When CBS shared the names and photos of the 12 journalists who will be covering the 2020 election on Saturday, January 12th, the internet immediately noticed that absolutely no Black voices would be included. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Maxine Waters, and celebrated author Dr. Roxane Gay were among those who commented on the problem, which reeks of racism.
“This is a disgrace. And you’re proud?” Gay tweeted. Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “This WH admin has made having a functional understanding of race in America one of the most important core competencies for a political journalist to have, yet @CBSNews hasn’t assigned a *single* black journalist to cover the 2020 election.” As Blavity writer Ricky Riley pointed out, Black candidates like Sen. Kamala Harris will need Black voices to highlight various aspects of their campaigns and platforms.
Following CBS’s announcement and the subsequent criticism, conservative radio host Jesse Kelly tweeted, “People are dragging CBS for not having enough black people, but has anyone considered the obvious explanation that many black people have no interest in journalism? Cultures are different and value different things. Doesn’t make CBS the KKK…We’ve become so obsessed with ‘racism’ that we can’t even have frank discussions about cultures and our differences anymore.”
This only strengthened the backlash against CBS’s decision, with many commenting on Kelly’s blatantly racist take. Not only are Black people interested in journalism (my mother studied journalism in college and my grandmother reads and watches the news daily), we are critical to media. In fact, towards the end of 2018, Trump harassed April Ryan, Yamiche Alcindor, and Abby D. Phillip, three Black female journalists who dared to question him. He used words like “stupid,” “racist,” and “loser” towards them in his “defense” of his policies.
Black journalists’ voices are invaluable, and we have been sharing narratives and truth-telling for centuries. To say that our culture is so “different” that we have turned away from one of the most basic forms of information sharing is to rewrite Black American history.
Journalist and suffragist Ida B. Wells is famous for her anti-lynching campaign and investigative work as a reporter. Born in 1862 to slaves, she spent the majority of her life educating herself and others. In a 2018 obituary by the New York Times, Caitlin Dickerson wrote, “[Wells] pioneered reporting techniques that remain central tenets of modern journalism. And…she took on structural racism more than half a century before her strategies were repurposed, often without crediting her, during the 1960s civil rights movement.”
After her friend, Thomas Moss, was publicly murdered by a racist, Wells, wrote columns against ludicrous defenses of the lynching. “The men who…lead the mobs which do the lynching…[b]elong to the race which holds Negro life cheap, which owns the telegraph wires, newspapers, and all other communication with the outside world,” she wrote in 1900’s Lynch Law in America. “They write the reports which justify lynching by painting the Negro as black as possible, and those reports are accepted by the press associations and the world without question or investigation.” The people of Memphis were greatly angered by her literature, with some townsfolk burning her printing press. After her offices were damaged, she relocated to Chicago. Wells went on to marry Ferdinand Barnett, a newspaper publisher.
Ida B. Wells was acquainted with Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. DuBois, editor of The Crisis (a magazine for the members of the NAACP)—two giants who both made history. Douglass, a brilliant author, orator, and journalist began publishing The North Star, an abolitionist newspaper, in 1847. The North Star merged with another paper four years later and took the name Frederick Douglass’ Paper. He also published work called Douglass’ Monthly, as well as the New Era. In all of his journalistic endeavors, he fought for the rights of slaves, former slaves, and women. The North Star had readers in places as far away as Europe and, as of November 2018, it is being revamped as a website in February of this year.
Notable Black journalists of the 20th century include “the First Lady of the Black Press” Ethel Payne (a freelance journalist who wrote about the south during the civil rights movement), Alice Allison Dunnigan (a writer who covered Harry S. Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidential campaigns and was the first Black person to receive a Congressional press pass), and Les Payne (a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist who wrote about social justice).
So nah, Jesse Kelley, you’re wrong. Black people have continuously elevated their causes through journalism for hundreds of years.
We have snuffed out racism in various forms, including your most recent digital display of it.
I look to Black journalists like Lawrence Burney of The FADER and Okayplayer’s Ivie Ani for their insightful takes on Black happenings. They approach their work with such accuracy and fervor that they have risen through media’s ranks, becoming voices for young Black people all over the country. Without them, and without people like them, we would not have nuanced, original conversations about gender, abuse, and Black legacies that inspire activism and actually change the world.
Black folks are not only interested in taking on journalism, but we are heavily involved in its creation. We will keep on reporting until there is nothing left to discuss. But this is America, and we are Black, so there will always be news to share.