Media Outlets Saying, “Black Lives Matter”- But Do They Really Mean It?

2020, in of itself, has been a journey. We entered a new decade with a pandemic, and in the midst of that, all the meat of a civil rights movement emerged. People from all over the world proclaimed ‘Black Lives Matter’ on their streets, in their homes, and in their workplaces. Let me preface this with Black women peep everything.

One of the whitest industries in America is the media industry. According to statista.com, minorities directed less than 25% of TV episodes in the year 2016-2017 at major television distributors. So, when companies parade around their diversity quotas proclaiming loud and proud that “Black Lives Matter” while upholding a standard of whiteness for years; it is hard to believe them as being earnest.

From The Makers Of Jim Crow And Segregation Comes…Gaslighting!

Black folks state our demands and it’s serious for about thirty minutes. Maybe even four months. Then, slowly, media companies divert their attention away from the issues for the sake of saying they did something. All so they can be on the right side of history.

Image courtesy of BET

Since June a plethora of media outlets have been outed for their anti-blackness. From the letters from former Bon-Appetit contributors (a cooking platform outed for taking advantage of Black voices) to voiceovers as a form of Blackface (which we outlined here). What media considers ‘promoting diversity and representation’ is really highlighting the diverse voices that media companies want to legitimize. Instead of addressing the problems of diversity head-on, they use Blackness as a mask to push complicity to white audiences. If you are truly looking for some best practices regarding representation, here are a few ways to start holding yourself and the rest of your workplace accountable.

Diversity Programs Are Great, But They Are Not The End-All Be-All

The interesting thing about diversity programs is that they feel like a gateway to more diversity programs. The goals of diversity programs should be to uplift and project voices that are usually snubbed out media and places of power. How many diversity programs did your POC creatives, more specifically Black creatives, have to do before they were able to get the job that your white coworkers/employees got? Does diversity really grant accessibility? Or does it grant visibility until the right moment arrives?

2016 CBC-UNC Diversity Fellowship Staci Green (left) and Alex Whittler prepare to anchor a newscast.

Granted, this does not take away from the good work that diversity programs do. Some programs are great pipelines to access while at the same time giving you the experience you need for these workplaces to ensure smooth transitions. I do bring one question to the table, are these diversity programs accessible? Accessibility meaning are people without years of experience doing projects like this have the ability to be accepted? Is your diversity program preaching to a choir that already knows these tactics? Plenty of Black folks do not have the ability to access certain forms of equipment and are therefore unable to learn from these diversity programs that end up preaching to the choir in the first place. If your diversity program is reiterating the same lessons that it took to get accepted into the program in the first place except, and just slapping a celebrity on it, that’s not helping, that’s showboating.

Who Are Your Hiring Managers? Who Is Ushering In Your Diverse Candidates?

If you’re looking around in your office and notice that there’s one Black employee for every forty white employees, then this implies that the people in power are not doing their jobs correctly. Media is meant to be an accessible medium with various platforms, in order to reach wide, yet targeted audiences. In most cases, unless the target demographic is based in upholding white supremacy Black people will be included in these audiences. So, if your hiring managers are mostly white, do not be surprised if you find yourself in an all-white workplace. Diverse voices will recruit other diverse voices without the need for diversity programs. A great example of that is the cast and crew for A Black Lady Sketch Show. Now nominated for an Emmy and created by a Black woman (Robin Thede), the show also touts itself as the first all-Black woman cast and all-Black woman writer’s room. Black folks in positions of power in television have proven excellency across the board. It is not a matter of ‘do we trust new voices?’ as it is ‘are we giving them the proper platform?’.

Cast of A Black Lady Sketch Show
Image courtesy of EssenceFest

Another aspect to pay attention to is where you are placing these employees when you find them. Black people are more than your ‘directors of diversity’. Black people are more than your production assistants, more than your interns.  We are more than the people that build the platform used to tell our stories. A dynamic creative team filled with diverse voices is the show Little Fires Everywhere. An aspect that people forget about diversity is that race, class, background and upbringing play a major part in the foundation of a show. What made Little Fires Everywhere so successful is that they recognized these points. Hulu brought a novel adaptation to the screen that tells a story without whitewashing or pulling punches on touchy subjects. If networks want an example of what a successful creative team looks like, Little Fires Everywhere would be a great example of what happens when you merge livelihoods and experiences to lay a foundation for a project.

Tearing Down And Rebuilding Foundations

Image courtesy of ViacomCBS

In the wake of the recent Civil Rights reckonings, some media companies have tried to use their platforms to express solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Though it doesn’t seem entirely genuine, there are steps that can be taken so that media platforms are actually held to the accountability they think they are. It starts with the platform, and then it slowly builds into breaking down systems that uphold these problematic practices. Blackness goes beyond simple visibility; it means finding ways to integrate those affected by intersectional oppression. Oppression put in place to keep folks from accessing the places they want to be in. If your media platform does not address, gender, class, sexual orientation, ableism, and other systemic issues that Black folks also experience, it needs to put in the extra effort to increase accessibility.

*Note from the writer: To ignore intersectionality is to actively remain complicit in anti-blackness.

** Cover Image courtesy of: Getty Images/ Everett 

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  • Khadjiah Johnson is a Caribbean-American writer and humor advocate who uses poetry and comedy as a leverage to empathize and uplift. Her work has taken her to Madison Square Garden, Lincoln Center, Apollo Theater, BET, Off-Broadway and many more! She hopes to use her talents to sway her way into the writers room for a Late Night Comedy Show.

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