A response to media companies' statements of support during the recent protests.
When the George Floyd situation hit my timelines, I avoided clicking on any images and links. I had been here before with Trayvon, Philando, Eric, Tamir, and others. It was, and is, the normal. In the past, these incidents would leave me feeling invisible, worthless, and powerless. I have a hard time letting go and not giving in to anxiety and feeling worthless. I expected the same to be the case this time around. Whether you’ve seen this happen in the ’60s, ’92, or today, we know the outrage, we’ve seen the protest, and we know things will settle, and then we are right back to things happening again in a few years.
In the age of The ‘Rona, I’ve been trying to get my mind right and under control so, this time around I was better prepared. I avoided watching wall to wall coverage of the protest, endless analysis on new channels with everyone saying the same thing over and over again, and no one offering any real solutions, next steps, or what commitments will be made after all this. I’m sure the politicians are still giving their platitudes, pundits are telling us all what should happen next, and businesses have begun to capitalize on sympathy and support, while consumers begin to eat up their sympathy and support like it’s a piece of Publix’s carrot cake.
When I started seeing company statements talking about its support for their black employees or some sort of variation, Mr. Cynical stretched, yawned, grunted, and told me, to sit back I got this. Now, any other time I would be happy to let Mr. Cynical do his thing and ignore it as another cycle everyone is going through. Mr. Cynical would be right and we will be back here again in six months to a year (if not sooner). Yet, with my mental efforts during The ‘Rona and Mr. Cyncial being a bit out of practice, he found he was having a hard time convincing me to roll over and let him do his thing. Instead, I decided to challenge myself and write this in the hopes that I can challenge others to make all the pronouncements, support, and hand-holding stick this time.
As someone with a degree in creative writing and entertainment business, I’ve been drawn to the statements that entertainment companies have put out. It may also have to do with the fact that I’ve been spending a lot of time on some of their platforms, looking for something (anything) to escape into. Mr. Cynic began pointing out how bland these statements are. He called out the fact that they say the same thing but with slightly different words. What does, “Together we stand with the Black Community-colleagues, artists, writers, storytellers, our viewers—and all allies in the fight against racism and injustice,” really mean? User Laila.st hit the nail on the head when they responded, “Actions speak louder than words Amazon. You have the power you have money, don't just say you support black lives, ACTUALLY support them! And while I have your attention, normalize diversity in the media by not subscribing to the notion that white is universal and POC's distract from the story by making it a "black" or "Asian" story, etc. Normalize diversity because you can and representation matters.” This needs to be repeated at all media companies!
I look at all these statements coming out from these companies and wonder what does that mean? How will you support them when this settles and all eyes aren’t on you? What, if anything, are you planning to do when everyone is back at work and content creation is moving again? Was this just a statement of convivence to shore up your PR support or is there weight behind it? Companies that a few weeks ago were caught not taking care of their employees during the height of the Pandemic are now claiming to stand in “solidarity with employees, customers, and partners.”
While the portrayal of people of color in the media has been growing and we started to turn the portrayals on its head? Are we still consciously and unconsciously, putting out images that confirm the stereotype that has been around for decades or are we changing the narratives and putting other portrayals on the screen to widen the view of a community and show other sides so, when someone who has limited interaction with people of other races, sees another race in public they don’t revert to the image the saw the other night and think that all people like that (even in the real world) act like that or are out to rob, kill, murder, and do whatever to them. It may sound like a nonsensical argument, but is it?
Think about it, where do the images come from that say Black Men are threats? Where do the images come from that say Black Women have multiple baby daddies and are all rachet? Where do the images come from that say all doctors are paragons of virtue and the ones that say Cops are saints and want justice for all? It comes from a variety of ways, but the biggest of these is through the entertainment form of media.
George Gerbner, a communications professor, came up with the Cultivation Theory. The theory states that “watching television frequently influences an individual to develop certain ideas of reality or beliefs and assumptions about life that mirror the most consistent or universal values that are showcased on television. The more a person watches television, the more likely he is to be influenced by what he watches when compared to others who watch less but share other similar demographic characteristics.” For the sake of argument, let’s assume this theory is true. That would mean media companies have a vital role in changing the narrative. It means, that they can do more than just standing by their creators, employees, and storytellers.
So, where do they truly stand on the issue? Are they committed to bringing more creators on board, nurturing aspiring ones, or taking creative risks and doing things with their shows, content, and employees that would be unthinkable this time last year? Are they committed to lead the way so others will follow, or circle the wagons for now and then, when the conflict dies down, go their separate ways, patting each other on the back saying a job well done, only to leave the people what they circled the wagons for wondering where they are going especially since there is more that needs to be done. Which company is going to lead the charge when this is all over? Which company is going to show they aren’t just talking the talk, but they are going to walk the walk?
In an article written by Rob Salkowitz for Forbes.com on Tony Weaver Jr., the article credits him as saying, “what makes these things so difficult is the fact that black men are very often not allowed to show our humanity,” he goes on to say, “We need representation of black men showing a whole range of emotions.” I say if we do that, we may be able to get a bit further and show that we are human beings and should be treated as such, but it will take a commitment from all the media, publishers, and producers who are currently issuing statements to make it happen on a scale that is not only impactful but shows their true commitment to standing by the black community, black employees, and black creators.
For now, let’s all slow clap for these companies they are, after all, taking a stand. Give each company sincere praise for speaking up, we have to take them at their word right now, but let’s be ready to switch up our support when we see who truly believes strong black leads and which ones are still trying to find some? Who will make the investment needed to change their image and which ones are all talk and no action? Who is preparing to suit up and be an industry leader and who is ready to fall back and want nothing more than to secure the bag?
To all the companies still struggling with a statement and to those who have already produced one and are wondering what their next steps should be once this is over: Be Creative, Take Risks, and make it your mission, passion, and drive to change the narrative. Not in the entertainment field, then there are things that you can do in your industry to show that this wasn’t for show and that you are serious. Nowadays, people have started to recognize the gaslighting, so they aren’t going to be so quick to fall for a statement today and inaction tomorrow.
Which individual, company, or companies are ready to make the changing of the narratives, stereotypes, and implementing real change as a part of their daily mission when The ‘Rona, The Riots, and the dark days we are living now are over, and how will you support them when they do?