On Sunday morning BET ran a news special What's at Stake. (Sorry, the showing was an encore and is not on BET's upcoming schedule.) It was a commentary on 10 things that Black America should be concerned with when deciding which presidential candidate to vote for in November. The 10 issues included health care, the economy, home foreclosures, the war in Iraq, gun control, Roe v. Wade and education. (I know, I'm missing three.)
I can't say I watched intently for the entirety of the program, but I appreciated the information and wished I could have sat and paid attention from beginning to end. The show was not to my husband's liking however. He thought it was one-sided, too obviously pro-Obama. I didn't agree, but also didn't think it would be a problem if it were in fact so.
The question we 'discussed' without resolution was whether or not BET - Black Entertainment Television - should take a position on matters relating to the black community. For my husband's perspective you can check his blog when he has one, but here's what I think: Not only should BET take a position on some matters, it has an obligation to do so and to provide well-researched and insightful support for their position. One of those matters is political candidates.
City and regional newspapers all over the country endorse political candidates and present their arguments for their position on their editorial pages. Typically, those arguments are based on the needs of the community. Why should BET be any different? True, it is not a local newspaper, but it is a major medium of information for a specific community; that has specific needs and challenges.
There is no arguing that blacks have less access to health care, even as we face higher risks than whites for strokes, diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS and some forms of cancer. Our children, particularly boys, are dropping out of high school at higher rates than whites and fewer blacks are going to college. A disproportionate number of blacks go to jail and serve longer sentences for comparable crimes. Predatory lending has been more prevalent in low and middle income black communities when compared with predominantly white neighborhoods of similar income. While black women have seen their salaries make steady stride, black men still make less than their white counterparts. Black professionals are underrepresented in some careers and in the highest echelons of corporations - even those whose bottom lines depends on the ongoing support of our community. Our young men are more likely to enlist in the armed services for economic reasons, and they are more likely than young white men to be victims of a violent crime.
Those are very specific concerns that face our community. Our choice for president should most certainly depend on the candidates' positions and plans for addressing those problems that are uniquely ours. BET -- and every black newspaper, radio station, magazine and website -- should support a candidate based on the organization's conviction that he will act in the best interest of the black community and inform their readers/viewers of that choice.
Radio and television host Tavis Smiley came under serious fire when he challenged Barack Obama on the issues that face Black America. Many listeners of the nationally syndicated Tom Joyner Morning Show, where Smiley used to give twice-weekly political commentary, felt he should have given Senator Obama his support from the moment of his announcement. I understood Tavis' position. Senator Obama should not get a free pass from blacks because he looks like us. Tavis was right in encouraging his listeners to ask tough, self-serving questions of candidates asking for their votes. I think he was wrong to not support a candidate in the democratic primaries.
It was irresponsible for someone with such a large following to not present a solid argument for one candidate or another - particularly because he had always been forthright and opinionated. His refusal to take a stance was confusing and seemed disingenuous to his listeners; and he may have dissuaded some from voting at all. He threw out questions about Senator Obama, but never provided answers and he never did a side-by-side comparison of the two candidates. I think he would have gotten a better reception from his listeners if he had endorsed Senator Hillary Clinton - who many suspect he supported.
The black community looks to our media for more than information; we look also for guidance. I think black media outlets have a responsibility to do their due diligence and take great care, but definitely provide that guidance.