At least once a year there seem to be reports or study findings that remind us of the chronic, persistent racism that plagues the news and entertainment professions and products. The NABJ just released, a study that Shows Diversity Fell in Television Newsroom Management in 2009.
One colossal question: when will the communities that are affected and that care the most take radical and aggressive action to fight this in a sustained, strategic way?
I asked Kevin Olivas, who runs the Parity Project at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. He described the complex situation, from a journalist’s perspective thusly:
“The Parity Project is intended to serve as an example for the entire English-language media industry when it comes to improving news staff diversity and news coverage of, as well as interaction with, community leaders who are people of color.
“KNXV-TV ABC 15 in Phoenix is one of the 25 media companies that are partners in the Parity Project. That station has tripled the number of full-time Hispanic journalists who work there since it joined the Parity Project in March 2006. And it has made serious strides toward working with more community groups that represent people of color, in addition to having formed a Hispanic Community Advisory Committee.
“That committee is made up of a cross-section of Hispanic community leaders who come from the business sector, healthcare industry, educators, the legal profession, elected and appointed officials and those who work with such officials, community advocates, students, retirees, etc.”
The other big question: what can one do today to help to fix this?!
Mr. Olivas again,”contact your local TV station. Demand to speak with the news director and get that person’s email address. Do the same with the general manager.
“Tell these folks that you are concerned about fair representation of journalists of color in newsrooms, particularly at the management level. Also, that you are concerned about fair and accurate news coverage of people of color in your community. Use statistics on the percentage of people of color in given communities that are supplied by the U.S. Census Bureau to highlight the growth of these communities and their economic power…
“Encourage these stations to work with local high schools, community colleges ,and universities that have significant enrollments of students of color to form “talent pipelines…Get these stations to partner with high schools that have significant enrollments of students of color into the Radio-TV News Directors Foundation High School Broadcast Journalism Project.”
So, while one doesn’t always see the stories or the headlines, some activism is working. Still one must also wonder about entertainment.
The Google’s news page is riddled with links to stories, dating back for at least 15 years, that reiterate what meager progress has been made. At the crossroads of news and entertainment, Mr. Olivas reminds readers of the absurd, hyper Anglo-ness of Sunday mornings political panel programs:
They “still rarely feature panelists who are people of color. That is especially true when it comes to panelists who are women of color.
“There are scores of great Latina and Latino journalists out there who would make excellent panelists to talk about something as historic as Sonia Sotomayor becoming the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice.
“People like Univision anchor and syndicated columnist Maria Elena Salinas, New York Daily News columnist and Democracy Now radio show co-host Juan Gonzalez and so many others.”
When people of color cooperate, rather than waiting for crumbs from Anglos, it feels better. I suspect that Anglos are convinced or certain that we people of color will simply be neuter and ineffectual in our activism. According to Malcolm X “There can be no black/white unity until there is first some black unity. We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.” Just, please, extrapolate that relevance to all communities of color who feel the sting of Anglos’ fear and ignorance.
The more I live and strive to remember and believe that we are all equal and that, as Anne Frank declared, “despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart,” the more I remember the basic truth when Frederick Douglass said, “power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
Since at least 2003, the NAACP has issued the ”Out of Focus, Out of Sync” report. The latest will by “Take 4.” Apparently the other three didn’t…take.
On Aug 3, 2002, after Halle Berry and Denzel Washington both earned Oscars, The Chicago Tribune published, Blacks still lack keys roles as TV, film decision makers.
Nearly five-years-later, In February 2007’s Newsweek’s “Colorblind at last?” talking about success and progress by counting African-American Oscars earners.
In December 2008, there was the NAACP’s report, Diversity in Hollywood: Out of Focus and Out of Sync. With this coverage, this attention, and molasses-slow and meager progress, it feels like people of color are banging their heads against a concrete wall.
People are not angry enough. Apparently the agitation needs to be more aggressive, sustained, and multilateral. Too few concerned people, particularly those of color, channel that righteous anger into constructive activism; the kind that builds legacies, non-profit groups, and which endows scholarships and which color corrects news stories.
There must be a new or reinvigorated brand of activism.
Leaving Mr. Olivas with the final, pithy thoughts:
“Our growth is not just in numbers. It is also in economic power and voting power. That voting growth played a major role in deciding which person currently occupies the White House as President.
“It would seem that a majority of American voters, both Americans who are people of color and Anglos as well, heeded Frederick Douglass’ words. Someone also asked Mr. Douglass what they could do and his response was: “Agitate. Agitate. Agitate.”
He was, and always will be, correct.”