MICROTONES by Scott Gordon, editor
Earlier this week we ran a piece by Reid Kurkerewicz about Madison's annual Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival. In reporting on the long-running pro-legalization protest and sorting out his own mixed feelings about it, Reid discussed how Harvest Fest's largely white crowd smokes marijuana openly, with impunity, in full view of the cops, against the backdrop of a criminal justice apparatus that disproportionately prosecutes people of color for drug crimes. I stand by it as a fair and thoughtful piece, but I've had some feedback about its approach that Reid and I agree is fair.
Here's how one friend of mine put it: "While I liked the piece on Harvest Fest, it probably would've been good to interview some of the POC participating in the event. It unnerves me when white writers write about the racial dynamics of an event on BEHALF of POCs, without taking the time to engage with any of the POCs IN the event...I think the dynamic the writer pointed out is fair, but I also think it erases POCs who participate in events like that."
There's really no appropriate response to a criticism like this other than "oh dang, yeah...you're totally right." This is something Tone Madison, and especially I, must own as a publication overwhelmingly operated and written by white people. The point my friend brought up after the piece was published is something I should have thought seriously about while editing the piece. I think Reid, like all our writers, is conscientious about where he's coming from and how issues of race and privilege and representation impact his work. But this particular facet of the story is a textbook example of why media organizations need to have more voices in the room when decisions about stories are made. To me it doesn't make Reid's work any less valuable, but when we get thoughtful criticism about our work I like to try and be open about it.
We've made a deliberate effort to recruit a more diverse group of contributors (and not just through passive means like our info page for prospective contributors, but it still hasn't been enough), cover the work of artists from marginalized backgrounds, and spotlight the inequities that impact marginalized communities in Madison. I'm often reminded that we're far from where we need to be on all those fronts, and we'll keep pushing.