The old saying that white people think all Black people look alike reared its ugly head Tuesday morning when the New York Times misidentified one dark-skinned Black woman for another in a photo caption. The newspaper’s excuse? It blamed the wire service that provided the photo.
A photo that showed Angela Bassett on stage at the Emmys Monday night somehow confused the Academy Award-nominated actress with her polar opposite, All-American villain Omarosa Manigault-Newman. The Times apologized, but a closer look at its weak but probably true mea culpa — “We regret running an incorrect caption from a photo wire service in some early print editions” — couldn’t mask one glaringly sad truth: the obvious mix-up still eluded the human eyes that were charged with proofing copy before going to press.
Or did it?
Bassett may not be a household name in America, but in Black America, her name rings bells. Loudly.
That’s one of the reasons why it’s hard to believe that the person who missed the obvious error was more than likely non-Black. Another reason is that the number of Black journalists working at the Times has been on the decline, falling from a pitiful 9 percent to eight percent from 2015-2017, according to the paper’s own admission in its “diversity and inclusion” report released in March.
The true irony of it all was how the Times recently created a newsroom-wide team for covering race a couple of years ago. Clearly, none of the team members were privy to Tuesday morning’s caption before it ran.
But there is strength — or in this case, weakness — in numbers, and the Times was far from alone in its tone-deafness for identifying Black people.
In just the past month alone, other major media outlets have also made a compelling case for why they also need to ramp up recruiting and hiring of Black journalists in particular.
The day Aretha Franklin died, Fox news tweeted an image of Patti LaBelle singing.
Two weeks later, Franklin was once again misidentified. This time, the BBC named singer and actress Jenifer Lewis as the Queen of Soul.
Diversity in media has long been relatively nonexistent and has shown no signs of improvement, the Columbia Journalism Review pointed out last summer in a report that mentioned the New York Times in particular. “Minority journalists comprised 17 percent of the workforce in newsrooms in 2016, according to a survey conducted by the American Society of News Editors.
Still, despite the above damning statistics, Omarosa has been splattered across every news outlets’ front pages, both in print and on-screen, especially as of late with her new tell-all book about the Trump administration. Even if folks didn’t know who Angela Bassett was, surely they knew who Omarosa was.
Unless, of course, implicit bias toward Black folks compel them to think they all look alike, that is.