By Sara Lomax-Reese | President & CEO of WURD Radio
On Wednesday white supremacy was on parade in full view, in all its twisted manifestations. As I watched the Capitol being stormed, I was struck by the laissez faire attitude of the police, the entitlement of the mob and the incredulity of the media commentators. The refrain: “This is not who we are,” rang hollow. In fact, this is exactly who America is and has been for centuries.
But one of the things that disturbed me most was a headline from the blog Journal-isms. It read: “As Mob Takes Capitol, BET Shows Tyler Perry; TV One Gives Viewers ‘Family Matters.’ WHAT? This is what happens when the biggest, national media companies charged with serving the Black community are owned by huge white conglomerates. This is why iHeart Media buying up 30 AM radio stations around the country to launch the Black Information Network, roils my blood. This is why Black owned/controlled media matters.
As the President and CEO of one of the few remaining Black-owned talk radio stations in the nation — the only one in Pennsylvania — I have run out of patience. I don’t want to participate in another panel, diversity summit or conversation about the need for diversity. I’m just over all the performative, well-meaning, earnest efforts that are essentially meaningless words backed by nothing or at best not enough. Right now, we need action. It’s time to share money, resources and power. Anything short of that is a waste of time.
To get real, meaningful, long overdue change, the corporate community must examine who and what they are funding. Any direct or tangential support of white supremacist organizations like the boogaloo bois and others should be halted immediately. And we, Black organizations, need to do the due diligence to find out who is supporting these racist organizations and then withdraw our economic support strategically, collaboratively and comprehensively. Think Montgomery Bus Boycott.
We must prioritize and support Black-owned media that has been doing this work for decades. Because just like there has been redlining, separate and unequal public education, voter suppression and criminal justice inequities designed to disenfranchise Black people for centuries, Black-owned media has been equally starved for money and resources. At this moment, radical change is required. Continuing to pour money and resources into large white-owned/led media companies that target Black consumers but don’t empower them is unacceptable.
Ownership matters. Supporting Black and Brown-owned media contributes to the nuanced storytelling that centers our experiences, history, and voices. It also provides a counterpoint to the societal narratives that too often perpetuate stereotypes and caricatures of Black and Brown people in mainstream media. And in this moment, while BET and TV One are running fictionalized, trivialized depictions of Black folks, we need to be educating and empowering our people to fight for our very survival.
Beyond the undeniable power that the media wields in shaping ideas and perceptions, Black owned media is also an engine for economic empowerment. WURD is a small, growing business committed to providing jobs, training and opportunities for leadership in an industry that has failed on the diversity front forever, most notably documented in the 1968 Kerner Commission Report. As referenced in this report written over 50 years ago, a persistent lack of newsroom diversity has been a major contributor to systemic racism.
“The journalistic profession has been shockingly backward in seeking out, hiring and promoting Negroes,” the report stated, adding that “the press has too long basked in a white world looking out of it, if at all, with white men’s eyes and white perspective. That is no longer good enough. The painful process of readjustment that is required of the American news media must begin now.”
In today’s context, diversity must go far beyond hiring Black and Brown staff at mainstream, white-led organizations. It has to be about investing in ownership and leadership, setting a new table that is built on justice and equality. This is urgent and necessary right now because in many respects things are getting worse, not better. According to the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, of the 11,000 commercial radio stations across the country, fewer than 180 are owned by Black people. That’s less than two percent. The solution lies in moving from transactional to transformational, investing in the long term growth and sustainability of BIPOC-owned (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) media organizations.
And now it’s 2021. Eight days into the new year, we are facing a serious crisis — one that is both incredibly old and brand new. We are once again confronted with what W.E.B. DuBois called “the two-ness” or “double consciousness.” For Black folks, one thing we know is that America the beautiful is a myth. We have always been on the receiving end of the ugly, hateful, racist side of American culture that is now on full display for all the world to see.
There are glimmers of hope, however. And part of our job at WURD is to provide insight and inspiration, reminding Black people that we can be – and are – the change we want to see in the world. Our work has led to historic voter turnout in the last election. Stacey Abrams and Black Voters Matter did the impossible getting Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff elected in the deep South. And make no mistake about it, this was due to Black mobilization. We are powerful beyond all measure.
We cannot get weary. This is our time. Let’s go to work.