Over the past two years, MSNBC has proven to be an unfriendly place for Black female anchors.
This time last year, we witnessed the ugly public split between the network and Melissa Harris-Perry.
After nearly four years as the face of weekend morning news working diligently to invite diverse voices to the table, Harris-Perry parted ways with the network, saying her show had in effect been taken from her, “without comment or discussion or notice.”
“After four years of building an audience, developing a brand and developing trust with our viewers, we were effectively and utterly silenced,” she wrote in an email to colleagues that later went public.
An NBC News spokesman responded to news of the email with surprise, confusion and a feeling of disappointment. All of which proved tone-deaf to Harris-Perry’s central grievance: she felt “worthless” on her own show.
Shortly thereafter, Joy-Ann Reid‘s Am Joy replaced Harris-Perry. Critics skeptical about NBC’s handling of Harris-Perry were surprisingly mum about the transition since Reid, a Black woman, replaced another Black woman. However just months before Reid started her new weekend gig, she was booted from her mid-afternoon post on The Reid Report on, you guessed it, MSNBC.
Unlike Harris-Perry, Reid’s show cancellation was swift and quiet. Her return was well received and apparently satisfied the big-wigs who continue to support Reid’s program almost a year later. Luckily for Reid, she remains a part of the MSNBC News roster. She and Sheinelle Jones are currently the only Black female anchors at the MSNBC.
All the more reason Tamron Hall’s departure is significant––not just because there is a suspicious pattern of sidelining Black female anchors, but because there is a broader issue about representation.
In a 2014 interview with Essence soon after Hall landed her position as a Today Show anchor, she recounted the moment she knew she would pursue a career in journalism. Her late father turned on the television and pointed to Iola Johnson––the first African-American news anchor to work for a Dallas television station––looked at his daughter and said, “That could be you.”
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With that, Hall went on to become the first African-American woman to co-anchor The Today Show.
Haters will read this and say I’m overacting. But no.
Hall’s departure from the MSNBC News desk leaves a gaping hole where a Black female voice should be.
With the exception of morning anchors Robin Roberts on ABC’s Good Morning America and Gayle King on CBS This Morning, there are no Black female journalists holding down a daily news desk on a national television platform.
Why does this matter? In a world where we have to watch Being Mary Jane in order to see a Black woman anchor a major primetime news desk, representation matters. In a world where our head-of-state believes most, if not all, Black Americans live in war-torn, drug-infested ghettos where we dodge bullets to get home, representation matters. In a world where the first African-American woman to co-anchor a nationally syndicated morning news program happened just three years ago, representation matters.
It is worth repeating here (and again and again) that representation matters. Having a seat at the table matters. Seeing and hearing the day’s news from someone who looks, smiles and cracks jokes like you does matter.
But as they say, show business is show business. One day you’re in and the next, you’re out. But let us not forget the place Tamron Hall occupies in Black American history.
Let’s not allow history to misrepresent Tamron Hall as the angry Black female anchor who left the Today Show after a pretty and witty blonde came along. Let’s set the record straight.
After nearly 10 years of commitment to MSNBC, Tamron Hall, an exceptional and brilliant journalist, chose not to renew her multi-million-dollar contract with NBCUniversal after they tried to play her. Despite being told minutes before going on air that she would, in fact, be bumped from her top-rated segment, Hall exhibited an unparalleled level of class and professionalism. She left without specific direction; nonetheless, viewers from around the country applauded her in taking a leap of faith and for her commitment to delivering news with a human sensibility.
Tamron Hall made history as being the first African-American woman to anchor a chair on The Today Show in its then 65-year history and she did so with passion, humor and style.
And that representation matters to us, even if it doesn’t matter to NBC.