Joe Williams at Politico: Suspended for Being a Black Man

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Joe Williams, a reporter for Politico.com, has been suspended for making comments about presidential candidate Mitt Romney that the company deems to be racially-offensive. During an appearance on the show hosted by Martin Bashir, Williams said this:

It’s very interesting that he does so many appearances on Fox & Friends. And it’s unscripted. It’s the only time they let Mitt off the leash, so to speak. But it also points out a larger problem he’s got to solve if he wants to be successful come this fall: Romney is very, very comfortable, it seems, with people who are like him. That’s one of the reasons why he seems so stiff and awkward in some town hall settings, why he can’t relate to people other than that. But when he comes on Fox & Friends, they’re like him. They’re white folks who are very much relaxed in their own company.

Do you hear that? Those are the crickets chirping in the background as I sit and wait for you to give me the punch line that led to Williams being suspended. I can’t find a single offensive word in Williams’ remarks, and the comments are every bit as professional as Williams himself. I’ve interacted with Joe during numerous interviews, and on every single occasion, he was efficient, thorough and thoughtful in his questioning. The idea that he has somehow been labeled to be a rogue is beyond laughable.

But you see, there’s a pattern and unfortunately Joe has been affected by it. For the most part, being born a Black man who speaks conscientiously or accurately about issues of race effectively defines you to be a rogue. There isn’t much of a disconnect between the Black man who is stopped and frisked on the street, and the Black male professor/journalist/doctor/lawyer who has his capabilities questioned, even when he does nothing wrong.

Cornel West was a rogue at Harvard for seeking to reengage the black community.  I was a trouble maker in elementary school when I answered questions without raising my hand.  Barack Obama was defined as a radical leftist by the Republican Party for saying that the wealthy should pay slightly higher taxes.  It’s easy for black men to be marginalized very quickly in most mainstream environments, primarily because people are waiting for you to say something that they can define to be volatile or dangerous.

In media, the pattern is quite the same: Just a couple of years ago, Marc Lamont Hill was ambushed by the Right Wing and fired from Fox News for no good reason. After that, Roland Martin was suspended from CNN for making remarks that I personally didn’t agree with, but were acceptable to many millions of African Americans. The consistent and unfortunate reality for many African Americans who work with mainstream (read: White-owned) media organizations is that you must either be a good little boy who goes along with the program or you have to “take your black ass back to the ghetto.”  Most of these organizations have little interest in true and meaningful diversity of ideas, they only want to have a black face or two at the table so they can pretend that they are making racial progress.

Black men on Fox News like Juan Williams are rewarded for speaking negatively about African Americans, but when Juan tried to speak up in favor of the Black community during the Republican primaries, he was slapped back into his seat and booed down by the crowd. When it comes to liberal organizations, you are allowed to become fired up and radical about the “standardized liberal package,” including issues such as gay marriage, reproductive rights, and the torture of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. But the minute you get “too Black” and speak truth to power on matters that affect African Americans (i.e. racial inequality or mass incarceration), they put you back in the mailroom where you “belong.”

The saddest thing about what happened to Joe Williams is that he is the consummate professional (much more so than myself), dedicated to his job and darn good at it. It’s even more unfortunate that he was hit with a massive penalty for making remarks that were not only uneventful, but are also in alignment with millions of other Americans. You want to know why I don’t work for networks like Politico, CNN or MSNBC? It’s because Black men are never truly free if their platforms are supported by the descendants of their historical oppressors.

Independent, Black-owned media should be defended and protected as a matter of intellectual, social and cultural security. Strong journalists like Joe Williams, in such environments, would be allowed to flourish without fear of intimidation for exercising fair and free speech. We can never have true power if we are always living under an umbrella that is owned by someone else.  Malcolm X told us this a long time ago.

Joe Williams wasn’t suspended by Politico for being abusive, unprofessional, sloppy or disrespectful. Instead, he was suspended for expressing opinions that come from a point of view that his supervisors will likely never take the time to appreciate. Joe Williams was punished for voicing a view that challenged many Americans (including his bosses) to look at themselves in the mirror and see America for what it really is.

Joe Williams was suspended for being a Black man.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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