The overwhelming whiteness of one of America’s most famous news programs is jarring. That is, if you care to notice
Yet another Sunday evening. Before we dig into dragons on HBO, you can hear the constant “tick, tick, tick, tick, tick” bouncing off the walls. That ticking clock is as familiar as church bells on the Lord’s Day. It means that the weekend is winding down, the week is beginning and it’s time to settle back into routine.
I’m like an old white dude in my television habits (yup, I fast forward through lots of erectile dysfunction commercials). I get hype for a game of “Jeopardy!,” History channel documentaries are my sh*t, and, no lie, I am low-key angry if I miss an episode of “60 Minutes” on Sunday. (I’m also like a trap queen in my viewing habits—”Love and Hip-Hop,” “Black Ink,” etc., so I’m like the love child of George H.W. Bush and Khia.)
For years, I have been watching the universally praised, longest-running, most successful show on television, “60 Minutes” — the news magazine, and I’m smarter for it (even helps with “Jeopardy!”) To be sure, there have been some misses (that 2007 “snitching” story with Cam’ron was culo), and honestly, I could do with a few less war stories in that same dusty shade of gray (I know, I know, war reporting is the pinnacle of great journalism); but in general, I very much appreciate the thoughtful, far-flung bits of knowledge slapped into 20 minute bits of time.
And yet in all these years, I have never seen a black woman — me — on one of my very favorite shows.
And y’all need some sisters up on that screen.
Mike Wallace, Ed Bradley, Harry Reasoner, Dan Rather, Morley Safer and Andy Rooney (the very personification of the word “curmudgeon”) have, through the years, been as much staples in my home life as books and Kanye West. From all reaches of the earth, this formidable group of men exposed the exceptional, the remarkable, the ingenious and the corrupt. I sometimes imagine this is what radio was like — I know each of their voices as much as their styles.
As these men have passed away, from Reasoner to Bradley to Rooney to Wallace to Bob Simon, and a few weeks ago, the much-beloved Fozzie-Bear-of-the-screen, Morley Safer, they have steadily been replaced by more (white) men —Steve Kroft, Scott Pelley, Anderson Cooper.
Sure, they’ve brought women along for good measure — usually young and foreign (Iranian-Brit Christiane Amanpour, South African Lara Logan) save Lesley Stahl who has been a correspondent since 1991. Recently Norah O’Donnell made an appearance (and was a bit too aggressive with Valerie Jarrett for my tastes) as did Sharyn Alfonsi from “60 Minutes Sports.”
Diversity yes, but diversity that leaves race at the door (we’ve all heard the story of how white women benefited the most from “opening” industry or … affirmative action. “60 Minutes” has clearly brought white women into its ranks like the HuffPo editorial team.
And this is not to take anything away from these women; they are absolutely deserving. They do incredible, sometimes dangerous and important work. But the overwhelming whiteness of it all is jarring. That is, if you care to notice.
Currently, there’s the lone black guy with the comb back, Bill Whitaker, who has been on the show since 2014. Byron Pitts, now at ABC News, was a correspondent from 2009-2013. That means there was a three-year blackness desert between Pitts and Ed Bradley who died in 2006. Men all. Four-time Emmy winner Vicki Mabrey was a “60 Minutes II” correspondent for six years in the early aughts, but seriously, who ever watched that? It was up against Bernie Mac or something.
Just like #OscarsSoWhite, #JournalismSoWhite and #SNLNoBlackChicks (I made that one up) — “60 Minutes” is glaringly out of touch with the demographics of this country, dangerously skewed towards one perspective, and erasing me from the “serious” conversation mix. We’ve been sitting at the children’s table of news for far too long.
Indeed, this is a golden time for black women on television: Olivia Pope; Annalise Keating; Mary Jane Paul; Rainbow Johnson; Cookie Lyon. But in terms of the news, shaping narratives and imagery, deciding who and what is important, there’s nary one in sight. “60 Minutes,” What are you saying? That I’m not important? That my voice isn’t? That I’m not smart enough? That I don’t matter?
I hear you talking.
Just look how the presidential debates were transformed when a black woman asked a question after 24 years of silence. Gwen Ifill turned the whole thin, simplistic view of race on its head, by asking a pointed, poignant question posed to white folks in this year’s elections.
I nominate her for a spot on the show. Anderson Cooper manages to work for CNN and CBS — y’all can work it out with PBS I’m sure. Lola Ogunnaike. She wrote for the New York Times and is a young, whip smart broadcast journalist. Joy Reid. Is brilliant and just wrote a book on Democratic presidential politics for the last 20 plus years. Tamron Hall.
“60 Minutes,” we need some intersectionality up on that screen! Hell, a story on Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw and the creation and movement around intersectionality would be a good start. Or how about a feature on Michelle Alexander and The New Jim Crow? The Black Lives Matter creators? Isabel dos Santos of Angola. Simone Biles. It is time to erase the notion that white men (and their stories) are the normative default. Hell, when’s the last time a white woman (not a celebrity) was the center of a story? An Asian woman?
That excuse that there are “no black women out there” may in fact be true because media is one of the last bastions of unerring whiteness —even as the so-called liberal press vigorously reports on the sorry state of race relations and inequality in this country. Silicon Valley looks like a Pharrell concert in comparison. The pipeline is yet a whole ‘nother story. But it is telling that I can only think of one black woman journalist at CBS, and her name is Gayle King.
“Jeopardy!” has obviously gotten some black writers or a more open sensibility on the game show. I first noticed that about a year ago and was happily shocked. With final “Jeopardy” answers like, “Malcolm X” and “Black Lives Matter,” my neck must have snapped a few times. Alex Trebec an ‘nem got with the program and the show is richer for it (you still look good, Alex!). And even though contestants tend to leave the “Black History” category til the end, it’s good for them to know that a well-rounded education does not start and end with “Western civilization” and old white men.
Look, the year is 2016, and though “60 Minutes” does a swimmingly good job, there are more stories and perspectives to be offered here. Diversity is moving from outside your comfort zone and what is easy. It should in fact be a verb, in fact, because you have to take action to truly embrace it. And this should be behind the scenes as well. Who are the writers and producers? A spokesperson for “60 Minutes” confirmed that Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson has been a producer on the show for almost 12 years, and that the late Harry Radcliffe II was there for 26 years. So there’s that.
And to those who say that it is old white men who watch (I was one of them … at the beginning of this essay), I still call BS. Plenty of black folks I know watch “60 Minutes.” And even if the people of color quotient was five percent — an old white man can’t learn something new? It’s time for old white men to learn something new. It’s time. Been time. That ticking clock is a great metaphor for changing, moving, time. As the country increasingly becomes fractured, we need to see each other’s humanity and perspectives, especially by an industry entrusted to serve and inform.
So, to paraphrase Mookie from Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing”: “Yo, ’60 Minutes, put some sisters up on the screen!” (and behind the desk while you’re at it.)