The stunning lack of diversity in media has seemingly never been more apparent than in the past few days, when multiple media outlets experienced a series of avoidable racially insensitive gaffes that probably had everything to do with there being few, if any, Black people making key decisions at the offending organizations.
For obvious reasons that don’t [necessarily] include her race, Madonna seemed pretty out of place giving what turned out to be a speech that honored herself more than it did the Queen of Soul. The move put MTV’s corporate and editorial tone-deafness [back] on front street, especially after show executive producer Jesse Ignjatovic told the Associated Press over the weekend that he was “working to find ‘the right tone and the right artist’ to properly pay tribute to the Queen of Soul.”
Further adding to the confusion behind the selection of Madonna was how the Material Girl had already been blasted for her controversial tribute to Prince in 2016 and Michael Jackson in 2009.
Considering how near and dear Black folks hold Prince, Michael and Aretha, choosing Madonna to honor one, let alone all three, borders is misguided at best and an intentional effort to undermine sacred musical legacies at worst.
Black voices and opinions in corporate settings have historically been silenced and many times just plain ignored. So when Viacom, MTV’s parent company, insisted that “we truly want to foster an authentic inclusive environment, where all employees feel that they can bring their whole selves to work,” that quote rings a bit hollow; especially after Madonna was selected to honor Aretha.
In fact, a closer look at Viacom’s leadership team overseeing MTV operations showed there was not a single person of color in the senior management equation there.
The VMA incident came on the heels of Fox News using a photo of Patti LaBelle when tweeting about Aretha Franklin’s death last week. The move that was clearly made out of pure ignorance underscored how important it is for people of color – in this case, Black folks – to be represented on every single level of the corporate structure.
The overt racial bias by mainstream media wasn’t only limited to music.
When it was reported that a Colorado man was accused of killing his pregnant wife and their two young children, the accompanying imagery of his handsome face surrounded by his smiling family flooded news outlets across the country.
That obligatory positive imagery stands in stark contrast to those associated with Black and brown suspects of crimes that don’t even come close to the egregious level of evil that the Colorado suspect was charged with.
Statistics have long painted a grim picture for the prospects of making any inroads when it comes to diversifying the media, which has overwhelmingly skewed white.
Black people made up about 11 percent of TV newsroom staffers, according to a study by the Radio-Television Digital News Association conducted with Hofstra University published in June. About one in four staffers were people of color. That makes 75 percent of TV news organizations white, including and especially those in leadership and decision-making roles.
At just 16.6 percent, there were even fewer minorities working in newspapers of news websites, according to data from the American Society of News Editors published last year.