By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader
“Black America” is experiencing a moment of image euphoria. After a long stretch of Madea tomfoolery and slavery nostalgia, silver screens around the world exploded with Black Panther and the spirit of Wakanda!
Not since the seismic quake caused by the ascent of Barrack Hussein Obama has there been such a unanimous outbreak of blissful pride. Black Panther is not merely hailed for its cinematic prowess, but for its psychological and social impact.
Then on top of that, two Oscars left the Academy Awards with African Americans. Jordan Peele made history becoming the first Black honored for Best Screenplay for his instant classic, Get Out. Then Hall-of-Fame basketball player Kobe Bryant added to his crowded trophy room the golden statuette for best animated short (Dear Basketball).
Nobody likes the serious dude in the corner at the party while everyone else is on the floor doing “The Cupid Slide.” And if you know me at all, you know I’m not that guy…often. But while our celebration doesn’t necessarily need to be lowered, in the midst of it all, we need to temper our elation just a bit – incorporate a tinge of reality check.
Scrutiny of the bigger picture is less comforting. The movies are like an image quick fix. It lasts as long as the shelf life of the film. Of course, Black Panther may represent a seminal moment, a departure from that pattern, but it is just one movie. Our larger challenge comes in negative issues portrayed daily by conventional media.
That’s a whole different battle, a war that must be waged. Black America is losing its more forceful voices – one after another. There is the risk of our being left with those given the spotlight because they acquiesce to white culture, or because their verbosity is a boisterous exaggeration not to be taken seriously, intellectually.
Those cool, calm, collected brothers and sisters of the airwaves who whip articulate game with impunity are becoming more and more scarce every day.
Tom Joyner has been such a centurion for Black America that few remember a time when he wasn’t fighting their battle. His commitment of his time, talent and treasure to carry the banner for Historically Black Colleges and Universities is unparalleled in media. He has been that uncompromising sense of consciousness cloaked in old school jams and uproarious comedy for so long, it seemed he would always be there.
Last October, Joyner shocked his massive fan base with news that he is retiring next year. Going into over 100 markets for a quarter of a century, the level of influence for good Joyner wielded is not likely to be replicated. And therein lies the rub. Change is inevitable. But it seems more vocal, visible, vigilant Blacks in media are under fire.
Last December, TV One cut ties with the popular newsman and commentator Roland Martin. Station executives explained that his program, “NewsOneNow,” was canceled due to budget constraints. After outcries of protest from the public, the National Association of Black Journalists and warrior Tom Joyner, the decision was reconsidered.
Now imagine we’re at that point where the strong voice of Joyner is no longer heard. Who will be the new centurions for justice, equity, and balance?
It hasn’t been quite a year since the smart, talented, charismatic Tamron Hall was separated from her “Today Show” team when management opted for former Fox TV “journalist” Megyn Kelly. So far that investment has not paid dividends to the network.
ESPN sports commentator Jemele Hill was first suspended from her show, then reassigned after using Twitter to call a white supremacist president a white supremacist. Unrelenting, the sister called for a boycott of the Dallas Cowboys after owner Jerry Jones threatened to fire players who kneel during the national anthem to protest racism.
Comedian, writer, producer, podcaster and actor Larry Wilmore was the “Senior Black Correspondent” on hilarious “The Daily Show” with Jon Steward. Wilmore’s talent and popularity earned him the program slot immediately following that show on Comedy Central. His unending assault of the presidency of 45 (calling it a “trumpfire”) led to his unceremonious end. The network canceled his show, giving him five-day notice.
Soledad O’Brien used her high-profile media role with CNN to constantly expose the inequities in this nation with her provocative reporting, riveting interviews and uncompromising perspectives. She hosted the informative In Black America series but finding her on television these days is a far more daunting task.
Melissa Harris-Perry was an eloquent agitator for African American causes when she crashed head games first into MSNBC management. Suddenly, this fearless advocate was off the air. And no there is no equal trade off in replacing her with equally competent African American journalist Joy Reid. Both should have their own shows.
There are more. Too many more. But you get the picture. Through use of their media platform, so many courageous warriors managed to bend the intellectual curve by informing, inspiring and motivating millions to strategic action. New names and faces must be held to the same standard. They may eliminate the players – but not the game.
In the vision of Black Panther and the promise of God: “We are more than conquerors.” Black America has to sleep with one eye open at all times – no matter how intoxicating the moment.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].