Editorials, Opinions

Goodbye for now, I hope I left seeds for change

Dear Daily Forty-Niner,

When I began as the assistant opinions editor at the Daily Forty-Niner, I started a ruckus. I came out swinging with accusations that the paper had failed its communities of colors and had a history of harm.

I pointed to a poorly handled interaction with a student who had brought stories of racial discrimination on campus and then an article about a Long Beach State alumna who had gone on from her softball career to a career at LAPD during the week of the Kenosha unrest.

But I stayed. I knew that I wanted to be a part of the change that was necessary here at the paper. I wanted to see how I could use the connections and community I had built on campus over the past two years to elevate the opinions section with my editor, Kelsey Brown.

And since that time, we have. I’ve edited opinions in a wide range politically and geographically. I helped to edit a student’s research paper and in exchange, he wrote me an opinion about the issues of diversity in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. I bartered, cajoled, begged friends and acquaintances to expand the breadth of our section by writing to us. I wrote many pieces on the intersection of race and politics myself. I was present for those continued discussions in our reading channel in our Slack where we examined how issues of race are covered in the news.

I thought that I had alienated myself in that first week by speaking up, and in my mind, my rhetoric had burnt bridges, but in the past semester, people continued to have conversations with me. We did not cancel each other. We were there for each other’s growth. I grew to have genuine respect and admiration for everyone at the paper, especially since most of us were underpaid, in my case not paid at all, full-time students and trying our best to cover the 24-hour news cycle.

It seems almost fitting, a sort of dramatic arc, that I’m leaving my position just as these discussions of inclusivity and journalistic integrity and bias are at a pinnacle again at the paper. The recent publication of Jose Espinoza’s letter to the editor caused a much larger public uproar on social media, especially Instagram. Espinoza has had a history of confrontation on our campus including the time anti-abortionists were on campus comparing aborted fetuses to huge signs depicting images of the Holocaust and lynchings of Black people. I recall an afternoon when he was shouting religious rhetoric outside the library, something along the lines of “gays are going to hell.” At that moment jokingly I shouted back, “I am a gay.”

So I was shocked by the state in which Espinoza’s letter had been published, as was my section editor who hadn’t known it was published. We spent a weekend, exhausted, mulling over the possibilities of trying to minimize the damage that had been done and crafting a second apology letter to try and explain what had happened to our angry readers.

We also felt indignant that we had sustained these conversations with the paper for over a semester and here we were, one step forward two steps back. Our reputation as a section, and most importantly as a paper, tarnished. In a meeting, I explicitly stated if I wasn’t going to be paid for six to ten hours of editing and writing I at least wanted to retain some pride over the quality of work we produced.

The fault in Espinoza’s letter was not in the fact that it was a letter of support for former president Donald J. Trump, but in the false claims that Black Lives Matter protestors were the ones to blame for the violence and unrest in America rather than Trump’s incendiary tweets. It is also important to note that letters to the editor are opinions of the writer and not of the paper.

However, in publishing the letter in its unaltered form, the chance for a more nuanced and educational discussion was lost. The letter degraded our social media and online platform to an unfiltered Reddit page. Naysayers in the comment section exploded calling the post irresponsible and compared it to the works of Hitler. Some of the criticism was well deserved but I was also shocked by the meanness in which students and our community lashed out against another student of color who was disabled and went as far as to appropriate trauma from the Jewish community as a comparison. Jose Espinoza was just as guilty of this when those depictions of the Holocaust were displayed on upper campus on Yom Kippur and many were rightfully enraged.

I’m leaving now because of a paid editing opportunity, not because of the drama or the outrage directed at the opinions section. I’m just tired of doing unpaid labor.

And in part, much of this has been unpaid emotional labor—having to explain and break down situations to educate folks on the harm that each mistake had on our publication and community. It has been undeniably exhausting.

But in this process of patience and persistence, choosing to stay where I was uncomfortable, and trying to shift work culture, I’ve been reminded of where I began entering college and how much I’ve grown in just the past two years.

I’ve said some terrible things to friends ignorantly. I had a high school blog where I posted some very sappy emotional poems and also content I’m deeply ashamed of. These are all things where I deserve to be “canceled” or maybe even removed from the discourse of social justice and politics.

I had to confront many of my shortcomings and failures even as a self-identified queer person of color. None of us are exempt. We have all done terrible things. We have all done wonderful things. And it has always been my hope that we hold faith in each other as mutable beings who are open to change, and that we are not judged by our worst or our best moments. Each of us, though, needs to be responsible for our personal work and be invested in our self-transformation.

And I think we have to draw a line somewhere in the sand, where each of us individually needs to set boundaries for when “enough is enough” and someone’s behavior is irredeemable. For our readers, I can’t decide that for you. Perhaps this mistake on our part was a confirmation of what you already knew about the paper or this was the last straw. I can’t fault you for feeling that way.

For better or worse, I’m an optimist at heart. Being someone who has seen the inner workings of discussions and conversations, I’m choosing to believe I’ve planted the seeds for change. Our mission statement is undergoing a process of revision, I’ve continued to push the publication to change its racist name, other people besides myself have begun to speak up during meetings when they feel uncomfortable. Things take time, but I think I’ve made my message clear.

Whiteness as a construct for unbiased news has been the standard in the industry for a long time. I think if I had not had my writing roots in the activism and community work of poets in Los Angeles I too would have subscribed to these unwritten rules. I operated from a unique standpoint as an editor that I wasn’t a journalism or public relations major, and that I wrote with a poet’s heart.

I’ve continually tried to bring a fresh perspective to the paper and will continue to collaborate and work towards righting a better course. But my time in an official capacity as the assistant opinions editor is over. For now.

And to our readers. I hope that you stay with our paper, even as we are experiencing these growing pains. That you recognize our potential for change and our passion to cover the stories that matter to Long Beach State Students. At the end of the day, we hunger to equip you with the information that you need to navigate student life and politics even more so now in the face of a pandemic and tribulations of political violence and partisanship. I also encourage you to stay vigilant and to hold the paper accountable to report on the stories that matter especially to marginalized communities on campus.

To the paper, please continue to have these conversations. They are necessary, they are important, they are part of the national discussion that is happening in newsrooms all over the country. We are better for re-evaluating our institutions and looking towards new ways in which we can better represent the communities we serve.

This is your assistant opinions editor signing off and wishing you all the best in your future endeavors.


Jireh Deng

One Comment

  1. Avatar

    Felt that “I’m tired of doing unpaid labor” so hard. It’s messed up to have funds and not prioritize compensating everyone first.

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