reinforce prejudices about people of colour, as well as teach and perpetuate them. So every time I put up a positive story, I am conscious that I am combating all of that, as well as offering a bit of uplift for anyone who comes across it.
What steps do you take with your stories; for example with headlines and photos, to make them more representative and balanced?
First of all, I make sure that they are accurate and informative, and properly credited and sourced. Secondly, I like to find the best image possible to represent the person or the subject of the story; if all anyone sees is the photo or the headline, I want to make sure either or both offer a story, as well as positive impact. Lastly, I like to put names in headlines. A person’s name offers individuality and acknowledgement that I think impresses on readers a level of humanity that descriptors just don’t. It may seem subtle, but to me, it’s not. Imagine, for example, the differing impact of The Autobiography of a Black Muslim v The Autobiography of Malcolm X or The Diary of a Jewish Girl v The Diary of Anne Frank.
What reactions have you had to Good Black News? Have any surprised you?
The majority have been positive, which isn’t surprising as much as it is heartwarming. It’s humbling knowing that what myself, my fellow editor Lesa Lakin and our volunteer contributors do is helping so many people access information and stories they might not otherwise have heard of. What has surprised me – even though, thankfully, it’s not a large number – is that there are people who spend their time trying to troll and mock and denigrate a site dedicated to sharing positive stories about people of colour. Each time I come across a wayward comment, reply or tweet and block it, I think ‘Who has time for this kind of vitriol in their life?’
People of colour are often seen as threats or exceptions, but not commonly enough as typical human beings
Which sorts of stories are most popular?
Education stories. Whether it’s a boy or girl genius graduating college at 14, or a formerly homeless teen going to the Ivy League, or senior citizens finally getting their high school or college diplomas, education stories are always popular. Education has been the most accessible and democratic way people of colour have been able to improve their lives in the US. To go from it being a crime to learn to read and write, to earning PhDs and running universities – yeah, those stories always resonate.
What impact do you think movements like Black Lives Matter have had on the way black communities communicate their feelings around representation and injustice?
I think the impact has been incredibly positive. They have opened up much more honest, direct and challenging dialogue around systemic racism, voter suppression, police brutality and education, to name a few. Some might see it as ‘disruptive’ but to me, it’s the kind of disruption that’s been sorely needed in this supposed post-racial era in the US. It’s having a real effect on culture and, in some instances, policy.
What kind of stories do you most enjoy publishing and why?
I really enjoy publishing stories about everyday people doing extraordinary things, like the entrepreneur who offers mobile showers to the homeless, the hero bus driver who safely gets students off a burning bus, or the young woman who starts a book drive so girls in her area can read fiction that reflects them. These stories are the most appealing because they demonstrate that anyone, no matter their age or gender or income status, can find the best within them and do something positive to make their communities more vibrant and connected, and humane.
What can the media, from local newspapers to the mainstream press, do to improve the way people of colour are represented?
Hire more people of colour to cover stories about people of colour, as well as offer different points of view on mainstream culture, products, politics and history. Make a concerted effort to offer diverse subject matter and features, and critical voices. Hopefully the next generation will be much less willing to participate in, or tolerate, systemic racism or white privilege or any injustice by being exposed to more than one point of view.
I enjoy publishing stories about everyday people doing extraordinary things
What change would you most like to see in the media in the US and beyond?
I’d like to see more factual information and less punditry and opinion. The 24-hour news cycle offers benefits, to be sure, but it also allows for a lot of ‘news-like’ programmes that are really shows for liberals or conservatives to present their points of view. Ironically, though, the constant accusations of ‘fake news’ or bias from the current administration towards the mainstream media has caused the media to focus much more on real investigative journalism and accurate reporting.
Who inspired you to be a proud woman of colour, and a feminist?
I’d have to say Malcolm X, Lorraine Hansberry [playwright, writer and the first black woman
to write a play performed on Broadway], Angela Davis, Terry McMillan – for obvious reasons: she was literally the motivation – and Oprah Winfrey, to name a few. As for pride, that starts at home: even though, growing up, we lived in an almost all-white neighbourhood, my mother wore her large afro like a crown and gave us black history books and Ebony encyclopedias to read. We even played a board game called the Afro American History Mystery Game!
Lori Lakin Hutcherson is editor-in-chief of Good Black News. She lives in California and works in television and film.
Main image: Atsushi Nishijima