The Whitewashing of Cable News: Black Voices Matter
Michael Rowe

For the past several months the diversity conversation has been percolating from Hollywood to Poliwood. Hashtag activism has brought to light countless incidences of blatant injustice—challenging all of us to have open conversations about the power of white supremacy and how it infiltrates every system in our society. 

From the dragging of a young Black girl from her desk to the killings of unarmed Black men, women and children to the erasure of people of color at the Oscars, social media activists, namely Black Twitter has been vigilant and vocal through all of it.

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What we know is that images matter and racially diverse representation is paramount as our country’s demographics continue to shift towards a majority minority make up. 

Interestingly, cable news much like Hollywood, has decided that while our country may be changing that their good old white boy’s networks don’t have to. Black voices, it seems, just don’t matter. At the height of the Obama presidency, outlets like MSNBC decided through their racially diverse lineup of pundits, that Black voices and opinions were vital to the larger political discourse—that is until recently.  

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As the Obama administration begins to wind down it has become shockingly apparent that cable news is no longer interested in us. Sure, there isn’t a Black person on the presidential ticket this election, but why should that be the only driving force behind our media representation?

It’s absolutely absurd and disturbing that cable news outlets think that being “moderate” and producing “hard news” is synonymous with whiteness. I can’t tell you how many broadcasts of late I’ve sat through dumbfounded by discussions about how important the “Black vote” is in 2016 with an entirely all white cast of pundits talking about us to us but no longer with us. 

The recent departure of Melissa Harris-Perry from MSNBC is just the latest and most telling misstep by the cable news outlet. By sidelining a distinguished political scientist during one of the most important and contentious elections of recent note the news outlet has officially silenced black thought leaders.  

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#Nerdland was the only bright spot in the aggressively all White weekend news show lineup. It was the place that you could count on for thoughtful deep dives into current affairs with people of color. I was always mesmerized by how the booking for the network was only able to find black and brown economists, academics, pollsters and strategists when it was time for the MHP Show, but rarely any place else on the network. 

Black voices matter and not just when it comes to issues that adversely affect our community. We are not only the makers and breakers of elections but trendsetters everywhere from music to fashion and art. Yet, we remain absent from the halls of power, making people of color subject to the whims and desires of a dominate white power structure that has the ability to silence and erase us from both the big and little screen.  

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Just this week the New York Times highlighted the racial imbalance in every major industry with pictures through their Race of American Power expose. In this case a picture really does speak a thousand words. In each of these industries these individuals have the power to decide what we see, read, and think about. So, what does it mean when almost all of them are white men? Simple, it means the rest of us are invisible. 

How many more examinations like the Annenberg study and GLAAD’s Where We Are on TV report have to be done in order for media to start looking more like the new American Majority and less like a Leave it to Beaver rerun?  

 As heartbroken as I am with the loss of the MHP Show and with it all the brilliant black and brown thought leaders the show elevated over its four year run, let’s take it as a warning shot that cable news and its willingness to truly educate the American public is dead—but our voices and impact don’t have to be. 

With the advent of social media we no longer need their whitewashed talking heads to tell us what’s important. We’re breaking our own news all day everyday with cable news left playing catch up to what was tweeted hours before it reached their news desks.   

Black voices matter, yesterday, today and always and we don’t need their stamp of approval to say so. As Melissa Harris-Perry so eloquently said, “While MSNBC may believe that I am worthless, I know better.”

We all know better.