NPR West correspondent Karen Grigsby Bates’ J-CHAT

Apr 19, 2021

NPR West Coast correspondent Karen Grigsby Bates, came to talk April 16 at Morgan State University’s latest J-Chat Zoom session.

At the start of the meeting, she and Professor Randall Pinkston fondly recalled their past journalistic meetings with one another. Bates also said they may have even come in contact during their undergraduate years, because of parties and a close friend.

Bates graduated from Wellesley and recalled how although, she had studied sociology and Africana Studies in school, she still did not exactly know what she wanted to do afterwards. 

She juggled thoughts of attending journalism school, which cost $10,000 a year back then, and law school, which she now fondly laughed at the thought of.

Ultimately, Bates ended up treading the waves of journalism but said that she still uses the knowledge gained during her undergraduate years in her current profession. 

When discussing California, Bates recalled how her first job was in California, covering the Jonestown situation at the time. She has been going back and forth ever since. 

When asked what she does to perfect her craft outside of work, Bates gave praise to her curiosity for still doing wonders for her. She also mentioned that “Observation and analysis helps her continue to keep her skills intact.” 

Of the many credentials and years of experience she has, some highlighted during this session were those of her work with NPR as a West Coast correspondent, and with “Code Switch,” the podcast about race. 

She gives praise to her multiracial “Code Switch” co-cast. 

“I think we all code-switch,” said Bates. “We all don’t necessarily recognize it, but we do it.”

She also said that, “From the beginning, we’re not really interested in giving your racism 101. We’re interested in giving you racism in context.” 

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For most of Bates' career, race has been a leading topic throughout her work. While her work on the Rodney King assault and Jonestown Massacre were easier to pitch, Bates’ editors were not always aware of the racial undertones more mundane stories carried.  

“Race has always been the thing that I was really interested in,” said Bates “Back in the day you had to convince editors that there was merit to including a racial perspective to your story. Now it’s an easier sell; back then there was a tremendous reluctance.” 

The topic of race has become much more prevalent in everyday conversations, especially as it relates to several prominent and fatal cases of police brutality. Although these conversations should be a catalyst for change, said Bates, a lot of people are still very close minded when it comes to the topic of race: “I think that after four years of Trump, people felt very comfortable saying things that they wouldn't have said. 

“Things they might have said on social media or they might have said in their own circles, but they wouldn't necessarily have said out loud or to the media.”

With a new administration, it was expected that a clearer path ahead would be established. However, many of the conversations conveying the importance surrounding race relations seem to be falling on deaf ears. This notion was punctuated with the recent police shooting deaths of Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo, as well as, the brutality and harassment endured by Caron Nazario

Bates said, “I don’t think it's going to be fixed immediately. “I know a lot of people thought when Biden was elected everything would go back to y'know, basically what happened when he was vice president. 

“Y’know they'd just sort of erase the Trumpiness of everything.” – Ebonie Jefferson