Written by CLEO MANAGO
THE IRONIC MEDIA 'BLACK OUT' WHILE A "BLACK" MAN RUNS
America has always been a peculiar place to live for a thinking person. For instance, it purports to be a democracy, yet it was built on a particularly cruel brand of slavery, oppression and genocide. Chapter Four of its Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal. Yet, women are not mentioned at all, and black people – at its inception – were deemed to be less than human. I realize that at this point in history, many view these as resolved issues, better left in the past. Even at present day, the United States is still a peculiar place to live for a thinking person. For example, currently, Barack Obama, a man with a black African father is running for president of the United States. This is occurring while the American media is still severely racist.
While a "black" Obama is running for president, African American perspectives on this issue have been all but absent from prime-time television. Logically, blacks would be increasingly intrigued by Obama's campaign, especially after his Iowa win! Yet, black voices have rarely been among the popular pundit discussions that followed. It is true that on a daily basis we can observe black news anchors delivering scripted coverage on the election. The likes of Anderson Cooper, Larry King and Dan Rather, for example, have voices NOT determined by a script. These high profile white male icons can and do articulate their spin on political issues during their own popular television shows. What black person in America can say the same? Not one.
Let's face it! Free, self-determined, unscripted speech, during prime-time television hours is not had by black people in America. Prime time is 6:00 to10:00 p.m. in Eastern and Pacific time zones and 7:00 - 11:00 p.m., in the Central and Mountain time zones. These times zones represent when television networks, such as ABC, CBS, NBC or CNN, have the most viewers. For example, Tavis Smiley's show is broadcast around or after midnight on PBS. The prime-time media and news reporting landscape where non-scripted speech can occur is still exceedingly white, and this has always been true. But the fact that Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama—a man with a black African father—has forged a viable presidential campaign makes this fact particularly ironic. Particularly to those that think.
There are no people of black/African American descent who are long-term fixtures in prime-time media with the privilege of free, impromptu expression. The last black person to literally take that license was rapper Kanye West in 2005. West was being urged by NBC to read a scripted commentary for a Hurricane Katrina fundraiser. Instead, he displayed rarely seen black male courage and blurted, "[President] George Bush doesn't care about black people!" The following day, the same 95% white panel of pundits, from CNN to all the major television affiliates, made attempts at strategically downplaying this historically unusual (and embarrassing) occurrence.