"Even though I am not sure what he is saying, I can tell he is angry. Today he is angry because CNN doesn't have enough black anchors. It is political season. There are billboards up sporting Paula Zahn and Anderson Cooper. He asks after the black reporters. Why are they not up there? I share his concern and make a mental note to take it back to my bosses. But then he begins to rage that there are no black anchors on the network at all. Does he mean covering the campaign, I wonder to myself? The man has been a guest on my show. He knows me, even if he doesn't recall how we met. I brought him on at MSNBC, then again at Weekend Today. I interrupt to remind him I'm the anchor of American Morning. He knows that. He looks me in the eye and reaches his fingers over to tap a spot of skin on my right had. He shakes his head. "You don't count," he says. I wasn't sure what that meant. I don't count - what? I'm not black? I'm not black enough? Or my show doesn't count?"
I haven't spoken to Rev. Jackson for a couple of weeks, so I don't know what he meant when he spoke to Soledad. In fact, I'm not even sure if he remembers the interaction to which Soledad is referring. But one can certainly give a perspective that would be plausibly linked to any frustration the black community might have with Soledad O'Brien as an anchor. I hope we can agree that almost none of us has the right to decide that anyone is not black enough, for the definition of blackness is changing every single day.
Shaun Robinson: 'Access Hollywood'
Lithe & Lovely: This super poised reporter is always simple & sophisticated in a wide array of figure-flattering dresses.
Best and Worst Dressed TV Stars
First, CNN has certainly worked in sync with other networks when it comes to keeping black faces off the air of their prime time news shows. Sure, there are a few black anchors during the day or on weekends, but when we consider the list of branded news names (Wolf Blitzer, Nancy Grace, Anderson Cooper, etc.), there are no black faces in the group. It's what Rev. Al Sharpton refers to as "All White, All Night." MSNBC, as friendly as they claim to be to the black community, engages in the same degree of racial exclusion. If Fox News were to give a prime time spot to Juan Williams, they'd actually be ahead of the other two networks in that regard. But given that Williams is used as somewhat of a racial mascot for Fox, his promotion would be a deceptive insult which has roots back to overseers during slavery, who put a black face on a highly racist agenda.
Secondly, one can't help but notice that in our "post-racial" society, skin complexion still plays a role in how black television personalities are chosen. When one observes the few black faces that appear on CNN in anchor roles, you'll notice that many of those faces (Don Lemon, TJ Holmes, Soledad O'Brien and a couple of others), are light-skinned black people, similar to Barack Obama. I quietly wonder if they would be accepted if they were darker-skinned. This is not to say that there is a conscious decision to exclude dark-skinned blacks, but you will typically see far more dark-skinned blacks on the street than you will see on CNN. It's cool for a black man to look like Barack Obama, but not cool for him to look like Wesley Snipes.
The third point that must be made is that although I am convinced that Soledad certainly cares about the black community, I haven't felt a popular pulse showing that black people feel connected to her. Soledad is not Oprah Winfrey, Tyra Banks, or Queen Latifah in terms of being the kind of black woman with whom other black people have an immediate connection. Instead, she's portrayed as a racially-ambiguous character who seems to have been the black person CNN has chosen to represent the other 40 million of us. I personally love Soledad and can feel her frustrations, but I can understand how the verdict is still out on Soledad's role at CNN. All the while, I expect that behind the scenes, both she and Roland Martin are doing their best.
Finally, we have to remember that CNN itself has shown a tremendous amount of racial hypocrisy, particularly as it relates to Rev. Jesse Jackson. Years ago, Jackson was removed from his job with CNN after it was revealed that he had a child out of wedlock. The network claimed that a morality clause led them to feel justified in their decision to remove him from the air. Fast forward 10 years later, where rather than taking an opportunity to put a black anchor on prime time, they instead choose a white male (Elliot Spitzer), who was found to have solicited prostitutes. The Spitzer-Jackson situation reminds me of the study that showed that a black male college graduate has less of a chance of being hired than a white man with a criminal record.
+Dr. Boyce Video -- Why is the Black Man Always a Suspect?
+$1.15 Billion in Aid to Haiti Held Up by US Gov't Bureaucracy
For the record, if it is the case that Rev. Jackson implied that Soledad O'Brien is not "black enough," I'd be the first to disagree with him. But given that some of us have felt that Soledad's series "Black in America" has often come up short when connecting to the realities of being black, we can certainly argue that Soledad's role as "the chosen one" must continue to be eyed with some degree of skepticism. None of this is Soledad's fault, and she is certainly good at what she does. I hope and expect that Rev. Jackson agrees with this assessment.
All of this conversation underscores the need for the Federal Communications Commission to get involved to open the door for more black-owned media. Rather than fighting like rats in a cage for the few scraps thrown at us by other networks, African Americans deserve to have their own voices with a multitude of faces that go beyond the two or three we catch on CNN. Many of us have been frustrated by the lack of variety, depth and impact of the words used by these anchors to describe issues in our community, and having more outlets of our own would give us a sufficient degree of variety and representation. Perhaps that's what Jesse Jackson was talking about, but I can't speak for him. What I can say is that the business of media leaves much to be desired when it comes to how the African American community is portrayed.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and a Scholarship in Action Resident of the Institute for Black Public Policy. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.