An open letter to the Mountain Xpress regarding gender bias and racial bias

We are writing to draw attention to the blatant bias evident in the “Big Ideas” history of Asheville recently published by the Xpress [“Big Ideas and Their Impact on the Community,” Jan. 8 Xpress] (written by Jake Frankel and David Forbes).

The most egregious example of this bias is the “Big Ideas” timeline, which mentions 10 individual men by name and only one woman, and 10 individual white people by name and only one person of color. So for example, we see the names of Wally Bowen, Julian Price and Monroe Gilmour, but not those of Wilma Dykeman, Karen Cragnolin, Issac Dickson, Marjorie Lockwood, Emoke B’racz, Viola Spells, Lillian Exum Clement, Newton Shepherd, Irene Hendrick, Oralene Simmons, James and Barbara Ferguson, Al Whitesides, Annette Coleman, Leni Sitnik, Etta Whitner Patterson, Elizabeth Blackwell or Marvin Chambers.

In the Xpress’ timeline, “big ideas” credited to men are written with active verbs, and the men’s names are the subjects of the sentence (“Monroe Gilmour hatches,” “Julian Price launches,” “Wally Bowen starts,” “Oscar Wong opens”). In contrast, we see wording such as, “Desegregation of the city school system begins … ” (with no mention of the individual activists behind desegregation efforts in Asheville) and “11 key blocks of downtown are nearly destroyed … but key real estate is preserved,” (written in passive voice with no mention of the activists who fought to preserve downtown, many of whom were women).

The only women mentioned in the Xpress’ timeline are Jennifer Pickering and the Sisters of Mercy (no individual Sisters’ names mentioned). Zero women of color and zero African-American men are named. Did women and African
Americans really contribute so few “big ideas” to shape our community? Of course not.

In the article that follows the timeline, “What Was the Big Idea?” also by Frankel and Forbes, 28 local men are mentioned by name in bold type, only one of whom is not white. Ten local women are mentioned by name in bold type — nine white women and former Mayor Terry Bellamy. This makes the gender ratio more than 2:1 in favor of men and the ratio of white people to people of color 18:1.

We know that Asheville’s rich history was shaped by many big ideas, ideas that came from communities and people as diverse as our city is today. We are dismayed to see the Xpress present such a skewed, biased view of the history of our community — a version of history that excludes women and people of color.

In the interest of shining a light on this inaccurate historical record and uplifting and honoring the leaders who were omitted from the Xpress article, we invite community members to contribute names and “big ideas” important in the history of Asheville that were ignored by the Xpress. By compiling a more inclusive list of people and ideas that shaped our
community, we look forward to presenting a more accurate and less biased history of our community.

— Beth Trigg
Jodi Rhoden
Amanda Rodriguez
Byron Ballard
Rep. Susan Fisher
Heather Rayburn
Carolyn Mary Kemmett-Comeau
Debi Miles
Sarah Nuñez
Sara Legatski

Asheville

To view the full list of signers and to contribute more “big ideas” to the conversation, visit the group’s Facebook page at facebook.com/openlettertoxpress or website at openlettertomtnxpress.wordpress.com.

Xpress responds: Thank you all for pointing out our bias and holding us to a higher standard. We knew we’d taken on a daunting challenge in attempting to provide highlights of the area’s big ideas. In our zeal and facing a deadline, our limited perspectives showed through as an unintended bias. But thanks to the push-back from a great community, we have an opportunity for ongoing dialogue. With input from you, dear readers, we propose to revise our Big Ideas timeline to better reflect the breadth and diversity of contributors to the area’s vibrancy.

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One thought on “An open letter to the Mountain Xpress regarding gender bias and racial bias

  1. Keith

    Don’t forget Hazel Fobes, Mrs. Willie Ford-Hennessee, Mrs. Maggie Jones, James Vester Miller, E. W. Pearson, Lucy S. Herring, Robert Logan, etc. etc.

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