Tuesday, August 5, 2008

White Out: Black Bloggers and the Democratic Convention

By Sikivu Hutchinson

When Barack Obama accepts the Democratic Party’s nomination for president at its convention in August he will do so in an atmosphere where precious few people that look like him have been invited to join the punditocracy. Although bloggers have been admitted to the Convention in record numbers, in typical plantation politics only a limited number of bloggers of color will be at the table. According to Frances Holland of the Afrosphere Coalition, black bloggers represent a mere 7.2% of those attending. So on the ground commentary about this historic moment will be largely confined to a select group of white bloggers. The media white out of black voices is not surprising given the cherry-picking of commentators of color on the pundit-driven evening talk shows. Though outlets like CNN and MSNBC have been prompted by the cache of the Obama candidacy to include more faces of color in their white palette, the general tenor of these voices, with few exceptions, is mainstream and corporatist. Even avowedly liberal leaning shows like MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann stick to a quota of one East Coast black journalist a week to round out its critical commentary on the misdeeds of Bush and the reactionary right.

Indeed, the Obama candidacy has demonstrated the old adage that the more things change the more they stay the same, and that left/right labels have very little meaning when it comes to equitable inclusion of commentators of color. In 2005 Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting released its annual diversity in media survey which not surprisingly found that women of color were all but nonexistent in the TV punditocracy due to the preference for white women and men of color. Fast forward to 2008 and women of color are ghettoized to commentary on race-related themes pertaining to the election, only to vanish when the topic is foreign policy or the economy. Whatever the deficiencies of the blogosphere, it is one of the only mechanisms to chip away at the preserve of white male media supremacy in which a few anointed talking heads and issues framers are allowed to dominate cable, network and online news. Despite his rhetoric about the multicultural inclusiveness of American democracy, Obama has turned a blind eye to the very un-inclusive composition and framing of mainstream newscasts which rake in millions for their corporate sponsors.

So the white out at the Convention is yet another potent reminder that merely having a black face at the helm of the Party is no antidote to black media invisibility.
In fact, as the nation enters the Obama era the power to shape opinion on civil liberties and social justice will become even more crucial due to the perception that Negroes have been fully emancipated and that racial inequities are a thing of the past. The election of a black president will further embolden the anti-affirmative action and anti-equity propaganda of conservative media and public policy makers. Since his rout of Hillary Clinton, Obama’s problematic support of immunity for wiretapping under the FISA bill, his unqualified endorsement of Bush’s faith-based initiatives and his deafening silence on drug sentencing reform suggest that he is increasingly willing to bend and twist the legacy of the civil rights movement to pander to the center. While many black folks are already celebrating his victory as a salutary moment in history they would do well to heed the Democratic committee’s decision as a powerful reminder that the Head Negro in Charge syndrome is alive and well.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the editor of blackfemlens.org and a commentator for KPFK 90.7 FM

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