Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Muwakkil speaks on race, election

The Hosokawa lecture series has brought many renowned journalists to Whitman, and this year’s speaker was no exception. Salim Muwakkil, senior editor of the alternative magazine In These Times, Chicago Tribune columnist, radio talk show host and professor of urban studies captivated an overflowing crowd at the Reid Ballroom on Monday, March 24.

Muwakkil began his journalistic career at the Associated Press and has since become one of the nation’s leading voices on issues of race and media relations. His lecture, entitled “Presidential Politics: Race, Gender and the Media Frame,” offered students a timely analysis of the media’s role in the upcoming presidential elections.

The Hosokawa awards were established nine years ago by David Hosokawa in honor of his father, Whitman alumnus Robert R. Hosokawa. After graduating from Whitman in 1940, the latter was forced into an internment camp with his family, then released after a former professor found him a job at a newspaper in Missouri. Robert R. Hosokawa went on to build a successful career as a journalist.

“Every Hosokawa speaker brings something special,” said Direction of Communications Ruth Wardwell in an e-mail. “Mr. Muwakkil was extraordinarily dynamic, which is why his journalism career includes being a radio talk show host. That he represented alternative media also brought something special.”

Prior to his lecture, Muwakkil participated in Professor Julie Charlip’s alternative voices class and led a workshop with the staff of the Pioneer, who had the opportunity to ask questions of the veteran journalist.

“To me, the most important part [of the Hosokawa lecture] is the learning and, hopefully, the inspiration that takes place for students, both in terms of what the speaker can offer on the career and craft of journalism as well as his/her perspectives on the media industry,” said Wardwell.

In her introduction to Muwakkil’s speech, Pioneer Editor-in-Chief Sophie Johnson told the crowd, “It’s not every day you meet someone who has been involved with both the Black Panther party and the Nation of Islam; who has been to Africa with Louis Farrakhan himself; who has written for The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, The Progressive, The Utne Reader, just to name a few and who has driven around the city of Chicago with Michael Moore.”

Johnson met Muwakkil during her semester long Urban Studies program in Chicago, where she attended Muwakkil’s class. According to Wardwell, Johnson was instrumental in bringing Muwakkil to campus.

“Sophie was the driving force. Last year she provided a list of suggested speakers. Salim was her first choice, so I researched him a bit and pursued him first,” said Wardwell.

In her opening remarks, Johnson described Muwakkil as one of her biggest intellectual influences. Muwakkil commended Johnson for the active role she played in his class.

“I’m sure most instructors in here understand how important it is to have intellectually curious students,” he said. “They’re the ones who really make the course.”

In addition Muwakkil’s tie with Johnson, Wardwell said that Muwakkil was sought out as a speaker because of his perspective on the elections.

“I agreed with Sophie’s recommendation based in large part on this being a presidential election year and Salim’s focus on media, race and politics,” she said. “I felt bad that the room ended up being packed so tightly, but I guess that was a good problem to have.”

Muwakkil certainly held the room’s attention. His lecture began powerfully with his views on the media’s recent censure of Democratic candidate Barack Obama, particularly in regard to themes raised by his pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, one of whose sermons contained the sound bite, “God damn America!” that has recently been flooding the news airways.

“I had no idea that these particular issues would acquire such a prominent place in the public square. I, like Barack Obama, should have known better. How could I have believed that a nation forged in white supremacy and unrestrained patriarchy would allow a presidential campaign, a campaign featuring an African-American man and a woman to happen without some major eruptions?”

“He used the example of Reverend Wright’s sermon to show how the media will spin a story any way they like,” said first-year Molly Knell, who attended the lecture. Knell described Muwakkil as “a completely engaging and charismatic speaker whose ideas, while complex, were very easy to understand.”

Muwakkil also touched on his own personal experiences with the civil rights movement, recalling how he attended the March on Washington in 1963 with the hopes of meeting co-eds, and “bumped into Martin Luther King.” He extended the topic of race to include current African-American incarceration rates, in response to which he cited society’s assumptions about the link between “melanin and criminality.”

“I was very gratified with the amount of interest the lecture generated,” said Muwakkil in an e-mail. “It indicated a level of civil engagement that is encouraging and rare. I hope students got some food for thought about the need for more contextual discussions of racial issues, the need to develop media models less dependent on market logic and the need to address the nation’s racially disparate incarceration epidemic.”

Knell said, “Talking to friends afterwards, we agreed that his speech was incredibly valuable for putting the racial questions into a context we could understand…It can be difficult to contextualize race when there is so much tension surrounding it. You don’t want to ignore it, but people also worry about being politically correct when bringing it up. Muwakkil presented an intelligent and logical way to address race that made us feel a lot more comfortable discussing it.”

Muwakkil praised the student body for its receptiveness.

“I greatly enjoyed my visit to Whitman and was impressed by an academic atmosphere suffused with respect for critical thinking.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Whitman Wire Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *