Ed letter collage

For contributing writers Katelynn McIlwain, Olivia Evans and Angelina Edwards, lived experiences shape worldview. 

By Sarah Everett

Editor in chief

Here at Vox, we’re big fans of the AP Style Guide (or at least this EIC is). It’s a go-to for consistent spelling, preferred terms and capitalization. Vox also has an in-house style guide for things specific to Columbia. For example, Booche’s, despite its inconsistent storefront windows, we spell with an apostrophe. On June 17, we updated our style guide to capitalize Black. AP did the same two days later.

This is a change many news organizations already have made, though, to be frank, it is a change that is past due. It recognizes the word’s power and importance as an ethnic description akin to Hispanic or African-American.

Sometimes, when I think about the style guide, I think of this funny adage from Saturday Night Live writer Julio Torres: “A sentence is letters performing.” He uses it as a justification for typos, but it does speak to the power of words on a printed page, and of the way we write as journalists.

From covering COVID-19 to Black Lives Matter, editing Vox has been very hard very often. It is such an essential, yet challenging time for journalism. I hope readers know how much time my colleagues and I have spent thinking about representative coverage, about health and safety risks, about fact checking, about the power of words on a page, about terms such as “killing,” “murder,” “racist” and “racially charged.” I hope readers know that we can sense the palpable, pivotal energy of this time, and that we believe Black lives, voices, and minds matter. They more than matter. They teach, they inspire, and they change the world.

I am very thankful, this summer in particular, for our writers of color who bring a perspective that I cannot. This month, I share my editor’s letter space with them.

By Angelina Edwards

Contributing writer

Throughout grade school and middle school, I was often reminded of the color of my skin. Friends would drift off to be with girls who looked like them, classmates would make comments about my “poofy” natural hair, no one shared my anger over Michael Brown’s death. When I was about 16, my dad got pulled over for expired tags. I was in the passenger seat, phone in hand, ready to turn on my camera if the situation escalated. Thankfully, it didn’t.

What white people fail to realize is that this is what my life looks like as a Black person. Black people didn’t have the privilege of waiting until George Floyd. We’ve been mad for a while. I grew up surrounded by white classmates who often singled me out and made me feel different, and now I have to watch those same classmates post on their Instagram stories about how much they’re doing for the movement.

Yes, of course, people can change. I recognize that. I appreciate the sentiment, but white people need to realize that we’re tired. The week that George Floyd died, I felt heavy. I found it hard to focus on my job and my other endeavors. My heart was aching.

There’s no perfect way to address racism, but white people need to understand that Black people have been in this fight for a long time, and we’ll continue to be in this fight for the rest of our lives. I’m asking white people to help by self-evaluating, self-educating and making sure they’re in it for the long haul, too.

By Olivia Evans

Contributing writer

As 2020 continues, I find myself with more fear in my heart than usual. This fear stems from the ongoing virus in our nation, and I’m not talking about COVID-19. I’m talking about racism. For a large part of my life, I’ve lived on the edge, wondering how my skin was inherently a threat. My parents trained me on how to survive. Read that again: I was trained to survive.

Growing up Black in America, I wasn’t afforded the luxury to simply be my most authentic self. My most authentic self would be seen as a threat, as unprofessional or as ghetto. While I’ve come to find my own identity despite this, it was challenging.

I’ve been nothing but a model citizen my whole life, as have many of you. I’ve been on the honor roll and dean’s list every semester; I’ve never gotten a ticket; I’ve never missed a payment on a credit card; I’ve never done anything that makes me innately more criminal than you…with the exception of being Black.

As I continue to live each day of my life with the goal to simply survive, I plead with you to see me. I plead with you to hear me. I plead with you to value me. I plead with you to not fear me. I plead with you to treat me as you want to be treated. I plead with you to remember that I am human, too.

I’ll continue to plead with you until I can’t breathe.

By Katelynn McIlwain

Contributing writer

If there’s anything this past month has shown me, it’s that deciding to join the Black Lives Matter movement is not about politics or race, but instead it’s about a willingness to listen and empathize for a hurting voice. It’s making a decision to wear the lens of a Black person for long enough to not only understand the pain, but to do something about it.

As a journalist, I’ve committed myself to a career of sharing people’s experiences with others and, in some cases, to give hurting voices a platform. Sometimes, people don’t understand the hurt until there are enough reports of racism that have happened just a few blocks away. That makes it personal. That invites a choice to either turn a blind eye or to make a difference.

So as a writer, I’ve made it a goal to share those voices as much as I can — and not just the ones who are hurting. In my recent stories, I’ve intentionally sought out the voices of women and people of color, inviting them to share their pain but also to share their victories and dreams. I want it to become normal to hear from groups who typically have been the afterthought. I want to amplify these voices, so we don’t have to wait until the next George Floyd before we start listening, so our ears are already tuned in, and so that our hearts are already caring. So that when asked if Black lives matter, there is no more hesitation but a resounding “yes.”

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