The media, print and electronic, is largely responsible for what is considered the public’s opinion on issues; the public’s opinion is what is taken into consideration in making public policies. In America the media essentially ignores black folk’s opinions and thus plays a role in the ongoing spectacle where America’s public policies do not address black folk’s issues.
The American Media, Public Opinion, Public Policy And Black Folk
Ozodi Thomas Osuji
A new comer to a country generally tries to learn the lay of the land; one way he does so is through the media (Newspapers, Television, Radio, Internet etc.). So you come to the United States and you naturally read the daily newspapers such as the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times; Newsmagazines such as Time, Newsweek and intellectual newsmagazines such as the Atlantic Monthly and Harper; you watch television news (CBS, ABC and NBC and CNN) and sometimes fool around on the Internet. One of the things that strike you is how most things you read in newspapers, or see on TV center on the doings of white Americans. There is a black out of black American issues on the major media except when they have stories of black men arrested for committing crime, tried and jailed or stories about athleticism and music.
It is as if black folk are not part of the country and in so far that they are part of it, it is when they engage in anti-social behaviors and white policemen arrest them and white judges try and jail them and white jail guards supervise them while they are in jail and or supervise them when they are released (as parole and probation officers).
What we are talking about here is the role of the media in aggregating public opinion and subsequently setting the public agenda that politicians eventually translate into public policies (legislation). In America black folks do not have access to the mainstream media; they are shut out of the media. As a result of being shut out of exposure to the media their issues are seldom given proper coverage. Few persons in white America even know anything about black folks (except when they commit crimes, are arrested by white police officers, tried by white judges and jailed).
Public opinion is what the people think on issues. So what do the people think on salient issues? What the people think on salient issues in the polity is what we are told that they think by the mainstream media.
If the media does not tell us what you and people like you are thinking on issues that the polity considers important the idea is that you and they have no public opinion on public issues; you don’t even exist hence do not matter as far as the polity and its policy makers is concerned.
Think tanks and universities often have departments of public policies; those often conduct surveys and find out what the people are thinking on any given issue (who decides what the issues are); they call up a sample of the population (usually those who meet predetermined criteria, such as having certain jobs, certain incomes, live in certain income neighborhoods, are of certain age etc.) and ask them what they think on selected issues. Usually they would talk to about a thousand (white) Americans and based on their findings (pooling) they tell us what Americans are thinking on any issue (an issue they have already made important).
These public opinion surveys are thereafter transmitted to politicians (opinion makers themselves) who articulate them and try to translate them into public policies (laws made by the various legislatures at the city, county, state and federal levels). Clearly, at no point in this process is the black opinion and wish list taken into consideration as these folks do their thing and tell us what Americans think and want translated to public policy.
Those who control the media set the public agenda; they decide issues to be discussed by the people and eventually help in deciding what is considered worthy of translation to public policy.
You live in America and the media inundate you with opinions that are supposedly American opinions but actually the opinions of white America. It is white America’s opinion that is taken as Americans public opinion. This is the reality of the land. Yet there are perhaps 40 million African Americans in the USA.
Is it fair to ignore the voices of forty million persons? Of course it is not fair. But since when has America set out to be fair to black folks?
Black folks issues are not important and are not covered by mainstream media. Black folks issues are not translated to public policies. So what are we going to do about this situation? Perhaps, we can start answering that question by starting black television networks?
By the way, how come there are no major black newspapers, radio and television broadcasting outfits (except the nonsense called BET that exists to perpetuate the stereotype that black folks exist to dance and talk stupid).
Why is there no national black television that competes with CBS, ABC and NBC and CNN? One can think of a TV broadcasting corporation called the Voice of Black America (VBA) or Voice of African-Americans (VAA).
Surely there are rich black Americans who have the resources to fund a national television that provides news on black America (as well as news on Africa and the rest of the world). Why is there no such TV broadcasting organization in the land?
Why are there no major black newspapers except the photo galleries such as Ebony, Jet and Essence (and inner city broadsheets) that tell us who in the black community has been promoted to a seeming higher position at the post office.
I am a realist and appreciate that white folks will pay more attention to their issues. By the same line of thinking, I expect black people to concern themselves with their issues. So why is it that black folks do not have media outlets at which black and African issues are covered in a reasonable way? What is the matter with the so-called rich black folks and so-called black intellectuals, anyway?
You can live in America for years and not know much about black folks issues because the mainstream media simply ignore them. Okay. You do not expect bread from the devil; you expect stone from him. But how is it that black folks do not rectify the situation by providing media at which their issues are covered in a reasonable manner?
Why is it that the so-called black media is devoted to talking rubbish but not real news and international affairs? Have you taken a look at Ebony and Essence magazines? They are essentially picture spreads where blacks who have good jobs come to have their pictures taken and a few positive words said about them. You cannot see well written articles on matters that really matter. Is this all there is to black folks: have pictures of them in magazines?
The eminent black sociologist, Franklyn Frazier, in his book, The Negro Middle Class, talked about the Negro been preoccupied by silly efforts to seem very important. The Negro middle class dresses sharply in suits and tries to come across as important persons, drives expensive flashy cars (a black nurse would be driving a Mercedes Benz even though as a lower middle class person you would expect her to be driving a Volkswagen), and generally does whatever they do to make folks around them see them as a very important persons.
Their white counterparts, on the other hand, do not stress externalities but what they do. Bill Gates is the richest man in the world but you can run into him at a McDonald Hamburger joint in Seattle in blue jeans and white T-shirt and drove to that joint in his inexpensive sports car). You see white professors in khaki pants and simple shirts. These people are mostly interested in what they produce. Their prestige is predicated on their work performance not mere appearance of social importance.
The Negro middle class are interested in what they look like, not what they produce. The Negro middle class may drive a Cadillac but their children are flunking out of poorly performing inner city schools; living simply and using their money to pay for their children’s school fees at private schools is not their concern. Being seen as well dressed in pictures at Ebony magazine apparently makes some black folk feel important whereas what would have made them really important is what they have contributed to science, technology and business.
How about having magazines of Atlantic Monthly quality but devoted to black affairs? Why not have a black television broadcasting corporation that talks about black news in the USA, in the Americas, Africa and elsewhere in the world; why have BET where misguided young blacks come to call their sisters and mothers cunts and hos?
What is going on here; what is the matter with the people; why can’t they get anything right? Is all they can do talk behind white folks backs about what they did to them? The white man has done a lot to injure them alright so why not have media outlets where those issues are talked about? Why not have national newspapers and magazines where black folks write about their issues and seek solutions for them?
Instead of seeking to obtain a job at, say, NBC talking about white America’s issues (and feeling that one is not talking about ones issues hence feeling frustrated and trying to drown ones frustration in sex and alcohol) why not establish an African-American Broadcasting Corporation (AABC). Surely, there are doers in the black community? Black folks cannot all be talkers and not doers! There must be black business men who do the right thing and while at it make profit.
It is amazing that the white American media, print and electronic, sees it fit to shut out African-American issues and concentrate only on white American issues and while at it tell the world that they are objective and democratic. Okay. Human beings are motivated by self-interests and their immediate group interests. In that light white folks have their selves and group interests and make sure that those are covered in their media. I do not blame them.
What I do not understand is why African- Americans have not seen the need to counter the situation they are in by establishing media outlets that rival white media outlets. Look at what the Arabs have done with Aljazeera. They established that Cable TV Network only a few years ago and today it is almost in the same league as the BBC and CNN in providing people with reasonable world news.
Why cannot rich black Americans pool their resources and establish something like Aljazeera and national news magazines that rival Time magazine and the English Economist? I am sure that there are rich African Americans, such as sports superstars who make more money in a day than most people make in their entire life times.
I am really, really annoyed that all that black folk seem able to do is complain about the wrong white folks did to them but seem unable to come up with proactive ideas to correct those wrongs done to them.
As of yesterday, I want an African American oriented media that talks about the black agenda, aggregates black public opinion and feeds them back to public policy makers so that black issues are factored into making America’s public policies.
Consider black kids dropping out of high school, black youth unemployment (which is at depression levels), black teenage pregnancy, black children born out of wedlock; black drug abuse issues, lack of black owned businesses and many other issues. These could be fodder for reasonable writing in papers and for broadcasting on Radio and Television.
And folks should not be put to sleep by the lullaby that now that a black man is in the White House that black issues are addressed by the American polity. I am not aware of any policy directly relating to black folks that Barack Obama has initiated and even if he did I doubt that Congress would pass it. I am aware of Obama funneling American tax payers’ moneys to rescue Wall Street and Detroit but I am not aware of a major policy initiative by him and Congress to address the myriad of issues bedeviling the black community. I am not even sure that Barack Obama understands what issues there are in the black community! He surrounds himself with white folk and naturally they give him information on what their white communities need!
Something must be done to make black public opinion known to the policy makers of the American polity and done right now; the time for mere talking about these issues among ourselves and doing nothing about them is over.
School boys complain about their society’s problems; adults try to solve them and live with those that cannot be solved and have the wisdom to know the difference.