Racism Review Gives CNN (and TJ Homes) Four Thumbs Down

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.

19 thoughts on “Racism Review Gives CNN (and TJ Homes) Four Thumbs Down

  1. This has been my <A HREF="http://anonymissblog.blogspot.com/2008/01/should-i-vote-with-my-vagina-or-melanin.html“ REL=”nofollow”>gripe for a minute. Because of Obama’s electability, we are now gonna have to suffer through the media’s fascination with us.CNN went to colleges for once and they still can’t get it right. All this time, people have complained about the media only going to hairdressers and churches. Now it’s dawned on them that we can be found in colleges and still they can’t get it right. I’d rather the White media not cover us at all. I don’t feel all that fortunate to be on their radar if this is the type of coverage that we should expect to receive. No thank you.We really need our own news network. Simply demanding better is not enough.

  2. Yeah, I felt like it was an instance of “bone tossing” as well. WHICH is why I didn’t even bother checking it out. I, too, am really *really* tired of seeing Dyson and his fast-talking (literally fast-talking) self on EVERYTHING. He’s been on quite a bit lately. However, I will give him credit for not pulling any punches and not trying to sweeten up the delivery of his commentary.In any case, I’m with you in that the days of having these mass-media/mass-marketing “conversations about race” are over–they’ve not accomplished anything in the past, and they’re certainly not doing a whole hell of a lot now. This stuff needs to be dealt with on the street, face to face, as it happens, in common everyday situations. Stuff just needs to be “tactfully” called out–I’ve done it before, successfully. And I wholeheartedly admit that it’s tiring always being the “ambassador,” but I think that’s what’s going to get the job done over time. With that in mind, we need to continue fighting the stereotypes on an individual basis, and share little mini-lessons when we can–tho’ whether or not people actually get anything out of it, who knows–the rockheads will always be with us. In any case, I usually begin my mini-lessons with, “Can I share something with you…” This is for both black people and non-blacks as well, because some of *us* certainly need to be schooled about some of the things we do and about perpetuating stereotypes. There’s a whole lot of understanding on both fronts that needs to take place for us to really start taking chunks out of this thing…Dig in. We aren’t even close.Great post, as usual.

  3. These 3 sentences sum up this whole issue for me: “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.”There can be no one “black aficionado”. No one black person or group speaks for all. Incoporate more, varying views of us in all facets of media. If you insist on entertaining the ignorance that is Solja Boy, can I get a counter point? That’s all I ask.

  4. I saw the MSNBC presentation of David Wilson and the conversation about race that followed.I thought the documentary was great – the conversation not so much.As someone from the panel elluded: Supremacists don’t need to understand or welcome black folks and until that changes racism will exist and thrive. It really is just as simple as that.I agree with you that there is no real conversation to be had if we’re only having the conversation with ourselves and a few (brave) white folks who aren’t afraid to discuss the “problems” with black folks instead of the problem with relations.I don’t believe we’ll ever have a conversation about race without a true conversation about how we got here and white folks don’t want to talk about that, they want us to forget it.As far as CNN and TJ Holmes, that was embarrassing to me as a black person.He could have started the story with his on take on being black in America and he could have probed the students he interviewed for a better explanation of their experience rather than labeling them learned from their parents. It was very irresponsible.Also, while I hate the way Dyson speaks his positions in rhymes, he is a very intelligent and enlightened man, it’s the Professor of AA studies at Howard that got on my nerves and turned the program into a side-show and left it on a note that portrayed blacks in a negative light.

  5. ms. martin: That’s part of the reason why my love of TJ is so superficial. He’s a great anchor, but lacking as a reporter. He can get straight up lazy at times and that was a prime example of it. I mean, report, don’t give us your personal opinion. Lazy. Lazy as hell.But he looked good while being lazy, right?anonymiss, tamra and fantastically misunderstood me: Yup. As long as Obama is in the race we will have to endure this sort of coverage. I’m waiting for them to get a-hold of a stack old Ebony Magazines and just go to town on that shit. When someone walks up with a mic in their hand wanting to know why black men won’t marry your ass, just run. Run, girl! Run as fast as your Steven Maddens/Prada/Payless specials will get you!

  6. Co-sign Ms. Martin. I really enjoyed “Meeting Dave WIlson”, the conversation afterwards was ok but felt a little like verbal masturbation. Then the Howard AA Professor had to get up and act a fool. I found myslef hissing and tossing things at my Father’s tv the second time around. This did not go over well with Papa C.I thought the best summary was by David Wilson at the end when he said (me paraphrasing here) that the academic conversation was nice, but what he really had in mind was starting a conversation between ordinary Americans.I don’t think those conversations will air on tv. I have a hard time imagining “ordinary” white people, who aren’t Tim Wise or other anti-racist movement allies, feeling comfortable talking about these issues under those circumstances. Understandably, theres a certain level of exposure and vulnerability in it for them. No one likes to be wrong or ignorant, or portrayed that way, and definitely not in public.So I too, find these MSM attempts at conversation to be unhelpful.

  7. Tamra, MED has a book to promote so you’ll be seeing much more of him in the weeks to come. Cop that “April 4, 1968” ya’ll! *sarcasm*I disagree about the documentary. David A. and David B. bored me to tears. It all seemed so…calculated. Not rooted in reality at all.What I want to see is CNN plunk down 14 real white and black people and let them have free reign to ask whatever questions they little hearts desire:”Why ya’ll smell like dog when it rains?””What is weave?””Why do white women clutch their purses everytime a black man walks by?””Why do black folks like *ahem* LOVE chicken so much?”Stereotypical? Yes. But until white people can feel comfortable enough to ask us even the most mundane questions, and until black folks stop jumping down their throats for every little comment, we’ll NEVER have a true racial dialogue in this nation.

  8. grown: *Applause!* I’m totally living in the neighborhood you’re talking about. Once you bust down those basic barriers and common misconceptions you can have an honest discussion. You just need to get that ignorance out there and out of the way for the sake of everyone. I know I was told that as a kid that white people stunk. I mean, that sounds super ignorant now, but I believed that way longer than I probably should have. Like college. And that’s way to long to believe that. I’m embarrassed to even admit it.We all need ignorance interventions! We could even call it that. An “ignorance intervention.” It could be a reality show like celebrity rehab only you’d be re-educating yourselves about people of different ethnic backgrounds. Get all the stupid shit out. No guilt trips, no shame. Just ignorance fixing.Like I remember being surprised that black women weren’t the only people in America salty over interracial dating all the time. Go on an Asian American discussion board and check what the menfolk are bitching about. You’ll find you’re singing the same pathetic tune. Nothing like constantly hearing no one wants to date your ass in the media. I never knew anyone could be saltier than us. It’s insane.Open your minds to different people. Have an ignorance intervention!

  9. The conversation about race was not that. The only ‘race’ represented was black. Where were the other races? It was really about what are the black people going to do about their ‘negro problem’.

  10. Snob -Yes, TJ is fine – still.Grown – I don’t think they rehearsed the part where Wilson, descendant of slaveowners asked Wilson, descendant of slaves if he thought blacks in America were better of than the poor blacks in Africa (my words)and his response.I’ve seen whites write lately that we should be happy we’re here and not in Africa.As if that negates the history of how we got here.

  11. I’m tired of people moaning and complaining and not doing anything. Whatever you think about the CNN doc, TJ Holmes, Meeting David Wilson, the ensuing conversation or Michael Eric Dyson, at least they are all actively taking action to create media and information and opportunities for discussion on race. If people think they didn’t do enough, or it wasn’t balanced enough etc, then why not do something yourself? It’s not difficult to get together a bunch of people, have a discussion, film it and put it out on youtube or whatever it is you want to do. There will never be a perfect discussion on race. There will always be something missing, something not said, something to criticize. It’s just way too complex of an issue to be able to wrap it up nicely in a box.I also think that black and white people sitting down to ask each other questions like “why do you eat so much chicken?” is quite frankly ridiculous. I don’t see how this advances the discussion? i don’t see how it is constructive, and I don’t see how it tackles the real issues in this country. Some people are saying that the mainstream should not touch on black issues…. well how exactly do you expect white people to hear about it then? Isn’t that something black people have been moaning about – that white people don’t know enough about us? But when mainstream TV touches on it, that’s still a problem? Again, what’s the perfect solution to this?In a way, maybe it’s just time to stop expecting that we’ll have HONEST (whatever that really means anyway)street-level discussions about race and just get on with doing what we have to do regardless. That’s what black people have always done anyway isn’t it.

  12. Lola: My contention is that this particular programming is very similar in tone and content to all programming they do on race. There are so many different voices, yet they use the same voices every time (a la Dyson) when there are plenty of black people who have a variety of opinions.And it they programs also don’t deal with the problems that black and white people face with one another on a ground level. Basically it’s too academic and too segregated. I stand by opinion that I feel there should simply be more diverse representations of black people and their issues in the media over all that putting together “specials” that often repeat what has been said before. That’s all.As per what I’ve done, as a journalist I’ve personally worked with black people and white people to reach a better understand with each other. There has to be a conversation and a familiarity at a ground level for things to work.

  13. So I just HAD to go looking for the transcript of these interviews, right? Because I missed the actual coverage and couldn’t find the video on YouTube. As a broadcast journalism major, I can understand the desire to tell a story the way the people you interview give it to you. I mean, the kids cited news stories as their encounters w/racism. But as a BLACK MAN from ARKANSAS you know good and well that racism did not end with our parents’ and grandparents’ generations! Why would you even SAY that? Produce a story that gives people that impression?! I’m not saying put words in people’s mouths. But on the campus of an HBCU in NORTH CAROLINA, he could have found someone who experienced racism first hand to give the story more context.I just really feel this debacle did the AA community such a disservice. And it’s clear that at least part of the reason they chose him to cover the story because he’s black and could add SOMETHING substantive to it.TJ is relegated to a role as a window dressing until further notice.

  14. fantastically misunderstood me: Yeah. TJ’s on time out for me too on that one. But I’m not surprised. Journalists will get all kinds of lazy on you. Or maybe he really thinks every thing’s hunky dory? Either way, he’s a reporter/anchor, he’s not supposed to be giving his interpretation of events. Just report, man.

  15. The problem with a discussion of racism is that is will never truly be a candid discussion. Sure, conversations we have with family and friends, and to some extent co-workers, can be candid. But what I am talking about is a national dialogue. That will never happen. Political correctness will see to that. In the “gotcha” environment of politics, no politician or policy maker will ever honestly discuss race in America (not openly anyway).So instead they use scripted speeches that are safe and non-threatning to any particular racial or ethnic group. Thats the way it is in America, and I doubt very seriously if it is going to change any time soon.I watched the documentary, I also TOTALLY disagreed with Tom Joyner saying he should have heard an apology. I happen to be one of those who don’t think an apology will fix anything. IMO, if you have to beg for an apology, how sincere is it? Gerald…

  16. Black people don’t want an honest discussion on “race”–though they claim to; and, to be sure, the white liberals who run the media and control the discussion give them the polite version of it, which, as your own post demonstrates, they don’t find entirely satisfying. You SHOULD feel patronized. The media doesn’t want to talk about, say, absurdly high black crime rates–with its vastly disproportionate amount of black-on-white rape, robbery and murder and to address this matter as a distinct sociological phenomenon. What blacks seem to want is to lecture whites, who must sit, head-bowed in abject shame and humiliation. Personally I don’t think most blacks could handle a real conversation–one where white people actually get to talk and their views are not rejected out of hand, which you yourself do when you drone on and on about our ignorance of black people, though you, of course, understand us perfectly. We’re awful and racist. If we, on the other hand, understood black people, we’d realize just how great you are. Now, if you think we’re so ignorant of you–and you have such little patience for educating us whites about your glorious existential complexity–then what value is our contribution to such a discussion anyway? You see? This is why we can never have an honest conversation, one where white people start treating blacks like adults. I’m always reminded of T.S. Eliot’s trenchant observation that most people can’t handle too much reality.Also, “intentions” is not spelled “intensions,” which, you know, you should get straight if part of your blog shtick is going to be about how smart you are.

  17. anonymous: I also don’t understand how we could have an honest conversation when you seem to carry such hostility.In case you didn’t know, statistically black v. white crime is rare. Largely it is white people who commit crimes against white people and black people who commit crimes against black people. And even when the crimes do cross racial lines the madness that unfolds typically has nothing to do with racism and is simply about criminals behaving like criminals.And if there is a conversation both sides have to enter with humility, not preset conditions and grudges.And it’s unfair to say blacks don’t want an honest discussion as if we are a monolith and behave in the same manner. You know as well as I that the majority of black people are law abiding people, a good portion are middle class and have accomplished a-plenty. They all have varying views about life and race. You can’t point to depictions in the media as an indicator of what most black people are like.And I guess thanks for the ends up on the misspelling. Oh dear Lordy Lord, I might be … dare I say it, human! I’ll hold steady my heart and remind myself that one misspelled word is not the end of the world. Just as I will assume that you actual want a dialog as oppose to mere provocation. Because if you’re just trying to raise my hackles, that’s just not going to cut it.But if you actually wanted to talk about race, for real, I would dialog with you. I think it’s better to tackle issues head on than get into rants of ignorance and just further exacerbate the problem. That solves nothing.And if you read my entry and the comments that followed you’d notice that people DO want a conversation where everyone could get out their questions, grievances, misconceptions, misunderstandings, hurt feelings and ignorance. There is a degree of hyper-sensitivity on all sides, and I know that there is a certain segment of the black population who will throw a protest for just about anything. And that should be discussed as well. I don’t think a one-sided argument solves anything. But you’d have relax some and back off from the gross generalizations. As I said, both sides need to come to the table with some humility and with an open mind.

  18. Great blog! I am thoroughly enjoying it! I somehow stumbled across your blog and it’s definitely been bookmarked.This election season has really challenged me to pay attention to what is going on. Keep up the good work! I may not comment on everything I read by I appreciate it all. Good luck and I hope this turns into great things for you!

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