Our Profile and Theirs

When Dr. W.E.B DuBois predicted the question of color would become the

problem of the twentieth century, he was writing before the advent of

television, the proliferation of the mass media, and the many uses (and

abuses) of the idea of racial profiling. DuBois spoke about color in terms of

oppression of nations and nationalities, of structural inequalities and

injustices imposed by systems of colonialism and later capitalism. He was an

advocate of self-determination on the political level and redistribution on

the economic one.At century’s end, Spike Lee is making movies about the Son of

Sam, not Uncle Sam, and DuBois’s ideas are out of fashion. With that imprecise

phrase ‘people of color’ in vogue, the racial divide in America is as

pervasive as ever and just about as invisible as when writer Ralph Ellison

chose that phrase to explore how racism infected its victims as well as

victimizers. In the American media, the racial profile is worse than the

racial composition of nation it "serves." (If you want a shocking

contrast, compare integration in the military and the media.) A year or so

ago, newspaper editors admitted abandoning goals set a decade earlier to

desegregate newsrooms while on local TV news, black criminals are still

featured on the nightly perp walk while black anchors are confined mostly to

the weekend ghetto. (Crime on TV goes up as crime in the streets goes down!)

Anyone who has looked closely at the media industry–even now as it

"converges"–has to concede that racial "progress" in

hiring, promotions and consciousness has been, to be generous, thin indeed.

The new media world of the internet is, if anything, even whiter and more

locked into the logic of the market, than any high minded social mission to

which at one time media moguls at least paid lip service. In broadcasting, the

deal making culture has diminished the tiny foothold that minorities achieved

in terms of ownership, while media concentration has put more power in the

mostly white hands of fewer and fewer machers. The merger of news biz and show

biz has limited the amount of time devoted to all but episodic long form looks

into the institutionalized racial equation of what used be called "the

American dilemma." In most media, corporate interests overshadow public


Yes, I know a black banker is the president of TimeWarner while Oprah rules

on day time TV and well paid black athletes are well rated. Yet, black history

month is still the only time we see semi-serious upbeat programming on blacks

while other minority struggles in multi-racial America are just seeping into

view. (By 2050, there will be more nonwhite than white Americans reports Farai

Chidaya and most will be Asian and Latino) Thanks to talented film maker

Jennifer Fox, PBS will soon be airing its next generation reality series on

the American family. This new Loud-like drama features nine hours on an

interracial couple but, again, story telling, not whistle blowing, is the

genre. Any sense of urgency about widening gaps in American life is confined

to Sunday morning sermons, and magazines like Z, not chat shows or chatrooms.

As the social justice movement merges back into the labor movement, it is more

marginalized by a media with five channels for business and none for labor.

(Maybe because labor practices inside the media are so deplorable!)

The class character of today’s racial realities are not as sexy as the news

making confrontations in the glory days of civil rights activism. Today, it’s

Bloomberg for the classes and Jerry Springer for the masses with the dumbing

down of TV News and stupefication of programming all but color blind.

Occasional documentaries like Mark Levin and Daphne Pinkerson’s excellent

"A Thug Life" expose the massive minions of incarcerated black youth

but they air late at night on HBO, not NBC. PBS meanwhile has gone from Eyes

on the Prize to loving portraits of black celebrities like Walt Disney Company

board member Sidney Poitier. Rupert Murdoch may marry a Chinese businesswoman

while Fox features black sit-coms, but prejudice and intolerance lives. Ask

the Trench Coat mafia. The globalized face of poverty and exploitation in the

oilfields of Africa or the sweatshops of Asia and America pop into view from

time to time but with little follow-up or sense of outrage.

Scant attention to civil rights has been replaced by almost no attention to

human rights until there is a military crisis like ala Kosovo. Globalvision’s

public television human rights series Rights & Wrongs–canceled after four

years for lack of funding–visited Kosovo in l993, warning of ethnic cleansing

to come but policy makers and media makers alike were indifferent. (Initially

the program’s concept was greeted by PBS incredibly with the assertion that

"human rights is not a sufficient organizing principle for a TV

series"–unlike cooking! Sadly, it has not been replaced.) The Monicas of

the world still get far more media play than the Mandelas or the Mumias.

So let’s not get hung up on racial profiling on the New Jersey Turnpike

while ignoring the racial profile of the news media. A practice exposed one

day in the New York Times (and rationalized a few weeks later in its magazine)

has been going on for years. Driving While Black (DWB) remains an ugly offense

thanks to a failed drug war that compels and sanctions aggressive police

searches. Media Making While White (MMWW) in the sense ongoing neglect of and

indifference to racial injustice is more of a problem.

Twenty-five years ago, the Kerner Commission issued an annex to its

eye-opening report on the persistence of a divided nation excoriating the news

media for widening the racial gulf. Has that changed? There’s some content

worth investigating.


Schechter, Executive Producer of Globalvision is the author of The

More You Watch The Less You Know, and Executive Editor of The Media

Channel, an internet supersite.


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