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October 28, 1997

Black Women Confined in Media Cage

by Norman Solomon

In medialand, some people have every right to be angry. So we see affluent white guys on television all the time, expounding views forcefully, letting us all know what they like -- and what makes them mad.

Black women are another matter entirely. Sure, they're visible on quite a few commercials. And MTV's music videos don't lack for stereotyped black babes dancing to hot tunes. But African-American females have little chance to speak out about their daily lives and deepest concerns.

It's still conspicuous when a black woman gets the microphone to talk about what matters to her. And it's rarer still for major media to provide a substantial amount of time and space for black women to talk about the combination of racism, sexism and economic disadvantage that they face in this society.

In sharp contrast, vehemence from white men isn't just acceptable -- it's valued if it lets us in on authoritative outlooks. Strong statements of opinion, uttered with commanding presence in mainstream media outlets, are routine for the punditocracy. Bombastic TV programs such as "The Capital Gang" and "The McLaughlin Group" showcase men who vent their biases, often denigrating black people and women in the process.

While the rage of white males is part of the media landscape, the rage of black women -- who have plenty to be angry about -- gets cut off at the media pass. That's why it's especially meaningful that journalist Jill Nelson is now doing an end run around the usual blockade.

When I interviewed Nelson halfway through a month-long national tour for her new book "Straight, No Chaser," she was in the midst of burning up the radio waves across the country -- helping to force key issues into the open.

Subtitled "How I Became a Grown-up Black Woman," the book insists that silence -- far from being golden -- is corrosive. Urging that the unhealthy quiet be shattered, Nelson follows her own advice by mincing no words:

Don't look for Jill Nelson on the national TV programs where irate white guys keep pounding away at favorite themes like "welfare dependency" among low-income single mothers. Those blowhards don't have to contend with articulate black women who could shine a fierce light on their assorted bigotries. The dominant media pundits want to go up against "opposition" that's meek and mild -- and, as usual in medialand, they get their way.

Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist.

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