For Us, By Us: The Case for Black Media Outlets
An Alabama news station was recently accused of being racially insensitive to one of its guests. Maxwell Pearce, an entrepreneur and basketball player with the Harlem Globetrotters, took to social media to detail his offensive and puzzling experience at WBRC–FOX6 news. Pearce was displaying some of his basketball skills during an on-air segment when an anchorwoman and weatherman began throwing fruit at him, two tangerines and a banana, while laughing. News Director, Shannon Isbell, later issued a written apology on behalf of station, but Pearce and his management are pushing for the anchors to issue on-air apologies.
While it should have been understood that it is highly offensive for anyone to throw fruit, especially a banana, at a Black person, we seem to always find ourselves right back here. As a nation, it seems as though many Black people are always doing the intellectual and emotional labor of educating the white people around them about racial insensitivities. Educated news professionals, who have reported on and are undoubtedly aware of the racial tension that exists in today's climate, should absolutely know better than to throw fruit at a Black person who graciously comes to their studio to display their talent. I’d venture to say that this situation could’ve been avoided by having more people of color in production and on-air.
While newsrooms have become increasingly more diverse, we still find ourselves having to navigate these kinds of gaffes. It is frustrating and infuriating, more often than not, to the readers and viewers. It's exhausting to deal with it daily. While I don’t believe that there’s one single solution to the bias and prejudice in our news media, I do believe there is a need for more voices of color in the media space.
Black news outlets have existed in America for nearly two centuries. They’ve provided a valuable and powerful perspective and given a voice to communities of color. I’d be willing to argue they’re more cognizant of media bias than others. For example, when Black New Orleans residents were photographed carrying food and supplies from a local grocery store, they were referred to as “looters” across the country. However, when white Midwesterners were photographed doing the same thing, they were said to be “gathering supplies.” This type of bias, whether it be unconscious or deliberate, fuels some of the false narratives that perpetuate the racial issues in our country. The constant focus on the handful of rioters, rather than the thousands of peaceful non-violent protestors across the country is also demonstrative of this problem.
Jemele Hill is yet another example of how journalists of color are treated for simply defending themselves and their communities from racism and cultural bias. We’re allowed to speak our minds, but not too freely. Hill was silenced and suspended by ESPN for her tweets about racism and white supremacy in our country. Although Hill landed on her feet and now has a multi-platform career, I wonder if the controversies and issues would’ve been better handled if there had been some Black and Brown faces in the editors room. I also wonder if she would have ever been suspended at a Black media outlet.
The bottom line is that Black media outlets serve a vital purpose in our communities and our nation. They provide a perspective that humanizes stories in a way other media outlets have refused or neglected to do. Black media outlets serve as a platform and a voice to our communities and it's time we support them.
Chad Hullett is a communications professional from Birmingham, Alabama. He is a graduate of the University of Alabama and currently resides in Charlotte, NC