“Progressive media is itself a bastion of white domination.”
A few years ago, the hashtag, “#Oscar so white” was all the rage in progressive media circles. The hashtag referred to the lack of Oscar nominations and awards given to African American and other “people of color” actors. The attention was well deserved as Hollywood had certainly shown its cultural bias in favor of white actors, directors, etc. Progressive media outlets such as Democracy Now! gleefully reported on the issue and even had black actors on to talk about the lack of racial diversity in Tinsel Town. What was odd, and still is so today, is that progressive media is itself a bastion of white domination that has little to no racial diversity in either its programming or its on air personalities.
One progressive media outlet, Free Speech TV, is almost entirely white in its orientation. A cable news channel, it boasts shows such as “Democracy Now!,” “The Thom Hartman Show,” “Rising Up with Sonali” [Kolhatkar], “The David Pakman Show,” “the Laura Flanders Show,” “Empire Files with Abby Martin” and others, but African American leftists are noticeable absent from the station’s programming. The cream of the crop of black radical left political commentators, such as Jared Ball, Frank Wilderson, Joy James, Ajamu Baraka, Gerald Horne and Dhoruba Bin Wahad and so many others, simply cannot get a spot on these white leftist shows to give their political analysis.
“Black radicals’ political analysis is absent on a network and on shows that claim to present a leftist point of view.”
Just as important, black radicals cannot get a program of their own to host on a “progressive” channel like Free Speech TV. As such, their political analysis is absent on a network and on shows that claim to present a leftist point of view. Because of this, the channel itself reinforces white supremacy by having a programming orientation where leftist Blacks are screened for their political views, and if found to be too radical, are ignored and not interviewed altogether. These voices and views are therefore marginalized just as they are on channels like MSNBC, or at worst, they are villainized as being out of step with the so-called radical analysis of the white hosts. One could just as easily adopt and apply the hashtag, #ProgressiveMediaSoWhite, as black actors did with the #OscarSoWhite hashtag.
Specifically, the hashtag, #FreeSpeechTVSoWhite is appropriate. The absence of black leftist thought on Free Speech TV is glaring. The cable channel that black leftists must turn to in order to get a left analysis does not offer a black leftist analysis in its programming. The programming is entirely white. This gives the white or non-Black hosts of these shows the power to select which Blacks get featured on their shows as if black leftists thought is an afterthought and not worthy of regular of programming. Black American thinkers, whose struggle is arguably the main social issue in this country, can’t get a syndicated show on Free Speech TV, the main television station for leftist viewers.
“One could argue that white leftist programming is only concerned with the ‘free speech’ of white leftists.”
The black thinkers and educators listed previously, all of whom have deep connections to leftist movements in America and internationally, are relegated to “guest” status on the channel. The delegation of “guest” for black thinkers is a validation that white progressives are uncomfortable with strong radical black people. This is so because the radical black perspective would force the channel and its show’s hosts to acknowledge the reality of their own racism. This is something white society in general is loath to do and white left media outlets are no different. These channels and shows are simply a segment of white society that presents a left perspective on a white reality. As the writer and scholar Michael C. Dawson states in his excellent work, Blacks In and Out of the Left, “not only has the white left historically been complicit in the erasure of black radicals and their contributions from the historical record, but it has also often been openly hostile toward black radicals and their aspirations, ideas, and programs.”
Based on Dawson’s observation, one could argue that white leftist programming is only concerned with the “free speech” of white leftists. But one cannot overlook the economic aspect of this programming and its hosts’ selection of who gets featured as well. Amy Goodman, Chris Hedges, Kholhalter, Hartmann, et al, get to command speaker’s fees, foundation money, book deals, syndication royalties, etc., from their white progressive stardom. As the faces of white progressivism (or simply as the faces of progressivism), they benefit economically in ways that the black radical thinkers have not and never could. This arrangement itself is white supremacy at its best and it perpetuates the white racial gap where white leftists get rich from their progressivism and black progressives continue to struggle for donations and financial support. This is true not only for individual Black leftists, but also for their publications and their organizations.
“Black thinkers are relegated to ‘guest’ status on the channel.”
Particular blacks do appear on these shows and sometimes they are radical black leftists. But, they appear when the white hosts decided their viewpoint and analysis is valuable and not a moment before. This reality is problematic. First, by choosing which African Americans they want to have on their shows, these hosts (and this station) get to select, from a white progressive point of view, who gets heard. They therefore, are the overseers of progressive thought, including progressive black thought. Black radicals who leave this plantation by not adhering to the white progressive line of analysis, are left to roam the boundaries of leftist circles where they are rarely heard.
People like Dhoruba bin Wahad, despite his decades of activism and writings, is not invited in these spaces. Even episodes that discuss the Black Panthers on Democracy Now! or Rising Up, do not include Wahad in their list of speakers. This is no different than the censoring process of the white corporate media where shows like MSNBC promote black analysts who essentially tow the Democratic Party line. It is the same with CNN where Van Jones is the official face of the black left, when he too, is basically the black face of the black wing of the Democratic Party. As such, no black thinkers to the left of Jones are allowed on CNN. It is the same for the shows on Free Speech TV. In this way, white left media, is the same as corporate media in that it tells its viewers who is left and who isn’t by who they allow to appear. They both like their Blacks as non-threatening to the white world they live in, profit from and promote, as does the corporate/mainstream white media.
“White left media tells its viewers who is left and who isn’t by who they allow to appear.”
Second, without radical black programming, white left media essentially “gives” or “tells” black people what their views should be and who they should accept it from. This “progressive” analysis is clearly filtered through their own white left lens. Third, it presents the most intelligent and radical analysis as those of the white hosts and their predominantly white guests. Black excellence in political theory, social commentary, left analysis, Black Power theorists, are seen as being either not worthy of consistent airing and/or beneath the political philosophies of the white shows and their hosts. The Black thinkers they do present are deemed to be the exceptional negroes and their presence on one of these shows, where Black excellence is at a premium, is proof of their exceptional negro-ness.
The last, and perhaps most serious, problem with the complete dearth of black shows on stations like Free Speech TV and on the programming they offer, is that African Americans have been in the vanguard of leftists/progressive social movements, “political revolutions” and have been among the most radical of thinkers and agitators in same. To relegate us to the margins or as minorities in movements that we have been central to and in many cases led, is to do what white people have always done to black people, namely, to co-opt and/or to culturally appropriate our ideas, methods, music, styles and struggles. More previously noted, in this way, the white left and its media sources are no different than white America overall. It segregates, isolates and imprisons radical black perspectives and the most aggressive radical elements of Black America, letting in only those it feels comfortable with or those who conform or those it can profit from. This is true even of spaces like RT. Black radicals like Gerald Horne and the aforementioned bin Wahad, have been on the station in ways they never have on the establishment white progressive stations. But, RT is still white progressivism. Chris Hedges, Thomm Hartmann, Jesse Ventura, all have shows on RT and all are, of course, white. Therefore one cannot argue that because the station is Russian television that this explains the lack of racial diversity. If white Americans can get their own shows on RT then black progressives who have a critique of U.S. imperialism should also.
“Their sense of superiority prevents them from seeing the whiteness of their project.”
Still, the premier American leftist cable channel is Free Speech TV. Its “blackout” of black radical thinkers is more egregious than even RT. As Dr. King so insightfully argued in Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?: “Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.”
So it is also with white liberal media and channels like Free Speech TV. Their sense of superiority prevents them from seeing the whiteness of their project and programming and, in not seeing it, patting themselves on the back for their supposed radicalness and “inclusion.” King’s criticism of white liberals is just as applicable to white progressive programming, when he said, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” One is hard pressed to really understand whether the lack of radial black programming on white progressive media is “lukewarm acceptance” or in fact, “outright rejection.” #FreeSpeechTVSoWhite and #WhiteProgressiveMediaSoWhite indeed.
Attorney Bryan K. Bullock practices law in Merrillville, Indiana