The boredom of summer reruns is over. This month marks the start of the fall prime time season, bringing the new faces, new laughs and new drama that television addicts crave.
NBC left many waiting in anticipation, wondering if “Friends'” Rachel is pregnant, and if so, by whom? On CBS, 16 strangers will endure dark jungles and malaria-bearing insects on “Survivor Africa.” On “Ally McBeal,” Fox will take us through McBeal’s desperate journey for true love. And joy has been restored to Mondays with the return of ABC’s “Monday Night Football.”
But, enjoy it while it lasts. If the NAACP has its way, there could be a boycott against one of these networks, along with all of its shows.
Two years ago, Kweisi Mfume, president & CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), blasted the television industry for its lack of minority representation. In his criticism, Mfume called the 1999-2000 season a “virtual whitewash” in network television. Since then, Mfume has been pressuring the four major networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) to get more racial minorities in front of and behind television cameras.
In a report released in August, the NAACP admitted that the networks had made some progress, but not enough. For the second year in a row, the four networks received below average and near failing grades on a report card released by a multiethnic coalition that is measuring their progress.
If Mfume isn’t satisfied with the 2001-2002 season, watching your favorite prime time shows could become racially incorrect. Mfume has identified four options for action that he will present to the NAACP’s policy-making board in October. One of the options is the renewed threat of a boycott against one of the four networks and its top advertisers, which Mfume says is “increasingly likely.”
Of all the issues that plague racial minorities, television diversity doesn’t exactly top the chart. If anything, according to Dr. Eugene Ericksen of Temple University’s Department of Sociology, the lack of minority representation on television may create a feeling of exclusion for minority viewers.
The exclusion of racial minorities from prime time society is about as real as television can get. If Mfume turns off the television, he’ll notice that racial minorities are underrepresented in college admissions, graduation ceremonies, professional and managerial jobs and homeownership, according to U.S. census data. He’ll also see, as numerous researchers do, that they are overrepresented in inferior schools, poor urban areas, unemployment offices, low-paying jobs and behind prison bars.
Despite the nation’s increasing diversity, our communities and schools are highly segregated along racial lines, according to studies by Harvard University. Such patterns create a lack of diversity where we live, learn and work. So the fact that television shows lack diversity shouldn’t shock the world.
If we’re going to bring out the picket signs, let’s refocus on the social and economic issues that plague racial minorities long after the television season is over.
Mfume’s aggressive activism is admirable, but in this case it is meek and misguided. There are critical racial issues, besides getting the gang at
Central Perk some black “Friends,” in urgent need of the NAACP’s wrath.