Despite the tragedy and anguish rippling through it, there was a feeling of liberation that arrived this summer for so many of us black folks. After a surfeit of particularly outrageous black deaths, not only did a massive protest movement arise, but so did a curious cultural moment. White people all over seemed to have smelling salts placed beneath their noses.
Consequently, journalists of color working at major outlets — still largely populated and run by white editors and writers — realized that now was the time to assert their leverage and demand change. They got louder about the racial discrimination in their workplaces, went public when editorial judgment endangered them, and re-emphasized the value of life experience in journalistic judgment. And they were correct. They had been all along.
The venerated journalist and anchor Soledad O’Brien, known in part of late for her liberated takes on media, wrote about this phenomenon in July for the New York Times. “Every journalist of color has a story,” she began, and she was correct. (I certainly do, though I’ll save it for now.) The child of an Australian father and an Afro-Cuban mother, O’Brien was regarded as the “affirmative-action hire” by colleagues at her first on-air job. Even office jokes about the danger of heavily black neighborhoods that we live in, cover, or both can be hurtful. But O’Brien sensed the change this past summer, as well. “I have never been alone in speaking up, but these days something seismic is finally happening,” she wrote. “Journalists of color are sidestepping management and going straight to the public: Absent a hashtag but buoyed by this public awakening over Black Lives Matter, we have collectively inaugurated our own #MeToo movement.”
O’Brien, whose career as an anchor spanned nearly two decades at MSNBC and CNN — where she launched the celebrated Black in America series. She left cable news in 2013, though not cable altogether: O’Brien can still be seen regularly as a correspondent on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. While she is now known in part for her critical looks at media — my Rolling Stone colleague, EJ Dickson, profiled her earlier this year — she is keeping plenty busy with various projects at her company, Soledad O’Brien Productions, and with her Hearst Television talk show, Matter of Fact. And because she didn’t have enough to do, she’s about to launch a new podcast, Very Opinionated with Soledad O’Brien.
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