Racism Review was totally not cool with CNN's latest "Black in America" coverage. I don't really blame them. I've found CNN's whole embrace of blackness a little tacked on, like "Wow, did you know there were black people in America and, shockingly, some of them are bitter?"
RR takes umbrage with Holmes and CNN's shoddy work in interviewing black college students on North Carolina A&T University's campus.
Blogger Aida Harvey was not happy how CNN presented the students answers on whether or not racism was still prevalent.
Apparently CNN was "surprised" that students felt racism was still a problem even though they hadn't experienced the same racism as their parents and grandparents. RR also said Holmes gave the impression that the students were responsible for perpetuating racism by admitting they considered themselves black first and American second.
None of that should have been shocking to hear, especially if you are a black person, but RR thought TJ and CNN were pretty surprised.
It’s really too bad—but not surprising, in contrast to Holmes’ claims—that CNN chose to mischaracterize and distort the reality of racism in this country. It’s not shocking that these young students, many of whom were born in the 1980s and 1990s, haven’t encountered openly segregated facilities. Why would they? Any cursory review of an abundance of social science literature could have enlightened Holmes to the fact that racist practices today are often (but not always) much more covert than overt. Holmes also might have done some basic background reading to learn that these students’ sense that racism still exists in America is simply a fact of American society that has been extensively documented by sociologists, psychologists, economists, and many others. Careful empirical research points to racial inequities that privilege whites in the housing market, the criminal justice system, the legal system, and—though this might shock TJ Holmes—the educational system.
Given this history and ongoing present, is it really that shocking that these college students might maintain what brilliant sociologist W.E.B. DuBois described as a sense of double consciousness, viewing themselves as both Black and American with “Black” taking precedence? Maybe instead of blithely criticizing these college students for perpetuating racism because, unlike him, they are aware of its existence and manifestations in society, T.J. Holmes might consider taking some college level courses on Race and Ethnic Relations himself.
I'm totally not surprised by any of these. Despite CNN's best intentions, their coverage of race has been slipshod and presented as little more than window dressing. In their "Conversations with Black America," it almost feels like "news pity." Like a bone being tossed to us.
This is not so different with my issue with "Black History Month." I'm tired of segregation in our history books and our news programing. I don't like being set aside in a special category, emphasizing how different I am from others. I'm American. Place me with the other news. Blend me in until I'm just as common and ubiquitous as everyone else.
Despite this misstep CNN does some things right.
I appreciate that CNN employs so many blacks in front of and behind the camera. They have many more black reporters and anchors than other news networks but no one seems interested in digging deep on race. This goes the same for other networks.
MSNBC is also into the black coverage. Yesterday they aired a documentary "Meeting David Wilson" about a young black man meeting an older white man who is a descendant of the family who owned Wilson's ancestors when they were slaves. The documentary was followed by a panel discussing race in America moderated by Brian Williams. MSNBC's "A Live Conversation About Race" featuring Tom Joyner, writer/activist Kevin Powell, Michael Eric Dyson, Malaak Compton-Rock, screenwriter Kriss Turner, columnist Mike Barnicle, Tim Wise director of the Association for White Anti-Racist Education (AWARE) and Rev. Buster Soaries as panelists.
The discussion took place at Howard University in Washington D.C. While it was somewhat entertaining to watch, nothing new was discussed and it was a pretty one-sided conversation. I'm always annoyed that every "conversation" on race simply features an echo chamber of black people and a few sparse white people who all essentially have the same opinion. How is it a discussion when there is no differing opinions or viewpoints? Where were the alternative voices and MY GOD, must Dyson be on EVERYTHING? I can't escape the man.
I always wish we could have an actual discussion on race that meant something. It doesn't make sense to simply sit in an echo chamber of black people and Liberal whites and go "racism bad!" the whole time. What does that solve? How does that fix health care or education or our mortality rates? What does that accomplish? And I gather very few white Americans even watched the damn thing.
No one seems to want to address the reality that most white people know very little about black people. While some are suspect in their intentions when something vaguely racist is uttered, most are too ignorant about black people to have a full grasp on what is and isn't offensive and are too afraid to ask for fear of being branded a racist. While I don't advocate black people should turn into "blackness ambassadors" trying to educate every white person in their workplace and neighborhood, it would help to be a tad less sensitive and to remind yourself that maybe they just don't know and maybe you should talk about it woman-to-woman, man-to-man, woman-to-man rather than you both being scared or childish.
While it bothered me to no end that some white people would invade my personal space to touch my hair the truth was I was the first black person they felt comfortable with so they felt like they could ask me anything and I was fine with that to an extent because it made more sense to learn from one another than wall ourselves off and pretend the differences and the prejudices don't exist. Quietly building up grudges and perceived slights while marking time until we boil over on one another.
I'm tired of the one-sided conversations with amen corners. I'm tired of the conversations without different voices and opinions, the conversations that simply recite "The Souls of Black Folk" or rehash what so many black writers from Audre Lorde to Cornell West have already discussed. I guess I'm ready for something substantive. Something that actually creates mutual respect and understanding.
Watching cable news coverage of blackness is much like the "Santa Clausification" of Martin Luther King Jr.
To see blackness defanged and reduced to an "I Have A Dream" speech, thus making King cuddly and convenient when he was far more complex and controversial sickens me. I hate to say this, but I'd almost prefer if they'd did nothing at all if it's just going to be more pandering. If they're not going to discuss anything new they should just focus on giving the unvarnished news coverage. More and more these exercises seem like platforms to help Dyson, et al, shill books.
I know that some would argue that this is better than nothing, that at least they're acknowledging black people, but I'd prefer to see news organizations simply incorporate black voices and opinions in their regular news coverage, to not just trot out black commentators when it's time to discuss race. To actually ask a black person their opinions on issues not directly related to blackness. To simply write and talk about black people as people.
But I'm probably asking too much. These are cable news networks. They are trying. So I'll toss them a bone. Yeah, for trying. I'll try to be more appreciative of the efforts and less "haterish." I'm sure a little non-diverse diversity is good for America.