[Editor's Note] On The Road Again | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

[Editor's Note] On The Road Again

Cartoon: Brokaw Discovers Hip-Hop

It wasn't until I was lying on the massage table Saturday that I realized why I disliked Tom Brokaw's NBC Dateline report on Jackson so much.

The show had been bugging me since I had watched it the Sunday before. Sure, I don't like a network showing up and declaring my state an unchanged racist hellhole anymore than the next Mississippian. Sure, I don't think TV can ever do a story like this justice in 50 minutes with peppy ads for pharmaceuticals interspersed. Sure, the hip-hop "hidden camera" segment was embarrassingly stupid and made NBC look hopelessly out of touch with youth culture.

And, no, I'm not in denial that Jackson still has racial divides that undergird our poverty and crime problems. I'm sure not one of those people who believes "all that's in the past" or "why should we keep apologizing for the past?" (inevitably uttered by someone who has never apologized for the past). So why did that program about Jackson make my skin crawl?

My masseuse Li asked me what I thought of the show as I lay down on the table. "Well," I said, my voice muffled into a pillow, "I believe we have to admit our racial divides, but that program rubbed me the wrong way."

"Why?" she asked, as she wrestled with my left shoulder.

"For one, how can you do such a show about Lanier and never mention Bob Moses' work there? It just felt so surface."

"Yes, I know," she said. "I would have liked it better if they had offered solutions instead of just trashing the city."

Wham, bam, thank you, ma'am. There was my answer, implanted somewhere between my sore deltoid and my pesky infraspinatus.

"You're right," I said to Li. "You're right."

Brokaw's special was an indictment, and little more. Jackson was put on trial, tried and sentenced to death with incomplete evidence. The program zoomed in on our problems with little-to-no acknowledgement of the efforts by Moses, and so many others, to fight our legacy of poverty and racism. As a result, the program probably did little good—it, once again, gave non-Mississippians a place to feel superior to, and it told the world that our state is a racist neverland, but with no complexity to speak of, and it offered no damned solutions.

OK, Brokaw and Co. might argue, the answer is to just stop being racist. Well, yeah. But how do you get there—with a daily paper run by a black man who hides out in the suburbs, saying we shouldn't discuss race, and schools that are so re-segregated that they are now 95 percent black because so many white families fled after (forced) integration? With our divisions pushed by demagogic politicians (black and white), how do we teach that our differences are our strength, that empathy for all will make the city stronger?

It was telling that NBC acted surprised and dismayed that poor black people would listen to hip-hop, much less record it, and acted like this music was causing poverty and crime, rather than chronicling the problems. Hell, they could do a little homework in their own backyards to get to know the roots of hip-hop; exposure is a subway or limo ride away.

Sadly, a smart talk about hip-hop could have been telling. That is, why is it that so many young blacks only think there are two ways out of poverty—being a sports star or a gangsta rapper? Rather than scapegoat either sports or popular music, astute journalists could have picked up the clue about why this cycle is so hard to break—the perceived lack of opportunity for young people.

So, why is that?

The reasons are many, with a catch-all being the breaking up of black families throughout this state's history—a cycle, indeed, fed by racism and a near-evil criminal-justice system. From there, the list of causes is long: Young people being told they are likely to become criminals by everyone from the media to their parents to their teachers. Fathers in prison—often on minor drug charges and even false charges. Drug dealing bringing in more money than the stagnated minimum wage. Politicians blaming every problem—even those of their own making—on single mothers. Would-be role models fleeing their neighborhoods, never to return, even to mentor. Businesses pulling out of communities because they're "too black." Dwindling funds and public support for public schools. Lack of good information about birth control and family planning. Community centers and gyms closing.

But the NBC program didn't cut to the real bone—instead presenting this program as a simplistic, even voyeuristic lesson in racism 101, a survey that led to a cliched conclusion: Nothing has changed in Mississippi.

That's not true. Much has changed in Mississippi—though not enough. But we can't tackle the second part without admitting the first part. It is important for Mississippians (and Americans) to understand how far this state has come. We had the furthest to come. We can be proud of our accomplishments, while knowing that the work isn't near complete, and while believing that it is possible to get to the promised land some day, and get there together.

Maybe it was well-meaning, but Brokaw's on-the-road program felt like a hit job. It committed a serious sin of omission by ignoring the stubborn desire for progress on the part of our young people of all races. It painted a negative, hopeless narrative and then ended up in a jumble of amorphous talk about racism and a powerless quote about whites needing to reinvest in the black community.

In so doing, this show reminded me of "Mississippi Burning," that horrible film that most Mississippians despise—white folks because it "drug up the past" and black people because there are no black heroes, just victims.

People, we must, must tell our own stories. That doesn't mean watered-down, defensive, excuse-making, B.S.-filled tall tales. Anything but. We must turn our history upside down and inside out, and shake out anything and everything we can to inform our present and our future. As we travel this bumpy road, we must also celebrate our successes and love each other and honor courage and talk back to dishonest revisionists who want to pretend that everything's peachy and perfect these days.

As Dr. King warned us: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that."
Let's move toward the light. Together.

Visit Donna's blog at donnaladd.com.

Previous Comments

ID
73236
Comment

Donna, this is a wonderful, fantastic, hopeful, complete, truthful, and resolute view of Mississippi. This bunch of words were all meant to say you told the whole or a more complete story. Kamikaze's story is the story of the young people standing up for what they see and believe are the problems that too many of us do not care about. Your story is a wider view that embodies hope and gloom, racism and some change, success and failure, hate and love, and the overall unfairness to Mississippi by that NBC piece. Mississippi has and likely always will be a story of good and bad. NBC neglected too much good that could have been told without lying. I wasn't convinced that NBC unfairly portrayed Mississippi until I read your column. I totally agree that the truth of Jackson or Mississippi can't be told without mentioning the initial work of Bob Moses in Mississippi compared to that of recent years.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-08-02T17:47:41-06:00
ID
73237
Comment

I figured that's what the show would end up as, a hit job.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2006-08-03T13:03:41-06:00
ID
73238
Comment

Yes, and I'm a bit tired of living in a world where if we challenge incomplete coverage of us, then we are assumed to be of the opposite belief, or racist. That's binary thinking as bad as that of the N-JAM wingnuts. The narratives about the people were pretty powerful, but the frame of the piece was very superficial. I couldn't help think: "Great, have we progressed no farther in our thinking that it takes Tom Brokaw to go around and convince 'educated' people that the conditions of our cities have somethign to do with racism?" I think the important point here is that a lot of people working so hard on the ground in Mississippi are well aware of that and have progressed to a place where we're working very hard, together, to try to overcome such ignorance and counter the neo-racists and all their obsession over public housing and "thugs." This piece was, thus, insulting to all of the people already working so hard on public education of these issues. They could have gotten around that by losing the sensationalism and actually documenting some of the efforts to overcome the problems. But showing Mississippi's progress, as well as our challenges, was clearly not a priority for NBC. It's like Connie Chung trolling for a Klansman in Neshoba County all over again. It becomes very clear why it's easy for a paper like The Clarion-Ledger to convince the nation that their race coverage is so outstanding—because everyone has set the bar so low for us. Just call it the bigotry of low expectations. I, personally, am sick of it.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-08-03T13:10:16-06:00
ID
73239
Comment

Not only that, but we need to remember that Brokaw himself is not innocent of the racism bug. I still wish I had a transcript, or video, of when Howard Ballou asked him if this would be one more anti-Mississippi special and Brokaw, as if he knew what Ballou "really" meant, started trashing low-income blacks and talking about "responsibility." Brokaw would fit in just fine with N-JAM. His convictions on this issue do not appear to run very deep. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-08-03T15:53:58-06:00
ID
73240
Comment

GREAT op-ed, BTW. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-08-03T15:54:40-06:00
ID
73241
Comment

Yeah, I picked up the "personal responsibility" excuse, er, meme in the program, too. I didn't see the Ballou interview. I'm all about "personal responsibility," too, but it doesn't excuse a damn thing that caused the problems in the first place. I guess that explains the tenor of this. The producers came in and researched decent narratives; Brokaw showed up and added his frame. The whole thing is weird to me. And offensive. You wonder if the hip-hop segment was his idea, too. However, if we can use the experience and build on it with solid discussion and solutions, Brokaw managed to be useful despite himself. Reminds me of the worst professors I had in grad school. I learned how NOT to teach from them, and that's a very good lesson, coupled with those from the good ones.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-08-03T15:58:48-06:00
ID
73242
Comment

Good Ed piece, Donna. I've tried to understand what the NBC piece was about and agree there were no offerings of solutions and certainly no balance. But what still has me puzzled is the introduction to the entire hour and what was described as the reason for the special hour report ......which if I recall correctly was to tie in to the nation's outcry of racism/economic class in New Orleans that the media focused on with plenty of supporting visuals. If that were the basis for the investigation and report, then why didn't they visit the families from New Orleans that relocated to Jackson and have been embraced by the Habitat for Humanity coalition of supporters/volunteers here in Jackson? Oh, excuse me.....I know the answer - they wouldn't have had a story then. As a dear friend said to me after the show - racism, poverty, hopelessness and all manner of societal ills will always be with us.... Jackson is not unique in that regard, so what was his [Brokaw] point?

Author
JenniferGriffin
Date
2006-08-03T17:38:40-06:00
ID
73243
Comment

I think his point was that since blacks are still poor, we (just the white males, mind you) are still Opressive Pigs. That everything would be fine otherwise. Mind you I haven't seen the show, so...

Author
Ironghost
Date
2006-08-03T18:36:48-06:00
ID
73244
Comment

I think one of the elements the piece was lacking was an examination of poor whites in Mississippi. If segregation and racism are the major reasona that poor blacks are being held back in Jackson, then what's the reason behind the status of poor whites. You'll never hear me say racism doesn't exist, but I think what we are seeing more in our state and country now is economic rather than racial segregation.

Author
someone
Date
2006-08-03T18:47:00-06:00
ID
73245
Comment

Ironghost writes: I think his point was that since blacks are still poor, we (just the white males, mind you) are still Opressive Pigs. Unfortunately, judging by the transcript, it wasn't even that; he never even suggested any real complicity on the part of whites living today. He never suggested complicity on the part of anybody (except, in a weird aside that reads like it'd been transplanted over from another piece, hip-hop artists); he just told of the suffering and told and told and essentially said "Well, gee, it's to bad, isn't it?" In other words, NBC discovered blaxploitation 30 years too late. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-08-03T19:20:16-06:00
ID
73246
Comment

And you wonder why we refer to them as the "drive-by" media.

Author
Jeff Lucas
Date
2006-08-03T19:27:26-06:00
ID
73247
Comment

Ah. "Gosh, look at the poor natives. Gee." I get it.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2006-08-03T19:27:51-06:00
ID
73248
Comment

I agree that it's one of those things that had too many angles to address in a short period of time. We are much too complex for Tom Brokaw.

Author
someone
Date
2006-08-03T22:56:04-06:00
ID
73249
Comment

Just wanted to say I love the format of this Web site and the exchange of ideas.

Author
someone
Date
2006-08-03T23:00:09-06:00
ID
73250
Comment

I love the cartoon although I'm too blind to read the script.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-08-04T16:06:27-06:00
ID
73251
Comment

I just wrote a long message and the 'privacy statement' popped up and alll was lost. will try again. quickly. donna dear what you wrote from your heart was so much finer than anything that brokaw guy could ever think and he probably can't dance either.

Author
sunshine
Date
2006-08-05T22:44:11-06:00
ID
73252
Comment

p.s. I did not see the tv show, don't get local channels, ha. but it pains me to hear about it and know it's out there. @#$% as I mentioned in another post, Unita Blackwell's book is from heaven - why don't they do a piece on her?

Author
sunshine
Date
2006-08-05T22:48:11-06:00
ID
73253
Comment

one last comment, seems I could go find , the transcript? but why would I want to do that.. as for hip-hop, I really do not like Fox, eouw, but So You Think You Can Dance, Brokaw get a clue. You can't.

Author
sunshine
Date
2006-08-05T23:03:44-06:00
ID
73254
Comment

as I mentioned in another post, Unita Blackwell's book is from heaven - why don't they do a piece on her? - sunshine yeah, why don't they?? I agree...

Author
Izzy
Date
2006-08-07T09:30:55-06:00

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