What was brought into stark relief not so long ago when MSNBC posted an image of its roster of weekday cable news hosts is that no Black women (actually, no women of color at all) were on that list. For Americans who love to keep current with what is happening socially and politically in the nation and the world, cable news networks and their corresponding websites and social media, are often the first places they turn for the type of in-depth coverage that they don’t get otherwise. But we need coverage with breadth as well; we need journalists reporting events who have the pulse of all the diverse voices and viewpoints in the country.
With journalist Chris Matthews having just (quite abruptly) retired after a quarter of a century behind the desk at MSNBC, this would be the perfect time to address this issue. Joy Reid, an excellent weekend host or any number of other women of color who are analysts or contributors on MSNBC should certainly get Matthews’ old spot.
When we talk about cable news, we usually mean the big three, MSNBC, CNN, and Fox. These are networks whose primary mode of programming is news and opinion shows. Fox leads in overall total viewership– with MSNBC a close second, and CNN at third.
Though a few years ago Joy Reid had a daily show on MSNBC, it was canceled after two years. Reid now hosts AM Joy on weekends on MSNBC. Former CNN host Soledad O’Brien has a syndicated weekly news program. Currently, CNN has Fredericka Whitfield and Victor Blackwell anchoring on weekends. Surprisingly, only Fox “News” has a Black woman daily host. That’s Harris Faulkner who hosts a daily show called Outnumbered Overtime with Harris Faulkner, in addition to a number of specials throughout the year.
With the importance of Black consumers– and the Black electorate– in general, it is surprising that cable networks seem to see no need to have the faces and voices of Black women represented on its daily rosters.
Joy Reid, who has just written an exhaustive treatise on the trump presidency The Man Who Sold America: Trump and The Unraveling of the America, spoke about this issue stating, “The media is still very much run by white men and people tend to hire who they know. I don’t think they’re deliberately thinking they don’t want women of color around. They don’t think about it.”
Need For Diverse Voices in the Cable/Internet Era
In the era of almost 24-hour cable news programming and social media that never sleeps, news cycles are shorter than ever. The need for voices to interpret and provide critical analysis of the news that oftentimes now changes on an hourly basis seems very clear. It isn’t enough to have representation just on weekends. Someone with a perspective more attuned to the Black community and present on a regular basis would be able to push back on incomplete or erroneous narratives in a more meaningful manner.
The first question begged, of course, is why aren’t white hosts enough? Don’t they represent the perspectives of all of us? Well, the deeply segregated nature of society (particularly Black/White segregation) has been heavily documented, and tells us that the answer to that question is no.
So it would appear that whose Whites in general have backgrounds often include no Black friends, bosses, neighbors, teachers, etc. Many have had little experience with Blacks beyond the workplace. We have no data to indicate that white journalists are any different. Thus, we are being naive by entrusting all daily news analysis to white journalists who have very little experience in contextualizing society in any frame other than that of the white perspective. Politics Editor of Millenia Politics Jordan Valerie points out in a post at Wear Your Voice, does a great job at pointing this out. Many white journalists are well-intentioned but because of the structure of our society, have blinders on when it comes to discussing issues outside of a mainstream framework, something that is essential in a multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-class society.
Examining American society in 2019, it is almost scary that the powers that be don’t grasp that there is greater need now more than ever for the daily presence Black women journalists in cable news. According to Pew Research, the 116th Congress is the most diverse ever. Blacks represent roughly twelve percent of its members, proportionate to the population. There are fifty-two Black representatives and two Black delegates in Congress. Many Blacks hold elected offices around the country, such as mayors, local legislatures, and district attorneys. These civil servants are often the targets of politicians and commentators. There are three Blacks serving in the senate, two of whom are contenders for the Presidency.
Politics and Law is At Least As Much, if Not More Important to People of Color
In addition, the very structure of American social and political identity is undergoing radical change. As films like Rigged: The Voter Suppression Playbook lays out in stark terms, laws negatively impacting the voting power of citizens of color are changing at increasing rates. We need voices who are more likely to quickly connect the dots between day to day developments in local and state-level politics to the larger trend.
There are also increasing rates of discussions about issues such as reparations, and about what constitutes Black identity and Black American identity. These discussions affect the Black community but also affect, and are affected by, other communities and should be identified as important and discussed regularly, not just when a famous Black writer testifies before Congress. They are almost never brought up despite the large number of daily news shows who enable to death of free speech by discussing Donald Trump’s latest offensive speech or offensive tweet ad nauseum. Centering white maleness is the default.
The law is important to everyone but is of crucial importance to Blacks and other people of color. Legal developments that are of utmost importance to the Black community often arise and though there are white cable news hosts who do a good job at reporting them, they don’t often communicate the relative urgency of some decisions with regard to certain communities versus the mainstream. Trump’s numerous and seemingly wanton appointments to SCOTUS, is one example.
Diverse members of the so-called Fourth Estate are also needed in cases where Blacks and other people of color are not represented but should be. It is sometimes noted the number and rapid pace at which Trump is reshaping the judiciary. He has made over one hundred appointments. Of those, only two were people of color. One is Black, and one Hispanic. None are Black women- In addition to Brown v Board of Ed, the courts have made a number of decisions of major import to Black American life including the Dred Scott decision, Loving v. Virginia, Jones v. Mayer, and many more. https://www.npr.org/2019/01/02/681208228/trumps-judicial-appointments-were-confirmed-at-historic-pace-in-2018.
Race aside, there are subjects like the environment, economics, healthcare, culture, and foreign policy that are often tackled during these programs about which plenty of Black journalists have informed opinions as well as potential Black viewers looking to shape their own opinions. It would be valuable to have their voices heard. For others whose lives don’t include regular contact with Blacks, there is value in understanding that here exists Black expertise on subjects outside of race-based issues.
Black women have demonstrated time and again acuity for social and political discourse. In the wake of the election of Trump and again after their significant role in the defeat of Alabama’s Roy Moore, the world saw that Black women’s opinions were vital and often trenchant. At one point, a precious few began to realize the vital for the voices of Black women as part of the general social and political conversation. How do we do this when Black women aren’t included in moderating those conversations during the new normal of a whirlwind 24-hour news cycle?
The Root of the Diversity and Inclusion Issue
According to Reid, part of the solution is to have more Black and Brown and Asian people “in the room” so to speak. That is, to have people of color in positions where important decisions are made. “Typically,” she says,” It’s going to be a Black or Brown or Asian person who says ‘Hey, how come there aren’t any people like me in here? If we’re not in the room that’s not going to happen.” She admits that there are a few whites who would ask that question but cautions, “That’s not the majority.”
This then begs the question of how people of color would get in such rooms when America is still to a large extent marked by the segregation where from elementary school on, networks of friends and acquaintances are racially homogenous. Reid explains, “A lot of it is based on who you know and the networks you grew up with from college are themselves very white. We’re not on the golf course with them, our parents don’t know them from cotillion or didn’t go to the same prep schools as their parents. The network that keeps industries, not just media, but industries in general very white, doesn’t start in the HR department. It starts in college or high school. If we can’t get access then, we have to sort of break-in later on. We need to think about discrimination in society in a wholesale manner because we can’t fix it in the HR department.”
We’ve been talking about it but where does this stack up in terms of priorities? Should we care? Is it important that the views of Black women aren’t represented on nightly cable news shows? Yes, if the views of white men are important certainly the views of Black women are important as well. Black women constitute roughly seven percent of the population with a buying power of close to a trillion dollars. Said Gloria Steinem in a Women’s Media Center (which she co-founded) report, “Missing women of color in the newsrooms of this country is an injustice in itself, and an injustice to every American reader and viewer who is deprived of great stories and a full range of facts.”
Is it enough that there are Black men represented?
There are more Black men than Black women represented in cable news. On MSNBC, Craig Melvin has a daily show in the late mornings and Rev Al Sharpton hosts Politics Nation on weekends. Kendis Gibson is a weekend co-anchor on MSNBC. Don Lemon anchors a nightly show on CNN and Victor Blackwell anchors a show on weekends. The argument can be made that that’s enough. However, extensive studies show that there are crucial intersections where the opinions, viewpoints, and sociopolitical interests of Black men, white women, and other non-Black people of color diverge from those of Black women. As researcher Lincoln Hill commented in a recent article for Zora, “For Black women, racism is gendered and sexism is racialized.” Black women’s particular voices need to be heard in order to render the type of comprehensive analysis of current events need for proper understanding of events for the audience. As Black women are also often both depicted and perceived in stereotypical ways by all genders and races (and most often just reacting to immediate conditions), it would offer the viewing public a more accurate representation of Black women’s nature and capabilities by having them on daily television providing moderation and dispassionate analysis characteristic of cable news.
Activist Angela Rye, who is a regular contributor on CNN is living proof to any objections that there aren’t Black women available with the requisite knowledge and skills to host such a program. Rye, along with other regular contributors such as Karine Jean-Pierre, Danielle Moody-Mills and Abby Moody Mills, Zerlina Maxwell, and Symone Sanders regularly provides sharp insightful commentary on politics and society. Said Rye in a recent discussion with Shadow and Act, “There should be [a space] on every network not just cable, on every single network on every single platform. There’s no reason for people to say at this point they can’t find anyone that’s not real. So Yeah, I think of course on every single network. They should be driving the conversation, hosting, Executive Producers, as executives at every single network.” Asked why she thought that wasn’t currently the case, Rye responded, “There is oppression and racism at every network and every industry across the board. How many Black CEO’s are at Fortune 500 companies right now? That is the issue we have to deal with that is at the core of what this country was built upon.”