Why The Washington Post’s ‘White, and in the minority’ Story Is So Damn Dangerous

Aug 1, 2018
4:54 pm

Screen grab from The Washington Post

On Monday, The Washington Post published a story by Terrence McCoy called “White, and in the minority.” Under the headline, it also published this: “She speaks English. Her co-workers don’t. Inside a rural chicken plant, whites struggle to fit in.”

Like a John Hughes teen angst film gone haywire with deeply-rooted xenophobia, McCoy’s piece proceeded to lament the misfortunes of 20-year-old Heaven Engle and her 25-year-old boyfriend, Venson Heim, who both “struggle” to adapt to a Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania, chicken plant that employs mostly Dominican and Puerto Rican workers.

McCoy makes us all want to take out the tissues and cry for our two white tragic heroes (seriously, that’s how it reads), but it’s McCoy’s ridiculous depictions of the “foreign” Latino workers (who lack any humanity in any part of the piece) that stand out, while Engle and Heim (even with their racism) come across as these misunderstood figures who need sympathy.

Fuck sympathy, especially when, in his attempt to ask the serious question of what a changing demographic looks like in the U.S., McCoy does nothing to humanize anyone else in his story except for Engle and Heim. In fact, McCoy does a really fantastic job in presenting the Latino workers in the story as dangerous, distant, cliquey and yes, threatening.

Four minutes left: Heaven, looking at the floor, heard laughter and jokes exchanged in the rapid Spanish of the Dominican Republic.

Heaven pressed closer and closer to the wall in a hallway that was now filled with workers, all Latino.

Either she’d find a way to fit in, or she’d find a way to get out.

Alone when she once went to the break room, saw the tables filled with people speaking Spanish, and swore that she’d never be back. And now when another plant worker, Denisse Salvador, a demure 25-year-old from the Dominican Republic, came to collect 40 chicken breasts that Heaven had placed into a bucket, she felt alone again. Months before, Salvador had marshaled all of her English to ask Heaven her name, and for a moment Heaven had felt less isolated, as though maybe that could be the beginning of a friendship, but that had been the extent of the conversation, and now neither said anything as Salvador collected the chicken breasts and left.

Over the past two decades, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans had surged into nearby Lebanon city, either from New York or the Caribbean, attracted by cheap housing, an established Latino community, and food-processing plants that had become increasingly, if not mostly, staffed by Latinos, because, as one former employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity put it, “White people didn’t want to work in the stinky chicken shop.”

Over the past two decades, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans had surged into nearby Lebanon city, either from New York or the Caribbean, attracted by cheap housing, an established Latino community, and food-processing plants that had become increasingly, if not mostly, staffed by Latinos, because, as one former employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity put it, “White people didn’t want to work in the stinky chicken shop.” 

As the meeting went on —presenters at first switching between Spanish and English, but increasingly talking only in Spanish— she became more and more irritated. When one worker joked that his Timberland boots were probably slip-resistant, and everyone laughed, she didn’t understand what was happening. Later, when another employee called the boots pictured in the handout ugly, and people chuckled again, she crossed her arms. One of the presenters tried to keep up, translating all that he could, looking at Heaven when he did, but it was no use. He missed some things, or got the words wrong.

Speaking Spanish wouldn’t just be beneficial, but essential, and people like him would never be able to recover from what they didn’t know. “Screwed for life,” he said.

They wanted help only from Juan Leon, the shift’s lone Latino mechanic, a Puerto Rican transplant whom Venson genuinely liked and appreciated, but who didn’t know those machines. Venson did. So why didn’t they ask him for help? Why did they want solely another Latino? How did it get to be this way?

These examples (and others) only feed into the white fear. Did McCoy even make the effort as a reporter to actually profile the Latino workers at the plant? All we see as readers is how two white people feel uncomfortable. But do we hear the stories of why Latino families moved to this part of Pennsylvania? Or how, in you really want to get into it, Dominicans and Puerto Ricans have been a fabric of the Northeast working class for decades? In McCoy’s world, is Spanish “not good enough” for him? Are the other people in the plant not worthy of such a long-form narrative?

This type of “reporting” does little to actually understand who are the Latino faces at the chicken plants. Instead, McCoy views them —whether consciously or unconsciously— the same way as Engle and Heim. The “foreigners.” The “un-American” ones. No wonder Trump has such appeal. We as a country get to hear more whining from white voices than the stories of Latino voices who in the end, would school reporters like McCoy about nuance and reality. For example, we are pretty sure that if they were interviewed for this piece, they would have told McCoy their experiences of how they have had to navigate through white-majority spaces for years. Years.

And then you wonder why Americans view Latinos as criminals, gang-bangers and “illegals” who can’t speak English. Even though there is data that clearly refutes this, White Privilege Media doesn’t care nor does it want to care.

The Washington Post can speak all it wants about how it pushes for “diversity” in media. When it allows this much prominence and copy to white fear, it clearly expresses what side it is taking—the one that is deeply afraid of a browner America.

So much easier to perpetuate the stereotypes instead of challenging them.

That is just lazy ass reporting and lazy ass editing.

The Washington Post and McCoy need to apologize and do it now. They need to actually understand to the serious problems in this piece. And they need to listen.

From the looks of it, McCoy so far doesn’t even understand why his piece was so problematic in the first place, as these Tuesday tweets show:

We’ll let our founder try to educate McCoy:

Here’s hoping a real discussion about this happens because in the end, the real victims are not Heaven Engle and Venson Heim. It’s the Latino families who don’t get the opportunities to fight back and instead, feel the violent brunt of fear and racism, from chicken plants to newspapers to zero tolerance policies.

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