Beware of Invisible Negroes!

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Jared A. Ball, Ph.D.

Black people are no longer newsworthy. That's the result of a Pew study, which found "stories defined as significantly focused on Black Americans accounted for only 1.9% of all news coverage." And a majority of that coverage was of the Henry Louis Gates run-in with a Cambridge cop. The lesson: "A defeated people need no coverage."

In News and Politics Black People Are Still Invisible

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Jared A. Ball, Ph.D.

"There is dwindling coverage of actual Black issues in news or politics."

Dust off your Ellison; because when it comes to news and politics Black people remain invisible. According to the recent Pew Research Center study on "Media, Race and Obama's First Year," "African Americans attracted relatively little attention in the U.S. mainstream news media during the first year of Barack Obama's presidency." Now, Obama's presence is causing simultaneous new highs in levels of delusion and equally high levels of absence and it is a perfect storm of annihilation. At precisely the time when there is no mass movement, as conditions worsen and fewer Black people are more famous than ever there is dwindling coverage of actual Black issues in news or politics. It is more than a potentially dangerous situation. This kind of inattention matched with a specific kind of public policy had already, in the years prior to Obama's arrival on the scene, led famed legal scholar Derrick Bell to conclude that we have already reached the equivalent in public policy of randomly shooting hundreds of Black people every week with no one caring. Or as Anthony Hamilton sings, "Aint Nobody Worrying."

According to the recently released year-long study of all mainstream media formats from February 2009 to February 2010, stories defined as significantly focused on Black Americans accounted for only 1.9% of all news coverage. Broken down by medium an old story emerges, one familiar to readers of Glen Ford over the last decade; that of the entire 1.9% total the largest segments of Black-focused media were cable television and talk radio. The lowest? News radio. When it comes to cable and talk Black people might get the tiniest mention. But when it comes to news, there is apparently none to report. A defeated people need no coverage. A people destined for future horrors need no current attention.

"If Black people are not singing, rapping, dancing or playing a game there is simply no reason at all to cover them."

And it's even worse than that. Of that 1.9% a majority of the coverage was of the Henry Louis Gates fiasco. No, not his recent and disturbing attack on reparations, but the police brutality he suffered and the subsequent beer he drank with both the president and the abusive cop. According to the study the mainstream media will include some discussion of Blackness if it is related to the first Black president of the United States. Obama got the second most coverage, of that total 1.9%. Meanwhile, the impact on Black people of the economic crisis or of the health care debate combined to be 9.5% of the total 1.9% mainstream inclusion of Black people in news or political coverage. It really remains true. If Black people are not singing, rapping, dancing or playing a game there is simply no reason at all to cover them. Even if the president is Black. More so if the president is Black.

But what this means is further proof of the denial of race presented by the era of the first Black president. The nation's response to the uprisings of the 1960s and 70s was an increase in the number of Black faces seen on television. Obama's presidency, now shown on several levels, is a magnification of that same process. The more Blackness is seen the less substantive the view and the less likely there is to be Black resistance to worsening conditions. Race, or the impact of White supremacy on Black people, has disappeared from the mainstream. Worse, its appearance actually speaks against its impact.

This is precisely why people like Ishmael Reed do not take lightly the popular representation of Black people in the U.S. mainstream media. Nothing of substance is discussed in relation to Black people. No time, no in-depth concern, no deep investment or involvement. So when popular media depict Black people as savages, criminals, obscenely vulgar sexually Reed makes direct connections to pre-Nazi Holocaust depictions of Jews. Or as one scholar of genocide has said, "as a rule human beings do not kill other human beings {and therefore} before we enter into warfare or genocide we first dehumanize those we mean to eliminate." If this indeed were the plan for Black people, apparently, no one would know until there was a dearth of entertainment and a blatantly lowered standard of sports.

For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Jared Ball. Online visit us at

Jared Ball can be reached via email at [email protected].


So what?

In the past year, I've been interviewed for print and video news about 8 times.  As a Tea Party activist, I probably have more opportunity than most because I'm at the same rallies as the reporters but that's how it goes.  If you want to make news, it's not enough to sit around being black.  You have to do something (good or bad) newsworthy.

Reply- SO What?

Though some Blacks have and still sit waiting to recieve what they have not earned, this country you live in has and continues to stand because or the deeds of Black People. Yes, the Tea Party rallies around claiming about stollen rights, but the ones who work in their stead get little pay and never hear "Thank you" for their jobs. Blacks who come up with engineering solutions continue on as others recieve recogniton for done with Black hands. This has gone on for many years. Still you choose to ignore the one who lighten your responsibilites. I stand in amazement.

Grow up, Tony

Tony, do you think I get a pat on the back and an "attaboy" for doing my job?  Where is all this recognition you think some people get based on their whiteness?  Do you job, pick up your pay and go home, that's it.  If you want positive affirmation, that's what family and friends are for.

More of the Same

TexasTim probably doesn't realize that despite the absence of a mass movement, there are many, many, activists, organizers and just everyday people working very hard on improving the lives of Black people and others, even still trying to make this country a more humane place. But how could TexasTim know that since those people aren't in the news. Of course, as Ellison points out, invisibility can have its advantages. Still, Jared, your analysis is spot on! The lack of coverage, except for often the most spectacular of issues or events, erases our conditions in this country from view and mutes those defending our interests. Thus, the number and extent of human rights violations against the national Black population remain obscure. And U.S. Americans who call for justice for the Kurds, for example, ignore or refuse to see the abuse of Black people simply because offical segregation has ended.  What is covered is jealously framed by the mainstream to support a pro-American narrative. Free Ishmael Reed!