FAMU talks about race portrayal in the media

Courtesy of Yulita Howard

During an intriguing discussion at the Florida A&M University’s School of Architecture and Engineering Technology, Rondrea Mathis, FAMU alumna, womanist scholar, minister and activist, began with a compelling argument on how race is portrayed in the media.

Mathis appreciates the rise of alternative journalism.

“Instead of trying to find a seat at a table that’s already established, we have a generation of writers and thinkers who instead build their own table,” Mathis said.

Mathis shared how Melissa Harris-Perry show was recently taken off the air because she made sure her panel and the subject matter was diverse and it created a problem for networks that wanted to say that they were diverse.

“Build your own table, take the roof off, and come down and say, I want to sit here,” Mathis said. “I don’t need to sit at your table because I have a better table over here and this table has the food that I want to eat. See if it’s the master’s table, you’re going to have to eat the masters’ food. If you create your own table, you can come up with whatever food you want on that table,” Mathis said.

The panelist were Eric Deggans, author of Race Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation and NPR’s TV critic; Leah Hunter, Ph.D., FAMU SJGC visiting professor and FAMU alumna Shonda Knight, anchor and executive producer at WCTV-TV.

The event was hosted by Professor Francine Huff, knight chair for student achievement at FAMU’s School of Journalism and Graphic Communication. She said that the purpose of the panel discussion was to cater to the constant interest of the students.

“I wanted to have the panel on race in the media because many of our students are very interested in discussing these issues and it is important to give them a forum to come together and do this,”Huff expressed. “Exposing students and other members of the campus and Tallahassee community to various perspectives gives them tools to dissect and analyze these issues in a more informative and productive way — and hopefully begin to find some solutions to make positive changes in how race is portrayed.”

Damon Arnold, a second-year broadcast journalism student from Kansas, Mo., thought the event was superb.

“The energy was high and the panelists were passionate about the topics at hand,” Arnold said. “Not one of them were afraid to disagree with each other and respectfully offer their perspectives. The questions were guided toward black progress in media. Whether blacks should try to get a seat at the table, or build their own table. This thought of a table represented more blacks receiving positions in the news, making changes to what we don’t see. Both perspectives were very necessary. You can’t progress without both perspectives. It was amazing.”    

Each panelist engaged and expounded on their portrayal of race in the media.

Leondra Saintil, a fourth-year public relations student from Miami, went to the event as a class assignment.

“In my class, we are reading Eric Deggans book. So we’ve spoke a lot about how race is portrayed in the media and that got me excited to go because he was going to be there.”

Saintil thought the panel discussion was very informative.

“There were a few things that I never really opened my mind to think about,” Saintil said. “I know about race and about how Black people are portrayed in acting and everything but not so much detail. I’m glad that they were able to touch on various topics.”

If students left the discussion more informed and willing to alleviate the issues discussed, Huff felt the panel was a success.

“I think the event was successful in creating a dialogue to put some of these issues out on the table, and getting people thinking about how to address some of the factors that continue to make race such a complex and challenging concept for many Americans,” Huff stated.

Hunter said it’s important to remember who has the power, who the gatekeepers are, and provided facts on the high percentages of Whites in media, such as senior executives.

“They want to tell their stories,” Hunter said. “They don’t want to tell a story about a regular person because their scared people aren’t going to go see it.”

According to Huff, this will not be the last Knight Chair Speaker Series. They plan to bring on other hard-hitters in the media industry to continue to motivate students to make a positive change.