My Unplanned 15 Minutes of Fame

“I saw you on the news last night.” I never thought I’d get approached with that conversation starter. I’m not a criminal, an embezzler, a politician, a Ponzi schemer or an arsonist. I’m a mother of five, a business owner, a community volunteer and a bit of an introvert. “Trouble” is not my middle name. Ironically, I’ve known for over a year that July 9-13 was going to be a sleepless roller coaster. That’s how long I’ve been planning an LDS Stake Girls Camp for nearly 400 attendees and leaders. I knew it would take all of my reserves to arrange for my family (including a newborn) at home while I wrangled with nature and adolescents. I didn’t realize mid-July is also when I would wrangle with bloggers, e-mails, TV appearance opportunities and personal attacks. The excitement actually started on Friday, July 6. I received a comment about how the headline of my recently published editor’s letter (headline has now been changed) in Utah Valley Magazine was insensitive. I immediately wrote back. We exchanged a few e-mails, which helped us understand each other’s intentions, experiences and points of view. Three days later, I was packing skit props, duct tape and water bottles when a reporter from called and wanted a statement. I was caught off guard but explained that the headline wasn’t intended to offend or to make a racial statement. A few minutes later I got a text from my husband saying KUTV wanted an interview about the headline. I called the reporter but didn’t reach her, so I called the producer. Someone answered but couldn’t see the producer at the moment and promised someone would call me back. Within an hour, I took a deep breath and headed up American Fork Canyon to setup camp — sans cell reception. When I headed back down at dusk to sleep before the early morning camp kickoff, I had missed two calls from the local CBS affiliate. I checked my e-mail and found interview requests from a different TV station and from the most circulated newspaper in Utah. I e-mailed back with a few thoughts and an explanation of my limited schedule for the week due to my girls camp commitments. It may have sounded like an excuse, but I could not be excused from my church responsibilities. However, I was also responsible for a headline that had become headline news. The headline and photo went viral during the week while I was leading hikers through a rainstorm and singing “Princess Pat” in an outdoor amphitheater. Each night I came home for 6-7 hours to feed my baby and to have my husband give me a brief update on the colorful responses our magazine (circulation 22,000) was receiving around the country. Now that camp is over (phew!) and I’m reunited with my laptop, I’ll answer the question asked by thousands (even hundreds of thousands) in various national forums and social platforms: How in the world did “Women of Color” become the headline for a photo (shown above) of white women dressed in color? (By the way, one of the women in our staff photo IS half-Hispanic — her dad grew up in Mexico City. This is not necessarily significant to me nor does it remotely make us traditional “women of color,” but I thought I’d mention it since many of the criticisms call us “as white as can be.”) Here goes … My headline-writing style includes taking idioms and cliches and turning them sideways or using rhyming words to twist the phrase. For example, the cover story last issue was titled “Wife in the Fast Lane” — it depicted the wife of BYU’s head football coach. The cover story of this current issue is titled “Alive and Clicking” — it features a well-known singer-songwriter who uses a clicker to count her positive thoughts and train herself to have more. For our “Best of Utah Valley” story earlier this year, my editor’s letter was labeled “And the best is history.” As you can see, my idiom dictionary and rhyming dictionary are often consulted while brainstorming. The genesis of the infamous headline — “Women of Color” — came when I was searching for idioms using the words “women,” “bright” and “color” to go with the staff photo showing our office females in bright outfits (we’ve worn black and khaki in past pics, so this was a welcome change). When my idiom research reminded me of the phrase “Women of Color,” I immediately selected it because it summarized the photo and article: the women on my staff dress colorfully and add variety and brightness to the magazine and to our office environment. I was fully aware that the phrase “women of color” normally refers to women of ethnic origin. Many have criticized me for being too naive to understand the phrase. Even though I’ve spent most of my life living in Utah and Idaho, I’ve visited 32 states and been around the block enough (via literature, media and education) to know the traditional use of that phrase. And the phrase itself is not derogatory. Perhaps that’s one point all of the commenters agreed on — it’s not that this phrase is off-limits. The hullabaloo erupted because “women of color” was not used in its traditional form. The article and headline were written in the space of about one hour the day before we went to print. I did not spend days and weeks writing what would be the most well-read piece of my journalistic career. This headline was one of 40 in this July/August issue, and Bennett Communications produces about 40 different magazine issues per year (Utah Valley Magazine, BusinessQ, Utah Valley Bride, Prosper and more). As a staff, we write more than 1,000 headlines annually, which means things happen quickly in our 12-person office. (Despite the high work load, we still strive for greatness — either our BusinessQ or Utah Valley Magazine has been named “No. 1 Magazine in Utah” for several years running by the Society of Professional Journalists.) We love what we do and strive to improve. Some of the comments have been helpful in that regard. So thank you. Others have brought up good questions, such as why there was no ethnicity in the photo. Should we go there? I absolutely agree that Utah’s demographics (of which our staff reflects) lack traditional “color.” Change won’t occur overnight, but our ethnic population (particularly Hispanic) is growing. I hope our staff can reflect that in the future. I, for one, will do a better job of seeking out more diversity on our staff. Although we have never discouraged diversity, we also haven’t specifically gone to Hispanic or African-American high school students, for example, and encouraged them to pursue our industry and our company in particular. It will take the collective efforts of government, business and citizens to create a more diverse population in Utah. Although I don’t know what it’s like to be black and I’m not a minority in my valley, I am a religious minority in the United States. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are headline news in 2012. The media have published a mix of accurate and inflammatory articles about what we believe. Having Mitt as a member has elevated the interest level and the attacks toward our church. So in a small way, I can understand minority groups feeling misunderstood and misrepresented by the media. I’ve tried to think through an equivalent headline about the minority group of which I’m a part. What if there were a headline reading “Latter-day Saints” with a photo of New Orleans football players? Or that same headline with a photo of another religion wherein the story talked about their “saintly ways” in these current (latter) days?  I might worry that people would be confused by the term “Latter-day Saints.” I might question whether the author knew the traditional meaning of the phrase. But I can honestly say if the article didn’t demean my own beliefs, I wouldn’t demean the author for using the phrase. I’m hoping readers can see that my recent article and photo weren’t intended to demean black women. If anything, we are saying we WANT to be women of color. Can we be part of your group? Can we sit at your lunch table? I’m not trying to make light of the ethnic experience — although I have to admit that when the comments and Google Alerts started coming in, I had flashes of Jay Leno or David Letterman showing the photo and the headline “Women of Color” on their late-night shows. Facial expression. Dramatic pause. Audience laughter. Toss the card. Game over. But the racial discussion that ensued from my headline is no laughing matter. For those who assume I’m throwing my head back cackling with delight, you’d be wrong. I’ve had my head in my hands and a lump in my throat as I’ve realized I’ve endangered the reputation of myself, my magazine and my staff by a headline that has been misconstrued to be a racial slur. I’m also extremely uncomfortable with the idea of making others uncomfortable. But here’s the thing. Although hundreds shared their opinions online or in an e-mail, I don’t believe one person clearly articulated WHY this headline was offensive. I’ve heard it was hurtful. I’ve heard it was insensitive. I’ve heard it was wrong. But I didn’t hear why. Although I used the phrase and photo to depict another definition of “color,” my article didn’t mention ethnicity nor mock the black woman’s experience. Please help me understand how this “set back civil rights two decades” and “personally attacks black women.” Although I regret the headline and by all means wouldn’t print it again, the resulting dialogue has been enlightening — and confusing. Is the goal to celebrate our differences or celebrate our unity? My favorite Martin Luther King quote is, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” This line leads me to believe that our goal is to celebrate unity and equality. If this is the case, wouldn’t it be appropriate to say that no matter the color of our skin, we should all strive to add “color” (meaning vibrancy and passion) to our shared world? It is complimentary to say about ourselves, “I don’t see color.” Therefore, it stands to reason that phrases or actions that bring races together and point out our similarities instead of our discriminated differences would be seen as acceptable. United we stand, right? In today’s digital environment, we all have our own press and are lucky enough to live in a country with a First Amendment. We are all entitled to our opinion and to the sharing of it. As I’ve read hundreds of opinions and comments (however painful), I recognize your rights and I am grateful we live in a land where opinions are not only permitted — they are encouraged. While I don’t agree with every opinion that has been shared, I would fight for your right to believe and say what you choose. I hope you will allow me the same privilege. Even though three words on page 10 of a small-town publication weren’t intended to start a racial discussion, this experience will brighten and enlighten my thinking for the rest of my career. I’m willing to learn. I am willing to listen. I am willing to move on.