All this week, NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams has been running a series called "African- American Women: Where They Stand." So far, on blogs and in e-mail blasts, the series has stirred up quite a bit of controversy, according to Advertising Age's Carol Watson. "Some were enthusiastic about uncovering the struggles and issues that are often the topics of conversation by black women already and others have been skeptical about NBC motives and divisiveness," writes Ms. Watson. "The journalists covering the stories are incredibly talented black women that I am sure had to fight hard to get even these 2-minute segments running for five consecutive days. But the debate on the value and context of the information still creates a storm among black consumers." I saw one segment of the series, about women and business. According to the reporting, (which focuses on a 39-year-old single mother and Stanford grad who has her own PR/marketing business) the number of businesses owned by black women (in a five year period) is up 75%, yay! But the number of businesses owned by black men is only up 29%, sigh.
The "African-American community" has $850 billion to spend, and women control 62% of that. Which means black men only control 38%. The reporter, Rehema Ellis, admits that the reasons for such disparity are complex, but does note that some complain of schools that give up on young black males at the elementary level, and of a society that celebrates the "bad boy" image made popular by the likes of 50 Cent — making dropping out seem cool.
Meanwhile, the complaint about the NBC series is that there's a "constant burden of negatives with little or no solution or context for the reasons for the disparities."
The Monday segment compared black women to white women and comparing black women to black men — a pattern in news media that makes the black consumer cautious and hesitant about the motivations of the media. As Essence Editor Angela Burt-Murray said in an online comment, that segment may make a black woman want to shoot herself in the head.
I didn't want to shoot myself, but I was confused. Here's how I felt, watching the successful single black woman with her own business: First I recalled that old statistic that gets thrown around; the one about African-American women being the least likely in our society to get married. Sue me. Then I thought, but she went to Stanford! Then I wondered if the story was supposed to be uplifting? Or depressing? I just wanted someone to tell me. Then I thought, it's great that there's this positive portrayal of a black woman, but she's just one individual in a flood of negative portrayals and there is no one truth, anyway. And then I just got annoyed; I was only watching the news because I was curious if we were being bombed and what the weather was going to be like. In any case, I do applaud the reporters for their hard work and for shedding some light on an often underrepresented group. The other NBC segments focus on education (the ratio of women to men at black colleges is 7 to 1); breast cancer (black women with breast cancer are 30% more likely to die from it than white women); interracial marriage; who black women will vote for, Clinton or Obama; the impact of hip-hop music on women and the black family of the future. Some of the reports are available here, let me know if you think they're uplifting or depressing.