Erin Overbey, an archive editor for the New Yorker, laid out an impressive thread addressing racism in legacy media outlets Tuesday afternoon. Overbey called out outlets, including her own, for the lack of diversity and polite racism. She said the masthead of leading outlets resembles an all-white country club in the 1950s.
“White people are rarely actively racist at these publications,” tweeted Overbey. “They simply never bother to challenge the status quo—typically out of concern that they will be inconvenienced or made to feel uncomfortable. And so the status quo often remains entrenched for literally decades.”
From the data in Overbey’s thread, only four book reviews have been published by Black writers in the outlet’s 96-year history. Between 1990 and 2020, 3.6 % of reviews were written by Black journalists or critics.
The thread struck a chord with many Black journalists co-signing its contents. But what’s even more astonishing is the response to Overbey saying much of what Black journalists have been saying for years.
Overbey points out that racism in the media doesn’t require overtly evil actions during part of the thread. It can simply be an indifference to the experiences and work of people outside of white circles.
Overbey’s thread comes as several major organizations, including the National Black Journalists Association and Free Press, call on the Federal Communications Commission to address the long history of structural racism within U.S. media. Over 100 organizations signed a letter calling attention to the federal policies and practices that have enabled racism in media.
“Black journalists have challenged several major media organizations to address the harms they have caused within their newsrooms and to communities of color,” read the letter. “But media institutions are not solely responsible for the systemic racism that exists in our media system. Federal policies and the choices made by lawmakers and regulators have also played a foundational role.”
According to the letter, there was a 70 percent decrease in Black-owned commercial TV stations. The letter further requests the agency initiate an investigation into the FCC’s history of anti-Black racism.
The groups further requested the FCC to issue a “notice of inquiry and identify reparative actions it will take to redress the structural racism that exists in our media system due to those FCC policies.”