Why U.S. Newsrooms Need To Diversify Before We Stop Watching

CNN…What Up, Dawgs?

In the year 2043, the United States will hit a milestone: people of color will surpass the White majority for the first time according to the Census Bureau. Leading up to that moment, we are guaranteed to see a tremendous push and pull between the status quo and movements for change. Not only will we have to confront the torrid ugly history of our past, but we as a nation will for the first time have to acknowledge the reality that yes, we do live in a place called the world. Existing in a cocooned bubble of unrealistic fantasy, we have been socialized to believe that the world ends and begins at our borders, and that everyone must conform to our ideals. But as the so-called browning of America increases, we will finally begin to reflect the rest of the planet where the majority of the population is also Black and Brown. Perhaps it really is time we stop demanding that the world fit into America, but rather that America fit into the world.

President Obama recently made a historical trip to his ancestral homeland of Kenya, as well as Ethiopia, including the African Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa. It is part of a larger recent push by this President to engage more with leaders and with countries and entities that we normally would not. It comes on the heels of the unprecedented nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1, as well as the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. During these last few months, the President has reminded the world why he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize back in ’09, and why American voters cast a ballot for him in ’08. While there is valid criticism of what Obama has done around the world in terms of expanding drone campaigns and other measures, he is at least going out on the right tone. Now whether it’s to cement his own legacy, or rile up the base of his Party for 2016, that remains a question for historians to ponder. But what we do know is that this push for international cooperation is still a breath of fresh air compared to the warmongering and conflict that has perpetuated our foreign policy for decades. Now if only those tasked with informing the public recognized this reality.

Prior to the President’s visit to Kenya, CNN published a piece describing the country as a ‘hotbed of terror’, and tweeted a similar headline: “President @BarackObama isn’t just heading to his father’s homeland, but to a hotbed of terror”. Kenyans took to social media and created the hashtag #SomeoneTellCNN where they criticized, ridiculed and mocked the network’s misleading coverage. It wasn’t long before that hashtag was trending worldwide on Twitter. Both Kenyans and people outside of the African nation called out CNN for their mischaracterization of the country, and its failure to highlight Kenya’s efforts to combat terrorism. Many made cogent points saying CNN’s reporting was akin to someone calling New York a hotbed of terror because of 9/11. The lesson here is simple: mainstream news outlets must begin to understand and accept the fact that the days of telling stories from a White male perspective are over.

In 2015, one of the areas still reeling from a severe lack of diversity is American newsrooms. Whether it’s television, radio or print, these newsrooms are still heavily inundated and dominated by White males, especially in higher-ranking, decision-making positions. Whether it’s conservative outlets, or alleged progressive ones, the lack of diversity is breathtaking, and it reflects in coverage such as the CNN Kenya story. There is a reason why so many are turning away from traditional news sources and finding information from alternative outlets. There is a reason why more and more people are connecting online to get the truth on the ground somewhere that isn’t saturated with spin. And there is a reason why they are using things like social media to hold mainstream outlets accountable. As the U.S. continues to diversify, we need that diversity reflected in the kinds of stories we tell, who tells those stories and from what perspective they are told. Putting an anchor of color on TV is not the solution; there needs to be a top-down transformation.

We are at an interesting crossroads right now. For a country that was founded on the slaughter of natives, and the brutal enslavement of innocents, we have obviously made progress and strides in society. But our biggest challenge now – that is in some ways even more difficult – is eradicating institutional racism and inequality. As we get closer and closer to that ’43 mark, the U.S. will have to confront this truth as the next generation will not remain stagnant and accept established norms. And simultaneously, we will have to remember that neither will the international community.

The days of arrogantly imposing our will on other nations is over; we can no longer go around policing the planet. Whether or not President Obama recognized this reality prior to his recent decisions and policies, or was more concerned with his own legacy is debatable – but his actions are on the right trajectory. This is something all candidates should keep in mind as they gear up for the 2016 elections, as well as those who have appointed themselves as the ones who report and cover the news. Because if they fail to do so, they will soon realize that no one will be waiting on them to catch up to the rest of the world.