Explaining President Obama’s Diversity References To This Diversity Teacher

President Obama’s second inaugural address sent many like me looking for a better understanding of why he made mention of Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall. I have my answer and expect more from two journalism leaders Wednesday at University of Alabama.

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We’ve just held a national celebration of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and watched the inauguration of the nation’s first biracial president to a second term.

Could there be any bigger diversity stories to top these?

Well, yes,  President Obama’s references to Stonewall and Seneca Falls in his inaugural address sent me looking for answers.

” We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are created equal –- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall,” Obama said.

So, what was he talking about?     I had heard of Stonewall and it’s connection to the gay rights movement.  But, that’s about all I knew until now.

Seneca Falls, New York was the site of  what’s considered the first women’s rights convention in 1848.

At least one Michigan Ph.D. candidate provided some context for Obama’s references.  Austin McCoy suggested the references were a clear sign of what some have called “identify politics,” often associated with those who lean liberal or left of center.

“Obama’s remarks represent a significant moment for people of color, women, and gays and lesbians” McCoy wrote in a post today.  “They are a reflection of these left-oriented movements’ enduring legacy and power.”

Thanks to National Public Radio’s Liz Halloran, I now have a better understanding of the story behind these places, especially Stonewall Inn, a bar in New York City.

Stonewall Inn

Mission for More– Wednesday with NLGJA Executive Director

How appropriate that as I am learning more about the president’s speech, I will have the executive director of National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association along with the Asian American Journalists Association in my Communication and Diversity class on Wednesday.

I look forward to hearing what they have to say about the speech.

No Better Lesson
But this whole experience perfectly illustrates the power of journalists and the media to expand our scope of understanding about issues of diversity and difference.

Monday here in Tuscaloosa, I was learning about the civil rights movement in Tuscaloosa involving mostly African Americans.

Today and tomorrow, I’ll be hearing about a movement for human rights for those who are in the lesbian and gay community.

So my own horizons have been expanded so that I can pass it along to the students in my class.    It’s what makes teaching this subject such a joy!

Author: George Daniels

George L. Daniels is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama. After spending eight years in the local television newsroom working as a producer at stations in Richmond, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia, Daniels moved from the newsroom to the classroom. He’s conducted research on diversity issues in the media workplace and change in the television newsroom as well as media convergence. Before going to work in television news, Daniels worked briefly as a freelance writer for The Richmond Free Press in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

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