by Dr. Boyce Watkins
Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic recently wrote an article called “The Economics of Magazines and Diversity.” The title was not nearly as interesting as the one that reeled me in: “Why Magazines Don’t Hire Black Writers.” The question is one that I hear asked on a regular basis, and one that I’ve thought about quite a bit.
Coates seems to boil the issue down to two things: 1) A lack of diversity that lies within the DNA of many major publications, and 2) The fact that these publications are even struggling to hire the white guys. Many of today’s publications are no longer the powerhouses they once were, and are effectively “Dead Men Walking,” with a life expectancy about as long as the rapper Lil Wayne.
With complete respect to Coates’ points, I find it interesting that African Americans tend to have conversations about economic and job opportunities that lie inside a social bubble with an unwavering racial ceiling. We sit around and wonder why white guys seem to have so much power over our lives, and why we can’t get jobs with companies that are owned by the descendants of our historical oppressors. We’ve become, in some cases, like the hooker who doesn’t understand why her pimp doesn’t give her a bigger allowance, rather than asking herself why she’s submitting to the pimp in the first place.
The point is this: The reason we can’t get jobs as black writers is because we don’t create our own publications. The fact is that, in 2012 America, even with your swaggadoshis black president and his beautiful black wife, many of us are still living in a fantasy land. We truly believe that, if we work hard enough and have the same qualifications as the white guy, they are going to give us the same opportunities and simultaneously allow us to be something close to our authentic selves. Sorry my friends, but that’s just stupid.
Would you let someone move into your house and then shift around the furniture? No, you would not. After all, it’s your house, you built it, and you make the rules. The only way you might even consider allowing someone to stay in your house (which you probably would not) is if they do what you say and live by your rules. Moving the furniture is probably not even an option, and if it is, they can only move things after getting your approval.
The point is that, it only makes sense that a white guy is going to hire other people who are just like him. After all, that’s what many people do. Don’t get me wrong, you should pick the best person for the job and all that good stuff, but the fact is that when resources are scarce, the first people you help are those in your family or social circle. That’s why I offer my daughters chances to work for me before I consider anyone else and why President Obama chose an undeniably unqualified man like Arne Duncan to run the Department of Education (no offense Arne, but I have too many friends in Chicago who agree with me). The fact is that if it’s my house, I make the rules and I decide where the furniture is going to be.
So, for all of the aspiring writers who get your feelings hurt every week because CNN, MSNBC, The Atlantic and The New York Times aren’t returning your calls, I can give you this piece of advice: There is a chance that they will never call you and when they do, they are going to expect you to be one of them. It’s the only rational way for them to protect their brand. If you truly want to be free, get off the psychological and economic plantation and take pride in creating your own business. The Internet is wide open, and there are tools out there to help you own the land on which you stand. Stop letting the world set your limitations and start taking what belongs to you.
With regard to Mr. Coates, the Finance Professor in me agrees with every single thing he says. These institutions certainly have exclusion in their DNA, and the fact is that most of us have some kind of exclusion in our DNA is well. The only way to get power and true equality is to learn to build and develop something yourself and not wait for someone else to save you. Just because someone lets you in the door, that doesn’t mean they respect you, similar to how a man might feel if another man needs to stay in his basement.
True freedom, equality and opportunity are created, not given. Self-sufficiency is the ultimate cure for racism.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here. To check out Dr. Watkins in the Janks Morton Film, Hoodwinked, please visit this link.