Dear Sheryl Sandberg,
You advise women to lean in and speak up. I’m taking your advice.
I can’t tell you how disappointed I was in the Father’s Day feature on which your Lean In Foundation collaborated with Time magazine. Not one African-American father appears on the Time website. I know it shouldn’t have shocked me.
Content audits, such as one by The Opportunity Agenda, tell us that even in the age of President Obama, the media continue to pigeonhole black men, consigning them to coverage about crime, sports and entertainment, out of proportion with their actual involvement. Equally important, the media rarely show black men in all of their humanity as doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, politicians, and yes, fathers.
Sadly, this feature is a stark example of the gap between coverage and reality, and not just because it ignores black fathers. There were also no Asian-American or Native American fathers in Time. I note that the magazine did a good job of presenting a cross section of white and Latino fathers.
Unfortunately, the other dads of color— one black and the other Asian-American — are relegated to your foundation’s website.
The problem with portraying such a narrow slice of fatherhood is threefold.
My first reaction on reading the list of fathers was, “Oh, no.” This is why I don’t read Time very often. It’s not that I don’t like Time; it’s just that it’s rarely relevant to my life. In today’s world, I don’t think any publication wants to so visually remind potential readers why they don’t read it.
I wasn’t alone. A quick look at the comments section finds others also clearly disappointed.
A commenter identifying herself as Claire Rodman wrote:
“TIME, it’s been said, but it’s worth saying again: There are plenty of black dads with daughters, and famous ones to boot: Mr. Poitier, Mr. Cosby, Denzel Washington, etc. Did you think we were all raised by single mothers? A lost opportunity, and likely some lost subscribers/online readers.”
The second problem is inaccuracy. As Rodman and other commenters noted, there are plenty of prominent African-American fathers. The same is true of Asian-American and Native American men with daughters. Yo-Yo Ma and Ben Nighthorse Campbell, the Senate’s first Native American, come to mind. Not including the wide range of fathers in this country perpetuates false stereotypes and gives readers a misleading sense of how their neighbors live and interact with family.
That brings us to the third reason. We’re in the business of giving the public credible, reliable information. A feature suggesting that only some men participate in raising daughters fails to meet our ethical and moral standards.
For those who question the necessity of diversity, this should be a reminder that having people with different perspectives in the room can help us see what we are missing. In 2011, Richard Prince, a columnist for the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, noted that Time magazine was losing its only black correspondent.
That loss increased the chance that no one at Time would flag the omissions. All of us need someone to prod us because it is so easy for us to fall in with people who reinforce our world view. It’s called homophily, otherwise known as “birds of a feather” or “love of the same.” I work in diversity every day and still find that I must push myself not to make that same mistake. Nevertheless, I sometimes do.
I have also developed a diverse network of people willing to call me on mistakes so I can fix them. That’s really why I’m writing to you. The beauty of online features means that they can easily and quickly be fixed.
Sheryl, it’s not too late to remedy this by reminding African-American, Asian-American and Native American girls that they, too, have fathers who love them and are worth noting.