Diversity insulates the bosses from criticism by large elements of the oppressed classes, while posing little or no threat to capital and the rule of rich white men.
“NABJ should forever be cursed and shunned as the most narrowly self-serving and cowardly manifestation of Black collaborationist politics imaginable -- a house of shame.”
The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) has joined the NAACP in criticizing CBS News’ initial, 12-person lineupof digital journalists assigned to cover the 2020 elections, which includes five women, three Asian Americans, at least one Hispanic, but no Blacks. “CBS News’ decision to not include Black reporters on their 2020 Election news team further proves the voting power and voices of Black America continue to be undervalued,” said the NAACP. “As the voting bloc that will most certainly determine the direction of this country in the upcoming election,” said the press release, “it is vital any and all media outlets have a diverse newsroom, including individuals of color in decision making positions to speak to and address the issues and concerns directly impacting the Black community. Representation matters and the media needs our coverage on the issues to drive the discussion.”
Sarah Glover, president of the Black journalists group, said her organization is “very disappointed” and “disturbed” at the CBS lineup. “It is unfortunate that we are still having these discussions about diversity and inclusion,” said Glover. “Ironically last year the 50th anniversary of the Kerner Commission Report was a major topic and now in 2019 we’re still asking media organizations.”
“The NABJ acts as a kind of guild to safeguard Blacks with jobs in white, corporate media, but abstains from struggles over the substance of reporting.”
Black employment in newsrooms is a civil rights issue, like employment issues anywhere, but it has been a very long time since the presence of Black and brown reporters of any gender has made any detectable difference in the politically monochromatic corporate world view transmitted by the so-called “mainstream” electronic and print press in the United States. Since its formation in the mid-Seventies, the National Association of Black Journalists has been concerned almost solely with counting Black faces in newsroom chairs, rather than the issues of power and politics that shape the actual journalistic content churned out daily by the “news” industry. The NABJ acts as a kind of guild to safeguard Blacks with jobs in white, corporate media, but abstains from struggles over the substance of reporting -- with some rare exceptions in cases of the most blatant racial stereotyping in media. The NABJ asks only that Blacks be represented on corporate payrolls, mastheads and credits. For the NABJ, “diversity” has no political content beyond numerical representation in the workplace.
“The NABJhas been concerned almost solely with counting Black faces in newsroom chairs, rather than the issues of power and politics that shape the actual journalistic content.”
In practice, the NABJ is worse than useless to the larger Black struggle -- or to any struggle beyond tallying Black representation at media corporations. The organization’s true nature was revealed in the summer of 1995, as the NABJ was preparing to hold its national convention in Philadelphia. Mumia Abu Jamal, a co-founder and recent president of the local chapter, was facing imminent execution after exhausting all appeals of his 1982 conviction in the death of the police officer. NABJ president Dorothy Butler Gilliam was unmoved by the horrific prospect that their colleague was scheduled to be put to death while the NABJ convention was in session, on August 17. Although Abu Jamal had been targeted by police, first as a teenage Black Panther and later as an award-winning journalist, and was already the nation’s best known political prisoner, Gilliam and the NABJ national board maintained his situation was “criminal,” not “journalism.” The board abstained from taking any position. “As an organization of journalists,” said Gilliam, “the board felt that the complicated issues involved are ones around which individual members in their capacities as journalists may make personal and professional judgments. The organization, however, does not see this unfortunate circumstance as an issue of journalism which it feels compelled to take a stand on at this time."
“Gilliam and the NABJ national board maintained Mumia’s situation was ‘criminal,’ not ‘journalism.’”
No thanks to the NABJ, Abu Jamal’s execution was stayed. In 2011, his sentence was changed to life without parole, and a recent court ruling may pave the way for new appeals of his conviction. But NABJ should forever be cursed and shunned as the most narrowly self-serving and cowardly manifestation of Black collaborationist politics imaginable -- a house of shame.
In 1975, two decades before the NABJ collectively turned thumbs down on Mumia, I was a co-founder of the organization’s Washington chapter. Blacks from the Washington Post and local television outlets soon gained dominance in the organization and methodically purged most freelancers and members affiliated with Black print media. It became clear that NABJ was to be a corporate “diversity” project, divorced form Black journalism’s historical ties to the larger Black movement.
“The greatest beneficiaries of the new diversity, besides the individuals involved, were the corporate media institutions, themselves.”
I resigned in disgust, having concluded that Black representation in the corporate media ranks was effectively a set-back to the struggle for social transformation. The greatest beneficiaries of the new diversity, besides the individuals involved, were the corporate media institutions, themselves, whose political positions did not change one iota with the addition of Black, brown and female faces. For example, school desegregation plans continued to be framed as “forced bussing” in the mouths of news anchors of all colors, an unchallenged element of the daily script (news anchors don’t write their own copy). But Black anchors are more likely to be believed by Black audiences, than white anchors. Their Blackness legitimizes media lies in ways that white news readers cannot. Thus, they are priceless corporate assets -- and objective adversaries of the Black struggle.
Media corporations were among the first to recognize that “diversity” among high-profile personnel legitimizes corporate policies and practices, but the rest of the corporate world gradually learned the core lesson: diversity insulates the bosses from criticism by large elements of the oppressed classes, while posing little or not threat to capital and the rule of rich white men.
The Democrats think they can run a political party that way, too, by substituting “diversity” for actual programs to empower, feed, clothe, house, educate and employ people.
“CBS News dropped the corporate ball and forgot about the Black side of its diversity pose.”
The Congressional Black Caucus, itself, is part of the diversity con game. It’s members pose as guardians of racial justice in the halls of Congress, yet three quarters of them voted to make police a “protected class”and four out of five Black lawmakers supported continued militarization of local police through the Pentagon’s 1033 program.
The Black Caucus and the National Alliance of Black Journalists inhabit the same political sphere. Their job is to legitimize the charade of corporate duopoly rule, by making the system appear racially democratic. CBS News dropped the corporate ball and forgot about the Black side of its diversity pose -- an indication that Blacks have fallen dramatically as perceived threats to corporate hegemony, when compared to other ethnicities and white women. But, it’s an easily fixable problem; after all, we’re not talking about real social change -- just more window dressing on the corporate set.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected]