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F I V E Private Dilemmas, Public Strife One ever feels his twoness—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. —W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903 Dorothy Gaiter was at her desk in the Miami Herald newsroom, reading , as she did each week, the city’s black weekly newspaper when she spotted her name in a column. The director of the Urban League of Greater Miami wrote in his weekly Miami Times column that he had created the “Nigger of the Year Award” and that Gaiter was one of his five nominees. Gaiter, a columnist and member of the Herald’s editorial board, was stunned. The nomination stemmed from a column she had written criticizing City Commissioner Miller Dawkins, the city’s lone black on the city commission who was seeking reelection. In the column dated September 4, 1993, Gaiter had quoted T. Willard Fair, long a prominent fixture in Miami’s black community, saying that Dawkins’s seat was a “black seat” and that the Miami electorate “has always played fair in assisting us in retaining our seat.” Gaiter pointed out that since blacks comprised only a quarter of Miami’s population, they needed to build bridges with whites and Hispanics . But, she said, “the words ‘playing fair’ and ‘giving us victory’ convey a disturbing sense of dependency. They imply a sense of selflessness by Hispanics and ‘Anglos’ to vote with us, to do us a favor. While that selflessness may be a necessary component in community building,| 136 | it cannot be expected always to carry the day for a black candidate. I’m not sure that it should.” Gaiter noted that Dawkins had made it difficult to win white or Hispanic support, and reminded readers that he had refused to allow a white representative of the NAACP to address the city commission, insisting on a black member. She noted that he had also threatened to burn down a Hispanic-run AIDS referral center planned for a black neighborhood. “And how about the time that he traded his vote for better Orange Bowl seats? Will performances like these hurt him? Probably, particularly because they can’t be balanced against a record of good or strong leadership.” In nominating Gaiter for his dubious award, Fair said that Gaiter had acted against the interests of Miami’s black community by publicly criticizing the commission’s lone black incumbent. Over the weeks to come, Gaiter was, like the other four nominees, skewered in a series of devastating profiles in the Miami Times. For Gaiter, the attention the award generated was brutally humiliating. “I would run into well-respected black people in the supermarket and they would say, ‘We’re just so sorry about what happened,’” she said. Finally , after weeks of public ridicule, a reporter from Emerge, a national news magazine, called to inform her that she had indeed been named “Nigger of the Year.” “It was a really ugly thing,” Gaiter recalled. “What really hurt me, and it was painful, was I was disappointed in all of the good people who were whispering what a shame it was instead of speaking out against it. But you get tough.”1 Gaiter’s experience is not an uncommon one for black journalists in the mainstream media who write critically of black people. Rather, the ostracizing of black journalists by prominent members of their own race is an unavoidable consequence of working in the mainstream news media, which African Americans have historically viewed as tools of oppression and degradation. The latitude given blacks who write in the black press—which has resulted in a large body of critical writing on blacks by such luminaries as W. E. B. Du Bois—is not automatically accorded even to crusading blacks in the mainstream media. Their motives and loyalties are immediately suspect given their ties to an institution that has historically denigrated them. Private Dilemmas, Public Strife| 137 | Had Gaiter written her column in a black newspaper, it would not have been viewed as airing dirty laundry, a touchy affair for blacks long sensitive to exposing aspects of their lives that may provoke harsh condemnation from a society that is already insensitive to their plight. Emerge, a monthly news magazine, regularly publishes critical pieces on black public figures. But Gaiter’s remarks about blacks in the Miami Herald...


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MARC Record
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