LAST WEEK’S cover image not only damaged Connect Savannah itself.
Much more importantly, it badly damaged the community we serve.
Racial inequity and injustice have a long history in Savannah, and certainly didn’t begin with our extremely misguided attempt to parody the iconic Norman Rockwell painting “Freedom From Want.”
The image depicted Mayor Edna Jackson as the matriarch serving turkey at Thanksgiving, in what many people saw as an extremely offensive light.
But that long history only makes our mistake that much more indefensible.
The cover image further divided an already-divided city at the worst possible time. It undermined our mission, and even our very name.
There are some who will never forgive us for it. There are others who agree the cover was a huge mistake, but don’t think all bridges have been burned.
Regardless, it’s our responsibility now to do the best we can do to mitigate the anger and outrage caused by the cover, and to do our best to reconcile with the community.
It’s the right thing, and the only thing, to do.
One of the definitions of institutional racism is that organizations composed of people who aren’t themselves individually racist can support racism indirectly.
No reasonable person who is personally acquainted with any staffer at Connect Savannah would label any of us individually as a racist.
No reasonable person familiar with our body of work would say we’ve been anything but sensitive and proactive in covering issues of racial and economic injustice and inequity—in ways that, before last week anyway, other local media frankly haven’t even come close to doing.
That said, we clearly, obviously, have a lot of work to do. That work has to begin now, and it must continue without end, open-ended and into perpetuity.
No window dressing. No expiration date.
We must as an institution not only work to fix the divide we have caused—clean up our own mess—but work with intentional effort toward breaking down institutional racism within our own walls.
Only then can we effectively do the same thing outside our walls, in the community we serve.
This is work that has to continue regardless of who is in charge, or who is working in what position.
This work will have to include much more input from persons and communities of color.
This work will have to include a much more serious effort at diversifying our staff.
This work will have to include other changes we haven’t even realized need to happen yet.
This work will require education.
We can do this and still fulfill our ongoing commitment to freedom of speech, to a free exchange of ideas, to being a community watchdog, and to speaking truth to power.
In the days following the controversy, a wise local community activist gave me some very pragmatic advice:
She said, “Jim, if Connect Savannah can manage to do this—if the newspaper can, as an institution, address these issues and be the change you want to see—you’ll already be doing more than just about any other institution in Savannah is doing.”
Easier said than done, to be sure. But a worthy goal moving forward, and we will try our best to make it happen.
Whether or not we succeed will be a judgment our readers will make for themselves.