ADVOCACY ORGANIZATION TELLS COMMERCIAL APPEAL EXECUTIVES TO RECONSIDER DECISION
TO SILENCE ITS ONLY AFRICAN AMERICAN FEMALE COLUMNIST
memphis, TN, June 5, 2014: Cherisse A. Scott, Founder/CEO of SisterReach, Memphis’ only Reproductive Justice organization, was moved to send a letter to Commercial Appeal executives after learning that Wendi C. Thomas, their remaining African American and only female columnist, had been seemingly reassigned to another position. The letter is reads:
Wendi C. Thomas and the Critical Black Female Perspective
I was sad and disappointed to hear that Wendi Thomas had been given a new assignment to lead expanded coverage of crime and justice in the Memphis area. In the opinion of some, it may look like she has received a promotion. Those of us who have followed Wendi’s columns for the past ten years and are more than acquainted with her values, passions and beliefs find it hard to believe that being relegated to chasing stories at 201 Poplar is a decision that will enhance Wendi’s career and prospects as a talented journalist. I consider this turn of events an unfortunate attempt to silence Wendi’s voice – a voice that has unapologetically offered an analysis about various issues that impact the most vulnerable of residents here in Memphis. These issues include the attack on women’s bodily autonomy, racial and LGBT equality, sexual assault and homelessness – and that is just the tip of the iceberg for her deeply insightful editorials. Moreover, losing her voice means that there are now no people of color or women columnists writing for the Commercial Appeal. In a city whose population far exceeds 60% African American, our voices – female Black voices in particular – no longer have a space to offer a critical narrative via a platform that reaches so many. This is unacceptable.
As a Black woman, an advocate for marginalized persons, someone dedicated to working with our youth and a woman of faith, I am fearful of the deleterious effect that the absence of such a balanced narrative being offered by the Commercial Appeal will have on the entire Memphis community. I am afraid that readers will run the risk of either not receiving a fair analysis on topics or, even worse, they will receive no analysis at all. Wendi’s column was the only perspective dedicated to addressing these important issues through an intersectional lens – which is paramount in a religious, political and racially charged environment that often defaults to a monolithic perception of people and issues before considering all sides. What I appreciate and can always depend on from Wendi is her commitment to probe behind the headlines and get to the root of the story. This new assignment seems more like a limitation of her excellent abilities, including her commitment to offer a fair and well-rounded perspective.
It was Wendi who called out the “inelegant” and “abrasive” comments made by Henri Brooks to a Latino contractor during last month’s commission meeting. She did this while lifting up the equally important issue of there being a lack of African American businesses that receive Shelby County government contracts in a city where our majority population status is severely out of proportion to our economic capital. Wendi also redirected our focus from the cursory issue of Black male youth’s fashion sense and highlighted the mass incarceration of Black youth in Memphis and across the country by a system that is notorious for profiling Black male youth before investing in them. Just recently, she took the time to respond to a comment made about the female victim who was raped during the BBQ fest. She thought it was important to address a comment that placed responsibility on the victim to somehow have a ‘better strategy’ to fight off a rapist instead of having a dialogue on the reprehensible nature of sexual violence and the criminal who committed such an act. We have a sexual assault epidemic here in Memphis, and Wendi wrote about it. From her piece on low-wage workers to the race card being played by the former CEO of Christ Community and ex-offenders facing barriers to employment – Wendi has remained steadfastly committed to confronting the challenging issues of living in a modern southern city through responsible journalism.
The ability to tease out race, sex and class issues – even with the constant vehement backlash of persons who disagree with her columns – is just the type of discussion that is critical to moving us forward as a city comprised of people from many backgrounds, beliefs and cultures. This type of journalism takes courage, fairness and cultural sensitivity – and Wendi Thomas delivers in spades. It is very important for your readers who are non-persons of color, male, politically conservative, privileged and religious to have her work as a reference to learn about the lived experiences of marginalized persons in this city. It is equally important that those of us who are people of color here in Shelby County have access to the type of journalism that reflects our desire to reconcile our cosmopolitan present along with the traditional values that continue to exist at our core.
If the priority of your newspaper is to focus on topics of importance to your readers, I suggest you rethink the reassignment of Ms. Thomas that, for me, reeks of demotion, sexism and racism. Hers is a voice, among others in this city, which is too easily demonized, objectified and ignored. Being relegated to writing about crime and justice is the job of a new recruit – not for the caliber of writer like Wendi C. Thomas. This decision, like Wendi’s voice, is critical in establishing this newspaper as a progressive, fair-minded bellwether in both Memphis and the entire South. For the benefit of all involved, please reconsider.