Category Archives: Media

Stereotypes and Learning About Black Women From Watching Television

Cast of 'Girlfriends' TV show, an American comedy-drama sitcom that lasted eight years. (Image: UPN Television Network)

Cast of ‘Girlfriends’ TV show, an American comedy-drama sitcom that lasted eight years. Left to Right: Jill Marie Jones, Tracee Ellis Ross, Golden Brooks and Persia White. (Image: UPN Television Network)

As an African-American woman and television viewer for over thirty years there haven’t been many opportunities to see positive, let alone well-rounded portrayals of Black women on network and/or cable television. As I got older when I would see a black female character on a television show I would keep my fingers crossed and hope that she wasn’t poor, pregnant, ignorant, stoic or in an abusive relationship. Most of the times my wishes went unanswered, but that was just the way it was in Hollywood and for American television.

However, the past ten years has been sort of a watershed moment for black actresses and television in that more black women haven been on television in leading or prominent roles including Nicole Beharie (Sleepy Hollow), Uzo Aduba, (Orange Is the New Black), Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead), Angela Bassett (American Horror Story), Gabrielle Union (Being Mary Jane), Chandra Wilson (Grey’s Anatomy), Raven-Symone (That’s So Raven), Jada Pinkett Smith (Hawthorne) and Regina King (Southland). No one has had a bigger role though than Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in Scandal. Combine that with scripted or reality shows that have a significant or mostly black female cast such as Girlfriends, Soul FoodReal Housewives of Atlanta, Love and Hip Hop – black women are more visible than ever on our televisions and computer screens, but also in our movie theaters.

Yet, even with the variety of black female roles on television Hollywood still traffics in obvious stereotypes of black women when writing black characters.

Below are some those stereotypes and imagery that still rear their ugly head in portrayals of black women on the small screen – no matter our evolving educational, cultural and economic impact on American society:

1. They are noticeably loud. Everything they say is said in such a booming and emphatic manner in comparison to others around them. Are they suffering from a debilitating auditory condition? Is their loudness due to a fact they don’t care that their voice is dominating the conversation and causing heavy wincing? The American Medical Association has yet to commence research regarding this ‘Hollywood’ medical condition though the problem still exists.

Black woman standing in clean kitchen (Image: Feature Pics)

Black woman standing in clean kitchen (Image: Feature Pics)

2. They browbeat their loved-ones as a sign of affection. They will tell their husbands, siblings, sisters and friends how much they’ve screwed up their work life, relationships or financial situations in sometimes amusing but mostly painful and humiliating fashion – all because they care about them. They’ll eventually express how much they love the person, but not before making them feel really bad about themselves.

3. They are born with Southern accents no matter where they live. Whether they were born in New York, California or somewhere in-between, they will eventually sound like they were born and raised in the Deep South. Maybe it’s something they have picked up subliminally from their mythical great aunt or grandmother while hearing their mythical tales of the how glorious the mythical South was for blacks back-in-the-day as long as they worked hard and lived right.

4. They are addicted to cleaning. Nothing makes their day like having a clean home, especially a spotless kitchen since that’s where they love to spend most of their time (more on that later). Sniffing the air of a clean home and smiling happily when their family comes home and acknowledges their hard work is the highlight of their day. Because of course every black woman has had a grandmother, mom or aunt who used to clean white people’s homes for a living.

5. They are genetically pre-disposed to suffer hair loss. They appear to become follicly-challenged once they enter their early teens, hence the heavy usage of wigs, weaves, braids and extensions to supplement their thinning hair and/or to protect what little hair they have left. By the time they’ve entered their forties full-fledged wigs have become the norm for most of them.

Irma P. Hall as 'Grandma Joe' the matriarch in the movie 'Soul Food.' (Image:  IMDB)

Irma P. Hall as ‘Grandma Joe’ the matriarch in the movie ‘Soul Food.’ (Image: IMDB)

6. They are biblical scholars. They can pull a quote from the bible as fast as Dirty Harry can draw a gun. Old Testament. New Testament. Revised Standard. King James Version. They keep one around at all times on the rare occasion that they have to reference it as a refresher or to fend off evil spirits.

7. They have unstable necks, resulting in excessive circular head movements. On occasion their heads become unusually heavy when they experience a bout of emphaticism (aka making a strong verbal point to their conversation partner). When this situation occurs their neck can no longer support the size of their head, hence the head-nod-to-headroll-in-a-counter-clockwise physiological anomaly.

8. Enjoy being sidekicks or third-wheels to white women. This is mainly due to their innate shyness that they cover-up by being extremely bossy towards their white BFFs. However in the rare instance that their white BFF decides to give them a wee bit of limelight the black woman will scurry back to the sidelines because that’s where she is obviously most comfortable.

9. They are always financially-challenged. They are constantly worrying about how to pay their bills because they never have enough money to pay their bills. It’s not because they blow money fruitlessly, but that they never seem to have enough money to do anything due to working one or more crappy jobs because they’re a single parent or have to support a sick mom, a deadbeat husband or a lazy boyfriend.

10. Love to cook jumbo-sized, down-home meals no matter the occasion or time of day. Black women are true believers of their own axiom that ‘All problems can be solved over a home-cooked meal.’ Accordingly they will break out their pots and pans for Thanksgiving-styled meals throughout the year, whether the problem is big or small, or even if a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of soup would suffice.

Kerry Washington as 'Olivia Pope' in the television show 'Scandal.' Pope is the rare character that doesn't fit the usual black women television role. (Image: ABC Television)

Kerry Washington as ‘Olivia Pope’ in the television show ‘Scandal.’ Pope is the rare character that doesn’t fit the usual black women television role. (Image: ABC Television)

11. Their life goals are very exacting. It seems that their dream jobs are  to own a hair salon, be a nanny to a precocious white child, a talk show host, music video vixen or to get married. Nothing else is remotely acceptable to them.

12. There is a correlation between their weight and their behavior. If they’re skinny they are mean and vain. If they’re plump they are warm and sassy. Average-sized black women seem to have low survival rates, hence they’re rarely spotted beyond their teen years.

13. They have infinite amounts of wisdom no matter the topic. Whatever the situation they will find a cliche, parable or homily for the moment in an attempt to make you feel better or to sum up the situation in case you have no clue what’s going on. Like your own personal ‘Gone With the Wind‘ Mammy.

Black women are not asking for Hollywood to portray them as flawless human beings or, as some sort of uber black female that is attractive, strong and respected. Cinematically, that has always been the demand from African-Americans and civil rights organizations because of the decades-long onslaught of negative imagery of black people, especially black men.

However, having black female characters who have ‘made it’ professionally, academically or financially but still act stereotypically ‘ghetto’ is incongruous and frankly asinine, yet it still happens (see ‘Angela’ in Why Did I Get Married movies).

Black female characters should run the gamut just like their white female counterparts. Hollywood producers should portray us as rich, poor, upper class, lower class, smart, clueless, serious, sassy, tough, scared, healthy, sick, overweight, sexy, nerdy, beautiful, ugly, friendly, deadly and any other social, emotional and economic variations. Why? Because black women are not a monolith or part of some collective Borg where we have the same thoughts, ideas or experiences. We are individuals with similarities and differences – imagine that.

Maybe one day Hollywood will put this particular conversation to rest, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Because for every Olivia Pope Tinseltown will always have black maids waiting in the wings.

As they say, the more things change the more they stay the same.

………………………………….

Related YETBW Blog Post: Learning About White Women From Watching Television.

For more information: The Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism describes itself as the “premiere research think tank in the world dedicated to addressing issues of inequality in entertainment.” It may be a slight exaggeration, but not by much. They do extensive research on diversity and the lack thereof in the entertainment industry. Their work is highly cited by those interested and concerned about the issue. You can read their annual reports and other research here.

Media Coverage of Gun Violence in A Post-Newtown Era

Hostage crisis in Midland City, Alabama (Associated Press, February 5, 2013)

Hostage crisis in Midland City, Alabama (Associated Press, February 5, 2013)

On Monday, February 4, 2013 in Midland City, Alabama a 5-year-old boy was finally returned to his family after being held captive for a week by Jimmy Lee Dykes, a disturbed 65-year-old man. What? You didn’t hear about this story? Well, here’s what happened according to Marcus Gilmer, a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times:

An armed man [stormed] on to a bus loaded with school children and, at gunpoint, [demanded] that the bus driver turn over two children. The bus driver [refused] and [tried] to stop the armed man. The armed man [shot] the driver, killing him, then [grabbed] one of the children as the others [fled]. The armed man [took] the 5-year-old child, who is autistic, to an underground bunker on his property where a week-long crisis [began]. As negotiators try to convince the man to release the boy, they are allowed to deliver toys and medicine to him via a pipe to the bunker. Finally, after managing to lower a hidden camera into the bunker, officials are alarmed by what they see and storm the bunker. The kidnapper is killed, either by agents or by his own hand, and the boy is miraculously rescued, unhurt. (February 5, 2013)

Normally, such a dramatic, television-ready story would be all over the network, cable, print and online news. Neighbors, friends, family and co-workers of Dykes would’ve been interviewed to ‘flesh out’ Dykes’ character. Psychologists, whether they had met Dykes or not, would have assessed his mental state and reasons for his actions. Other psychologists would’ve provided us with various medical descriptions of childhood autism and its possible impact on the boy’s situation. Hostage crisis experts would’ve passed along information about what the little boy is going through and how Dykes should be handled. Police officers with stoic visages would’ve appeared on screen with ongoing updates, mostly repeating themselves. All the while, family members and friends of the little boy would’ve been seen crying and begging for the little boy’s release as numerous photos of the boy smiling, laughing or playing flashed across our television screens. This media scenario would have went on for days until the boy was rescued and Dykes was either captured or killed.

Well, none of that happened. Maybe because the hostage crisis took place in a town which according to the latest U.S. Census has less than 2500 people. It is also 104 miles from Montgomery, the state’s capital and 192 miles from Birmingham, the state’s largest city. So it’s probably fair to say that Midland City can be easily overlooked, even with a hostage crisis occurring in its backyard.

Not Just On Our Radar

The old real estate adage “location, location, location” seems to have applied to this story as far as mainstream media was concerned. I’m not saying that the media should’ve or needed to provide wall-to-wall coverage similar to the Sandy Hook Elementary (Newtown, CT) or Virginia Tech shootings. However, its coverage of this SEVEN-DAY hostage crisis was pretty anemic. It was almost groundhog-like, news would pop up for a a minute or two a few times a day then would disappear for one or two days.

Maybe more than a few media bosses were thinking ‘Does anyone really cares what happens in Alabama?’ Gilmer seems to agree somewhat with this assessment, but still questions it:

Part of the fact that so much about the Midland crisis was ignored either as a second-tier story or completely was because of where it happened. Trust me. I’m from Alabama. I know how people perceive of my native state. Sometimes, I can’t blame them. But in this instance, it was somewhat frustrating given the aforementioned universal issues at play here. This was not just a typical redneck incident….[t]his is larger than any regional bias; this is a national issue and we have to be willing to look past stereotypes, to be willing to accept both the smaller, hyperlocal context as well as the larger, national one. This is not some case of a drunken redneck brawl gone awry; this was a very real crisis with a larger social impact. (February 5, 2013)

Yet, it wasn’t just the location that played a significant part in the muted coverage of this story – it’s mainly because of what happened in Newtown.

Newtown Media Aftermath

It has been over two months since the December 14th shootings in Newtown, Connecticut claimed the lives of 26 people, 20 of them children. The live and ongoing news coverage of that story was fast, furious and a journalistic-fail on many accounts. Television and online media made a host of errors such as the name of the shooter (naming Ryan Lanza, the older brother, instead of Adam Lanza); posting the Facebook page of a Ryan Lanza from New Jersey alleging he was the shooter; claiming the shooter had killed his dad; that the mom was a teacher at the school, etc. Maybe the media’s limited coverage of the Alabama hostage crisis was also due to journalistic fear that it would go overboard like it did with Newtown – where unsubstantiated and non-fact checked information put the news media in a seriously bad light. So the media pulled back on the Midland story and may do so on several others for awhile as it continues to lick its wounds and genuflect on its  ‘Newtown News’ behavior.

The fact is, we are now in a post-Newtown world when it comes to gun violence stories. Cynically, all incidents of violence and their deemed noteworthiness will be compared to the Newtown shootings. Grandparents killed at home by a robber – well, that’s only two deaths; plus they were stabbed not shot. Crazy person enters a clinic and shoots 30 people – not that big of a deal because no one died. Five college students shot on campus – they’re not kids like Newtown and it’s not as bad as the Virginia Tech shooting. Group of teens shot while standing at a bus stop and one dies – that’s only one death, plus it happened in an “urban” area (code for ‘residents are primarily people of color’). These stories would more than likely fail the ‘Post-Newtown News Test’ which sadly appears to be more deaths + innocent-looking, mostly white victims + near major news city/market = more news coverage. Therefore one death and a week-long hostage crisis in Alabama versus the death of over twenty kids at a school house in a suburban town near a major news metropolitan area just doesn’t make the media sensationalism grade.

Then again, hasn’t this always been the case?

Please, Enough With Sandra Fluke Already

Sandra Fluke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention (AP Photo, September 5, 2012)

A couple of days ago Sandra Fluke spoke in primetime at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. I made a point of not watching the Fluke in action. I admit it, I’m tired of seeing and hearing about her and from her.

I’ve taken to calling Fluke ‘Mary Magdalene‘ America’s latest reincarnation of special womanhood. She can do no wrong – she must be defended 24 hours of day, 7 days a week and 365 days of the year.

Yet, there is something strangely patronizing about the Fluke bandwagon. She’s treated like a young girl who requires knights (male and female) to protect her from the mean, bad men. Seriously, this woman is over 30 years and just graduated with a Georgetown University law degree! I’m sure that she is able to defend herself without her unofficial squires running to her assistance.

Fluke’s  infamous, remote dust-up via talk radio with that idiot RushLimbaugh (he called her a ‘slut’) galvanized American women in regards to their healthcare and the upcoming presidential election, which was a boon for the Democratic Party. Probably one of the few times a woman being called a “slut” is/was a good thing.

Margaret Sanger, Founder of Planned Parenthood and women’s reproductive rights activist (Photo, 1957, The Mike Wallace Interview)

However, the happenstance of her celebrity combined with her limited work as a “women’s activist” (as she’s been described) makes for a strange combination that I find bothersome.

It’s kind of like a reality television star with little to no acting experience who wants to be viewed as a serious actor or actress.

I’m not saying that she doesn’t care about women’s issues/reproductive rights, but let’s wait a bit before we call her the next Margaret Sanger, Gloria Steinem or Rosa Parks.

Also, let’s be honest about the real issue surrounding Fluke’s celebrity. If Fluke was Black, blonde, had acne or big tits or looked like a cheerleader (god-forbid) we wouldn’t know who the hell she is. Limbaugh could’ve called her a host of names (feminazi anyone?) and that would’ve been it. The public and the media are very fickle over the types of women whom they hand out the ‘deserve to be defended’ crown.

Rosa Parks, civil rights activist (AP Photo, 2005)

I’m sure Fluke’s flunkies (as I sometimes call them) would say that I’m being mean, jealous or hateful towards such a ‘strong, dedicated woman.’ But the fact is women are viewed and treated differently based on their looks and ethnicity.

We can’t be ugly or no one wants you. Can’t be too attractive or no one will take you seriously. Fluke falls right in the middle, which has made for a perfect media and political confluence. Mary Magdalene indeed.

I just wish the media, politicians and others would keep in mind that Fluke is just one woman and that she doesn’t represent ALL women – though my cynical, pessimistic side sarcastically tells me “Good luck with that!”

Sigh – I guess we’re stuck with Fluke. Thanks a lot Limbaugh.

Learning About White Women From Watching Television

‘What if I was an alien about to visit the planet Earth what would I think about American white women based on watching network and cable television?’

This thought popped into my head when I saw another HBO advertisement pumping its latest show about women, the aptly named “Girls.” Whenever I turn on the television all I see are old and new shows about women, specifically white women. They are everywhere!

Cast of HBO’s new series “Girls” (Photo/JoJo Whilden/HBO, 2012)

Over the decades the National Organization for Women and other pro-women organizations of similar ilk have been patting themselves on the back about the influx of female-dominated shows. Of course these same organizations overlook if not outright ignore the fact that most of these shows are created and/or produced by men AND that women of color are practically non-existent on television, but never mind that!

Oh, back to the alien and white women. Ahem, close your eyes and imagine a male alien (if they exist) attempting to prepare for his arrival on earth. He wants to learn about Americans, specifically American white women in order to find a potential mate. As part of his preparation he watched hundreds upon hundreds of hours of network and cable television shows over the decades (along with a bunch of movies and commercials for good measure) to learn about this species.

If I was that alien I would come to the following conclusions about American white women:

1. They are whiny and neurotic. The topics in which they whine and obsess about are endless, whether it’s their weight, when they will get married, their job, their husband, their family, their clothes, their breast size, their child’s education, the size of their house or whatever else that always seem to bother them. They will find things to complain about. They are never happy.

2. They need to be protected all the time. It’s because they can’t seem to fend for themselves. It’s usually their parents or their boyfriend or their husband or their grandparents coming to their financial, emotional or physical rescue. It doesn’t matter how old they are, their level of physical fitness/strength, emotional fortitude, financial independence or intellectual capacity – white women will always need help.

Jennifer Aniston, actress, movie star, best known for role in “Friends” (Photo/Wikimedia Commons, 2012)

3. They all secretly want to be blondes. The hair commercials are dominated by blondes. Even when they have blondes, brunettes and redheads in the ads the blonde chick is always front and center. They will destroy their hair over and over again, stripping it of its natural color to become a blonde babe. Even if for some unknown reason they chose not to become a blonde they will still act like the stereotypical blonde airhead. Blondes may be stupid, but they’re sexy and all men seem to want them so white women want to be that woman.

4. They are pretend feminists. White women like to tell people that they are strong and independent and don’t need a man. They go mountain-climbing, kick ass as tough-talking attorneys in the courtrooms, become magazine editors, run bakeries and head-up Fortune 500 companies while listening to girl-power music. But they will chuck it all in a microsecond because their true goal in life is to get married and be a stay-at-home mom in suburbia baking gingerbread cookies while making sure their home is 99.9% germ-free.

5. They are super bitches until age 30. This phase usually kicks in during their high school years and continues through college. Once they graduate the bitchiness is turned down quite a bit as they try to navigate the job market because they’re not queen shit anymore. Once they turn 30 the bitchiness turns into paranoia about their looks, their ovaries reduced life span and everything else until they finally die. Note: The exception to this rule is if a white woman is in a high-level executive position then the bitchiness continues until they turn 40 then paranoia combined with desperation kicks in exponentially.

6. One BFF is never enough. They don’t know how to have one ‘best friend forever.’ White women have to have a group of best friends at all times so that they can hang out, cry and bitch to each other and share their shallow or deepest, darkest secrets while hunting for men in packs like wolves.

7. Sex must be kept on the downlow. They love to have sex (good or bad) and talk about it endlessly. But when it comes down to marriage they dole out the sex so as not to give the man the impression that they may be a slut because if they enjoy sex then they must be a slut. But in order to get a man interested in them they have to be sexual sluts. An infinite conundrum that has caused white women much internal grief.

Sarah Jessica Park, star of HBO’s “Sex and the City” (Photo/Wikimedia Commons, 2009)

8. They can afford expensive apartments/homes with low-paying jobs.Their jobs are mostly administrative in nature yet the size and design of their habitat looks as if its owned by a corporate executive. How they are able to manage this is a feat that must be acknowledged but never questioned.

9. Will always find a way to ruin a relationship. They simply talk and think too much about the relationship to their mate while the relationship is in progress. Once they get dumped they have emotional breakdowns and get plastic surgery to improve their self-worth all the while wondering why their latest soul mate has kicked them to the curb.

10. They’re great moms and always worry about their kids. White women as moms are innately the best moms in the universe because they know everything, just ask them. Simultaneously they’re always on red alert for diseases, drug use or stupidity that may impact their child’s development or social standing in parent circles.

11. Would rather be dead than fat. They are all skinny and in great shape. This is mainly because they are constantly dieting and/or complaining about their weight. They also complain about how hungry they are because they’re constantly dieting and/or complaining about their weight. Being overweight or fat is worse than being homeless, having a fatal disease or a nuclear holocaust that would annihilate the human race.

12. They are homicidal lunatics. This behavior especially comes into play when they are dumped by their boyfriend or husband for another woman, usually a more nubile, sexually adventurous woman. They are then consumed by rage and revenge. They’re not able to move on with their lives until their rival has entered the hereafter via a bullet, knife in the back, car accident or a “fall” down several flights of stairs.

Eventually the alien turns off his television set and leans back in his chair. His brain is totally fried from trying to absorb so much information. He wonders if he has learned too little or too much about these strange beings. Not surprisingly, the alien decides to visit another planet to get his groove on, thinking “American white women are just too fuckin’ unstable!”

…………………………………….

Related YETBW Blog Post: Stereotypes and Learning About Black Women From Watching Television

In Defense of Michele Bachmann Against Newsweek


8/8/2011

I never thought that I would see the day that I would be defending GOP Presidential Candidate Michele Bachmann.

The above photo is on the cover of the latest issue of Newsweek magazine. To be blunt, she looks manic and a tad deranged. There really is no excuse for this photo by Newsweek. I doubt that this is best picture they had of Bachmann, though past photos of her haven’t exactly been the most flattering­.

Maybe Newsweek wanted a photo that made Bachmann look somewhat mentally off-kilter to tie in with their “Queen of Rage’ headline. What might be even scarier is that Bachmann may have had final photo approval and thought this was the best photo of the bunch. Not exactly a shining example of a basic judgement call.

Bachmann’s politics, rhetoric and behavior are considered extreme by many, including myself. Furthermor­e, I do not believe that she has the intellectu­al stamina and/or temperamen­t to be the President of the United States. All that being said, isn’t up to the public to decide whether her candidacy should be taken seriously, not for Newsweek to infer something about Bachmann via a crazy-look­ing photograph­?

You might recall during the 2008 presidenti­al campaign Newsweek got in hot water over a cover photo pic of then GOP VP candidate Sarah Palin in running shorts. They don’t seem to have the greatest mag cover track record with showing female GOPers in the best light.

With all the brouhaha surrounding the Bachmann photo I can’t help but smell a whiff of manufactur­ed PR by Newsweek who isn’t exactly high-up on the news media radar.

Hey Newsweek – if you don’t like a candidate or a candidate’s politics then say so. There is no need to place inappropri­ate and/or unflatteri­ng photos about certain candidates as some sort of subliminal/editorial message.

The defense of Michele Bachmann by a Democrat (albeit a semi-crank­y one) rests.

Racist Remarks: It’s All About the Context

The Internet is all abuzz over Pat Buchanan referring to President Obama as “your boy” during his August 2nd appearance on MSNBC’s ‘The Al Sharpton Show.’ Sharpton and Buchanan were discussing the debt ceiling bill when the following exchange occurred:

Buchanan: And let me tell you, your boy, Barack Obama, caved in on it in 2010 and he’ll cave in on it again.

Sharpton: My what? My president Barack Obama? What did you say?

Buchanan: He’s your boy in the ring, he’s your fighter.

Sharpton: He’s nobody’s boy. He’s your president and he’s our president. And that’s what y’all have got to get through your head.

The next morning on MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’ Buchanan was forced to clarify his controversial remarks. He said the following:

I was asked who was the big losers in these battles and the big winners, and I said one of the big losers, using boxing terminology, was ‘your boy,’ and I meant the president of the United States,” he said. “Rev. Sharpton said my boy is the president of the United States and he’s doing a rope-a-dope in the Ali fashion and he’s going to finish off your crowd. Now this was taken, some folks took what I said as some kind of slur. None was meant, none was intended, none was delivered, for the record.

Buchanan has walked the almost racist/racist fine line many times throughout his career. He has yet to step over it, but he has come very close.

Crossing the Line

It’s that coming close part which makes it hard to concretely decide whether someone’s comments have been misinterpreted; is a sign of cultural cluelessness or just simply racist.

Maybe Buchanan used “your boy” in reference to Sharpton’s support for Obama. It is a phrase that is used mostly by guys when they’re talking about someone’s friend or someone they respect. It is also an expression used to show dislike for that person or that they’re not a close friend. Others have chimed in that its just a phrase – that since Buchanan said “your boy” not “boy” therefore he was not implying anything. It was just words.

Nevertheless, when Buchanan uttered that phrase it took on another tone for many people. The tone of white men who for centuries treated and viewed adult black men as children. Maybe that’s not what Buchanan meant, but given his past oratorical miscues and racial tone-deafness over the decades he has been been called a bigot, a racist and an anti-semite.

Some will say Buchanan is not a racist because he’s never called anyone a n*gger. That may be true, but there are other words that may not be as incendiary, but they still do harm or cause anger.

Dealing With the Filter

As an African-American I have lost count on how many times a  white person has said that I was ‘articulate’ or ‘well-spoken’ in a surprising tone, even after they know I went to college. How the hell am I supposed to sound?! Whenever I hear those descriptions my eyes squint and I gnash my teeth. I never acknowledge the so-called compliment because I find it insulting. Yet, when I have tried to explain my thoughts on the matter to white people most simply don’t get it. I’m sure they thought I was being overly sensitive.

Racism can still be overt, but is is mostly subtle now; sometimes almost opaque. Throwing down the so-called race card on someone truly depends on the context and the individual(s) involved. Once you have determined that you were the victim of a racist remark you have other filters you have to go through.  Has this person said questionable things to you or others before? How does he/she react around other non-whites? Will he/she realize that what they said upset you? Should you let this person know that they’ve offended you? Will they care? Should you even bother?

This type of filtering has led to reclassification of some formerly racist remarks to be viewed as misinterpretations and the person who made the remark to simply be seen as culturally clueless in a Pollyanna sort of way.

So – basically as long as you don’t say the n-word your borderline racist comment(s) will get a pass. Just ask Pat Buchanan, he is the master (pun intended) of such things.

Social Media and Civic Engagement: Many Questions, A Few Answers

Diana Owen, Lee Rainie, Mindy Finn and Macon Phillips – Panelists, “How Social Networking Can Reinvigorate American Democracy and Civic Participation,” Brookings Institution, June 28, 2011 (Photo/Angelia Levy)

Can social networks increase our involvement in the political process beyond clicking the ‘like’ button?

Politics and social media have finally made a connection. Yet, the level of understanding and usage of social media varies from person to person. The public, politicians and governmental entities are trying to grasp how to use social media while simultaneously learning how to use it effectively as the technology is constantly changing. It makes for a daunting task for those interested in using social media to increase engagement.

The Brookings Institution in Washington, DC held a panel on June 28, 2011 to discuss the impact of social networks on the public’s interest and involvement in governance.

The panelists for “How Social Networking Can Reinvigorate American Democracy and Civic Participation” were Mindy Finn, Partner at the Engage, a firm that provides advice about online technology. She also directed Mitt Romney’s digital and online operations during his 2008 presidential campaign; Diana Owen, Social Professor of Political Science and Director of the American Studies Program at Georgetown University; Macon Phillips, Special Assistant to President Barack Obama and Director of Digital Strategy for the White House and Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, which surveys the effect of technology on our socioeconomic lives.

Though the topic was social media and how it can increase civic engagement the panelists found themselves discussing how social media can be utilized and utilized better when it comes the public’s level of civic engagement.

Social Media Post-2008

Social networking has come quite a way in a relatively short period of time. Prior to 2008 older and newer social networking sites such as Friendster, MySpace and Facebook were seen primarily as tools for the young in which they talked to their friends, shared music and posted photos.

Then social networking stepped into another realm with its use by the Obama campaign and the rise of Facebook. Obama’s campaign heavily used Twitter, Facebook and their website to keep voters abreast of their campaign stops, political stances and scheduled rallies.

Other presidential candidates such as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), former Sen. John Edwards (D-SC) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did the same, but not with a similar level of effectiveness. Obama’s use of social media became the benchmark for how politicians could successfully connect with the public.

After the election, hundreds of local, state and Congressional politicians set-up a website, Facebook or Twitter account. Government agencies took steps to become a part of the social networking arena. The White House’s website became chockful of information about President Obama’s schedule and the Administration’s agenda, information that had been never readily available and with such detail. Earlier this week, the Obama Administration announced that President Obama would start tweeting via the White House’s official Twitter account.

However, does the fact that local, state and federal government have become social media users mean that they have connected successfully with the American public?

Politicians, the Public and Social Media

Macon Phillips stated that though the White House has primarily used its website to communicate with the public it wants to create a “more robust web program.”

Phillips said that the White House uses Twitter and Facebook, but that they have started to include LinkedIn as part of their social media work.

“We’ve done some real interesting work with [LinkedIn],” Phillips said, adding that “We try to look at all those communities where we actually wanted to find people where they were . . . their expertise in order to reach them more directly.” Phillips also stated that his office has also looked into Quora and other new sites, which seem “very compelling and full of experts.”

Mindy Finn saw social media as a way to get the public more civically involved at the grassroots level. Finn said that social media’ impact on politics has had a “revolutionary effect.” She cited the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt as places where social media has played a major role in politics in those countries. Finn said that if campaigns can “do social media right it should be the central nervous system of the campaign.”

“Political campaigns are about people . . . it’s about connecting people and forming relationships with people, and that’s what social media is all about,” said Finn.

However, Finn said that politicians still campaign the old way in that they spend most of their time with those who can contribute the big money, “reserving the end of their campaign to try to meet some voters . . . person to person.”

Social Networking and Governance

Social media has also had an impact on the way the public receives their political news and participates in the political process. Finn stated that though social media has been beneficial there remains the perceived threat that “use of social media [is] a distraction” in that it “pulls people away from real friendships and their communities.” Lee Rainie said Pew’s report Social Networking and Our Lives shows that has not been the case.

“People particularly who use Facebook have more friends, more close friends, more likely to be involved in politics, more likely to be open to diverse points of views,’ said Rainie. He also said that usage of social media has continued to grow, as “twenty-two percent of internet users used social media in one way, shape or form in the 2010 election.”

Diana Owen said that there has been a correlation between social media usage and “election purposes.” In Georgetown University’ s Government in Politics in the Information Age, Owen said their report showed that “taking a civics course . . . greatly increases the probability that a person will use social media at least for election purposes.”

What Owen found interesting was that the incorporation of social media into civics education appeared to have an impact on civic engagement. Owens also said that sixty-seven percent of those whose civic courses integrated social media were “engaged in the 2008 campaign.”

Rainie agreed that civics education could add to a person’s comfortability level when using social media for their political activities. Raine said that the Pew study found that almost twenty-three percent of Americans “had tried to convince someone to vote for a specific candidate . . .  and that ten percent had attended a political rally.”

The panelists seemed to agree that the public’s use of social media to post their thoughts, ideas or news within their network or community can be an effective form of political activism.

Social Media and Reviving American Democracy

When asked what could social media do to improve participation in campaigns and “reinvigorate American Democracy,” the panelists mentioned how social media needed to be more a part of the political and news conversation.

Finn said that campaigns will need to accept that they must be “decentralized” in that the flow of information should come from the people and their social networks – not directly from the campaigns themselves.

Phillips has been fascinated by how social media content is currated – gathered and distributed. He said that “people are looking at stuff for alerts, they’re waiting for stuff to use to broadcast on their own vehicles.” Phillps also noted how American policy officials have conversed with large groups of people by way of Facebook chats.

Rainie noted that in the Pew Study twenty-two percent of Facebook users submit a comment on someone else’s post during a typical day; twenty percent comment on someone else’s photo and forty-four percent of social media users claim to update their status at least once a week.

Finn said that the use of social media combined with a very fast news cycle meant that politicians and the government must find new ways to provide information online for its constituents as quickly as possible.

Owen stated that in 2008 Facebook was the social media darling when it came to civic engagement; in 2010 it was Twitter. She said that because “we’re having a greater fragmentation of the platforms that people use for social media to access campaigns” that it is still  hard to predict what will be the next big thing to reinvigorate the public when it comes to their political interactions.

2012 Elections and Social Media

Phillips was hesitant to discuss his thoughts given his position and the fact that President Obama is running for re-election. However, he did mention that his office remains interested in making  more use of LinkedIn. He said that LinkedIn’s data “is very professionally-organized” and that it gets “looked over a lot.” He also said that Twitter will be used a lot more beyond tweeting White House announcements.

As evidenced by the fact that in the 2010 election over twenty-six percent of the American population have mobile phones is a sign that that mobile apps will play a bigger part in the upcoming presidential election said Rainie, he added that “All of the metrics of [how the public] uses social media are going up . . . the Internet is just going to become more and more important part of the campaign.”

Finn believed that new journalists with print and digital experience will play a significant part in the election cycle. She said that their ability to “determine good versus bad facts will be more important than ever,” especially since “having a good story is now less important than breaking news.”

Also, new journalists “must participate in social media” said Finn. They must think of different platforms to promote their story in the social media era. Finn said that new journalists must be “active social media participants” in that they make regular use of their Facebook and Twitter accounts not to only “post info but also engage with their followers, fans and those in their social network community.”

Owen said that in 2012 that those with the social media resources will continue to be the “social networking innovators” in that that they will have the most influence. Though you still hear about the digital divide being about race, Owen said that socioeconmic status mostly determines a person’s social network involvement. “Users of social media are not as diverse as we would like them to be,” said Owen. She also said that class and education status will play a role in the 2012 election and subsequent elections when it comes to social media.

Final Thoughts

Social media continues to play a significant part in the public’s political discussions and actions. Yet, does a tweet constitute civic engagement? Does becoming a fan of a politician’s page proves that a voter is paying attention to that politician’s activities?

The panelists seemed to believe that social  media can be used to reignite the public’s interest in campaigns, elections and civics education. However, their answers didn’t seem to go beyond what has already been addressed about how social media can empower its citizenry and what tools would best serve this purpose . Maybe this is because many of us are still learning how to use social media, let alone how to use it effectively in the political/governmental arena. Its ability to mobilize citizens to become full-fledged participants in the American democratic process has yet to be determined.

(For complete discussion, see How Social Networking Can Reinvigorate American Democracy and Civic Participation)

Sarah Palin: Not So Plain, Not So Tall

Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska; possible GOP 2012 presidential candidate (Photo by Theresalbs2002/WikimediaCommons)

When I was a teen, I read the classic children’s book ‘Sarah Plain and Tall,’ which is about a woman who dresses plainly but is ‘tall’ of character. This book popped into my head when I heard about Sarah Palin’s upcoming ‘One Nation‘ tour. This Palin is definitely not plain. As for her character, it depends on whom you’re asking at the time.

If you haven’t heard already, Palin plans to visit historical sites along the East Coast (starting Memorial weekend) in which she’ll “share the importance of America’s foundation.” Not exactly sure what she plans to accomplish since details are still sketchy. One can’t help but think that this move–amongst others she has made recently–is in preparation for her run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

Palin has been quiet these past few months as her popularity and poll numbers have dropped since the Tucson/Giffords shooting. The GOP weren’t exactly enamored about her possible presidential candidacy, especially when they had other more viable potential candidates in the wings such as Mike Huckabee, Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. Romney, Pawlenty and Gingrich are the only bigwigs left and yet the GOP still look like they’re waiting for someone else, someone better. I doubt that person is Palin, but maybe she feels that she is the one person to pull the party together.

Palin could have been the lead GOP 2012 candidate if she had played her cards right after the 2008 election. She knew as the GOP’s then vice-presidential candidate that the general public thought (and some still think) that she is all flash, no substance. Her intelligence and interest in governing has been constantly questioned.

After November 2008 she could have taken stock of her situation and decided to beef up her credentials. She could have sat down and familiarized herself with the print and digital media. She could have hit the books to get a stronger understanding of the U.S. economy, how government works and our nation’s history. Palin could have reached out to experts, journalists, politicians and academics to find out what they think about foreign affairs, the national debt, health care, social reform or the U.S. military presence overseas. She could have written op-ed pieces, co-written reports, posted blogs, showed up on the Sunday talk shows, or participated in panel discussions at think tanks or universities.  She could have done town halls or Facebook discussions where the public could ask her questions about the state of America. Palin did none of those things.

What has she done these past 2+ years?  She gave a Thanksgiving interview in which a turkey was being slaughtered in the background. She resigned from the governorship of the state of Alaska with 18 months left in her first term. She did a reality show based on her life in Alaska. She became a sometime pundit on Fox News. She wrote Going Rogue which read more like a conversation than a book explaining her political purpose in life. She decried that Obama’s healthcare program would institute bureaucratic death panels which would decide who are worthy to receive healthcare or pass on to the hereafter. She made limited speeches in front of corporate executives and advocacy groups in which she charged five and six figure fees. She wrote notes in black ink on her hand to help her remember talking points during speeches. She joined the social media sphere via Twitter and Facebook which allowed the public immediate access to her word choice skills (remember ‘refudiate?‘) that was cause for ridicule.  She showed tone-deafness when she turned the Tucson shooting into a complaint about people targeting her. These are not the things you do when you want to be taken seriously as a possible presidential candidate.

Some people despise Sarah Palin and/or think she is an idiot. I think she is a serious lightweight who loves the media/public attention and the idea of being president, not the actual work that comes with being President of the United States. She doesn’t have the mental stamina or fortitude to handle the job, though she probably doesn’t think she needs it. Palin seems to be a firm believer of guts over intelligence. That’s great if you’re picking who is going to win the Super Bowl, not so great when you have to decide whether to send Navy Seals into Pakistan to kill an international terrorist. There is a difference, though she probably wouldn’t see it.

Palin wasted an opportunity to be viewed as a thoughtful, smart and genuine candidate, even if you disagreed with her politics. Unfortunately for her, our image of her as a semi-dim cheerleader has not changed. She loves to blame others for how she is viewed and/or portrayed. Palin has yet to realize or accept that she has no one to blame but herself.

Note: Sarah Palin decided not to run as a potential GOP presidential candidate for the 2012 U.S. presidential election. Mitt Romney ended up becoming the GOP’s nominee. Romney lost the presidential election to to incumbent President Barack Obama.

Eliot Spitzer Is An Asshole. So what?

I have been watching CNN’s ‘In the Arena‘ the past few weeks just to take a look at Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. I didn’t watch the show in its previous incarnation ‘Parker & Spitzer‘ which never made much sense to me. CNN hired Spitzer because of his take-no-prisoners attitude then showed its fear (aka potential loss of advertiser dollars and the female audience) by adding Washington Post Columnist Kathleen Parker to soften him up. Watching those two banter was like witnessing one of those horrible, awkwardly scripted conversations you normally see while watching the Academy Awards. ‘Parker & Spitzer’ was a painful, eye scrape-inducing endeavor, therefore I chose not to watch it. Thank goodness CNN saw the error in its logic and shuttled Parker off into ‘media-fail’ outer space. I felt a tad sorry for her, but that’s life in the big city, especially when you’re dealing with the Spitzer.

Eliot Spitzer, former NY Attorney General and NY Governor; currently host of CNN’s ‘In the Arena’ (Photo/Platon, CNN)

My reasons for not watching ‘Parker & Spitzer’ were definitely different than most people. Potential viewers boycotted the show because they thought Spitzer was/is an immoral, adulterous asshole. Spitzer has never claimed not to be any of these things. Yes, he enjoyed kicking ass and taking names on behalf of the state of New York as Attorney General then Governor. Yes, he cheated on his wife with a prostitute. Yes, he showed an amazing lack of judgment which led to him resigning his governorship. Yes, he is like a heat-seeking missile when it comes to the limelight. But these are traits and actions he has never tried to hide post-being-caught-with-his-pants-down. He obviously believes that he still has much to contribute to the political and legal conversation, that his career and life are not over because of his transgressions, which is why I watch his show. He’s an asshole, but he’s smart, savvy and a fighter.

He deserves kudos for not laying down or walking away with his dick between his legs. Most people would never have been able to recover from such a public humiliation and supposed career downfall. Yet he found his way back, career-wise. And somehow him and his wife have made amends, so to speak, with each other and moved on. If his wife can do this, then who are we, the general public, to condemn him to pushing boulders uphill like Sisyphus or living in perpetual shame like his philanderer-in-arms, Former 2004 Democratic Vice-Presidential Candidate John Edwards. Spitzer does not act like someone who has been permanently shamed and that is why some people just can’t stand him.

I am not justifying the fact he cheated on his wife nor the fact that he put the state of New York in a politically and financially-precarious position. However, he does not need the public’s forgiveness for his actions. He knows he’s an asshole. He knows that we know he’s an asshole. He seems to be okay with that, though he probably doesn’t give a shit what we think about him, which is as it should be.

Update: On July 6, 2011 CNN canceled Spiter’s talk show ‘In the Arena.’ In 2012 Spitzer became a host of his own show ‘Viewpoint with Elitot Spitzer’ on Current TV which was cancelled that same year. On July 8, 2013 Spitzer announced that he was a candidate to be New York City’s next ‘City Comptroller. He ended up losing the Democratic primary in September 2013 to Scott Stringer (Manhattan Borough President) who eventually was elected Comptroller. On  January 13, 2014 Eliot Spitzer and Silda Wall filed divorced papers. The divorce was finalized in April 2014 with Ms. Wall receiving a $7.5 million divorce settlement. In February 2016 a woman accused Spitzer of assault, an allegation which he denied. The woman. Svetlana Travis, later stated that she fabricated the accusation. The New York Police Department’s (NYPD) investigation is ongoing.

This roadtrip is almost over

I am seven weeks away from receiving my Master’s in Interactive Journalism (IJ) from American University. It has been a long and tiring 19 months, but I do not regret any of it, especially since American has become a “center for new journalism.” I have had great classes and not-so-great classes. I had courses that I  enjoyed immensely; taught by professors that I found enlightening. On the opposite end, a couple of my courses were downright aggravating with less than stellar professors. When I entered the IJ program I had a general knowledge/base of what constitutes digital and print journalism, but I wanted to learn more. As the last few weeks of grad school draws to a close I can safely say that I not only ‘know’ but ‘understand.’ There is a difference between the two words that many fail to grasp; knowing is not understanding. My favorite quote is by Hippocrates which sums things up succinctly “To know is science, to think you know is ignorance.” Amen.

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