Students and community members organize to change Boise Weekly’s words “gray-area racism”

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Dozens of students and community members gathered for a stand-in demonstration outside Boise Weekly’s downtown offices on Dec. 17 after an article published on Dec. 4 used the words “gray-area racism.” 

To Austin Foudy, a senior English major, and many other readers who read the original version, the words “gray-area racism” suggested that some acts of racism are acceptable. Foudy then raised his concerns with the editors of Boise Weekly, which is a subsidiary of Idaho Press, on social media, encouraging other Boiseans to do the same. 

Unsatisfied by their original responses, Foudy continued to question the editors and organized the stand-in demonstration.

“Upon reading this article, I questioned Boise Weekly staff on their use of ‘gray-area racism,’ to which their editors’ and publisher’s responses were condescending and demeaning, dismissive of its problematic nature,” Foudy said to demonstrators. “After continual and persistent attempts to engage Boise Weekly in dialogue to seek understanding, they subsequently and without formal acknowledgment, changed the phrasing in their online version of the publication to read: ‘covert racism’ on Dec. 6.”

Boise Weekly has long been a platform for Boise culture, reporting on the events, places and people that make the city unique. The disputed article, “Behind the Pine and Into The Syndicate,” about a group chat used by local bartenders to communicate about potentially disruptive customers, used the words “gray-area racism” to describe racist behavior that might not result in a customer being removed. 

Until the day before the stand-in, the editors did not offer an apology.

Boise Weekly editor Harrison Berry wrote a letter from the editor on Dec. 16 that summarized the events and outcry since the article’s publication. Its original apology did not satisfy the full accountability that Foudy and other community members were seeking.

“The apology is still a ‘sorry-not-sorry,” Foudy wrote on Instagram following the original version of the letter. “Their response, to me, does not seem genuine and an [sic]is an attempt to save face.”

On Dec. 18, the day after the stand-in, Berry updated the letter from the editor, which was printed the same day. 

To the organizers, the changes Berry made were sufficient in recognizing the issue, with the promise to continue seeking education.

“It is with those issues in mind that I offer an apology and a fresh commitment,” Berry wrote. “We erred in printing words that harmed our readers, and again for neglecting to be transparent in the face of public outcry.”

Foudy had been vocal on social media and local press, interviewing on the “I Doubt It with Dollemore” podcast and encouraging social media users to continue drawing attention to the language and Boise Weekly’s response.

Dora Ramirez is an English and ethnic literature professor at Boise State, and attended the stand-in. In Boise, Ramirez said, Boise Weekly has an opportunity and obligation to support dialogue between their readers and staff to promote education and community, and hopes to see that happen moving forward.

“The Weekly has a place in the subculture of Boise to have conversation, and that was missing,” Ramirez said. “Censorship happens all the time in media, every day, but it’s pretty disturbing because it puts media in a place to protect itself and shut down dialogue.”

As an educator, Ramirez wanted to encourage Boise Weekly to take the opportunity for learning rather than defend themselves, now and in the future.

“We don’t want the Weekly to be shut down, but there was no conservation, and that was infuriating to me. It’s like, ‘Why are you so stubborn? You don’t know the experiences of people of color,’” Ramirez said.

Foudy sent the Boise Weekly copies of sociologist Robin DiAngelo’s book “White Fragility,” which theorizes that white people have difficulty talking about race because they feel the need to protect themselves. To Foudy, it was just another way to attempt to have a conversation.

“I want people to know the opportunity to correct wrongs and be a voice to help Boiseans stand together,” Foudy said.

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