Tag Archives: media

Rihanna's profile pic from the New York Times T Magazine.

#AskHerMore: On Rihanna and interviewing Black celebrities

Over on Clutch, the staff responded to a recent T Magazine profile of Rihanna with dismay, noting that the interview really isn’t about Ms. Fenty. The profile was written by artist and actress Miranda July, and appears to be more about July’s feelings about meeting Rihanna then the “revealing” conversation teased in the headline. Clutch explains:

For instance, when Rihanna recalls being sent to America as a teen, admitting, ‘That’s something I don’t think I could ever do. Send my only girl to another random country to live with people she’d just met,” July doesn’t ask what it felt like, or if she ever asked her mother about how she was able to let her baby go. Instead, we get a tidbit about a then-27-year-old July trying to figure out what to do with her life. […] I seriously doubt most people cared July “dressed for Rihanna” or that Uber Black was the “highest level of Uber [she’s] ridden” in.

The staffer also drew attention to the September New York Times Sunday* Magazine profile of Nicki Minaj, also noting the interview left much to be desired.

Reading the full profile, July is fangirling hard for Rihanna in the piece, so much so that that outside of breathless descriptions of all the other people she encounters on the way to Rihanna, it takes almost half the piece to get to Rihanna actually talking. (The same thing happened with Nicki’s interview – you are almost half-way through the piece before she speaks a word.) Some commenters, familiar with July’s work, praised the piece as yet another piece of performance art from an undoubtedly quirky artist making a larger point about society.

But part of me wonders if this is too generous of a reading. If this is the case, then July’s art came at the expense of the subject: Rihanna. This kind of treatment is frustrating because the writers don’t seem too concerned with understanding the core or essence of the celebrity they profile.

The number of celebrity “interviews” that offer little insight into the person while providing long indulgences of the writer’s stream of consciousness is an annoying trend. I felt a vague sense of deja vu while reading the T Magazine piece, and realized The Fader’s cover interview (that wasn’t) had the same problem – I have no more insight about Rihanna then I did when I started.

I wonder if that “omg can you believe I get to interview this person?” trope is just another kind of racially influenced narcissism – why center the words of the black woman I am speaking to when my inner dialogue is so much more interesting? There can’t be two subjects of a profile piece. And, interestingly enough, it’s anathema to the entire celebrity journalist code – the first rule is that you do not fan out, because it obscures your subject. If you are too busy fawning, you don’t ask follow up questions, and you don’t reveal anything new to your readers/viewers. (There are many issues with celebrity rags, but this sort of thing would not fly in People Magazine.)

July is also candid about the questions she backs away from, saying:

I wanted to ask her about being a young black woman with power in America but it seemed somehow wrong to speak of this; maybe she was postracial now. So I directed my question to a younger Rihanna, and asked if she had suddenly felt aware of race in a different way when she moved to New York.

But this too is a cop-out. I don’t think a journalist from Essence or Ebony would have shied away from this question. And I can understand a discomfort with asking questions about race, but why do a profile if you aren’t going to ask questions? Rihanna’s answer was still interesting but the writer left so much unexplored. I’m glad Miranda July got a few good selfies out of this, but the interview reads like one long missed opportunity.

This type of breathless coverage robs Rihanna of her voice. And when we take into consideration the swirl of stereotypes surrounding black female celebrities in particular, one would hope that interviewers would try harder to illuminate more of the inner lives of these successful and often misunderstood women.

*Corrected with correct magazine, thanks to @DearSpelenda on Twitter.

Henry Zbyszynski, via Flickr

The Hollow Promise of “Inclusivity”: Saida Grundy and Boston University

By Tope Fadiran

It’s hard out there for white men on college campuses. At least, that’s what American media would have us believe, given its coverage of the current controversy swirling around Dr. Saida Grundy, a Black scholar recently hired (effective July 1, 2015) by Boston University as an assistant professor of Sociology and African American Studies.

In reality, the way in which Dr. Grundy has been unceremoniously shoved into the spotlight proves the exact opposite: Black women on our campuses, even those who have reached the highest levels of educational achievement, are political and cultural targets simply for existing. There is no other explanation for the fact that this all began with a white man whose response to Grundy’s hiring was to go in search of something he could use to undermine her intellectual and professional standing.

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What’s the Verdict? Racism and the Case Against Serial

By Guest Contributor Priya R. Chandrasekaran, special to Racialicious

A month or so ago, I got into a debate with a friend at work about racism in the podcast Serial.

Serial, a widely popular production of WBEZ Chicago, follows journalist Sarah Koenig week to week as she investigates a fifteen-year old case in which an eighteen year-old Korean American girl was found strangled after she went missing. Her then eighteen year-old Pakistani American ex-boyfriend was charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping. He has been in prison since 2000, all the while maintaining his innocence.

Specifically, my friend and I had different responses to an article by Jay Caspain Kang accusing Koenig of “white reporter privilege.” She felt that Kang was too quick to read an exoticizing impulse into Koenig’s reactions when, for example, Koenig was probably startled by how “normal” a young woman’s diary seemed on the eve of its author meeting a violent death. Also, she said, Koenig the storyteller has to make her characters relatable to her listeners. But “relatability” is precisely what Kang problematizes, I replied, it assumes an underlying “colorblind ideal” that “reads ‘white.’” I brought up Julia Carrie Wong’s charge that Koenig “fail[s] to draw an distinctions between…. a first-generation Korean immigrant [experience] and [a] second-generation life in a Pakistani-American family,” and that she gives her subjects “model minority treatment.” But then… the descriptions Koenig uses were offered by the people she interviewed, not ones she coined.

So is she accountable for them?

A colleague joined in: Koenig probably assumes her audience has racial sensitivity.

I disagreed: Kang is right that the journalist comes “from the same demographic as her ‘intended audience’” in a context where “staffs of radio stations, newspapers, and magazines tend to be overwhelmingly white.”

But if being white is the fact of her experience, this colleague said, do we hold it against her? Continue reading


On Not Breathing Due to Failures of Democracy

Media is a grind.

I’ve been out of the game for a little while, working mostly, so it’s been 18 months of learning how to make the news and how to make TV, and less of actually being on air, on camera, providing commentary.

While in New York, on unrelated business, I get a call from a producer friend – can I provide a voice on a Google Hangout with Katie Couric about the ongoing violence against black men? Later that day, the request changes. The Eric Garner decision rolls in, protestors are rolling out, New Yorkers are in the streets asking why. The segment has been upgraded to an actual panel – would I mind coming to the studio?

I prep, like usual. I look at outfits to see what I have that might translate well on television. I slide on BB cream in case there’s no makeup artist available. I rehearse talking points in my head, major points I want to make in the conversation. I ask my breakfast companion if she wants a ride into the city since they are sending a car.

The producer pushes back – I can’t share the car. Why not? I’m not asking for another stop, I’m still having a conversation.

The terse answer comes back: No one is supposed to know, and it just got confirmed, but my driver needs to pick up Eric Garner’s daughter as well. All the carefully crafted sound bytes exited my mind – what was I supposed to say to her? Continue reading

The American Standards of Media Consumption

By Guest Contributor OnTay Johnson


Illustration by Joseph Lamour.

According to the powers that be, I just may not be “with it” when it comes to American pop culture.  In my 30-plus years of life, I’ve noticed from time to time I’m made to be a fool because I haven’t seen some movie, didn’t recognize the face or name of some celebrity (dead or alive) and the list goes on.  I use to attribute this to growing up in a small city but as I got older and more socially conscious, I recognized that there was a pattern to this projection of person, places or things that I “should just know”.  That pattern adhered to the social construction of the status quo—whiteness.

Don’t get me wrong, as an African American in America, I’m hip to most things considered “popular” in our society.  Our education system alone makes sure you get peppered with the whiteness of American culture.  It’s the media that really hammers it home though.  How can one not be aware of whiteness when this country’s information systems constantly feed it to you as a diet day after day?  When a majority of magazines have a person that’s white on the cover and when a majority of television is white and our history books cover the “heroic” deeds of white men from the beginnings of this “unsettled” country until now, then it’s inevitable to not be aware of the whiteness screaming at you.  So yeah, I’m familiar with most things but it’s the fact that I’m a minority that I don’t always swallow everything fed to me.

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Announcement: On Joining The Stream

Me, with Derrick Ashong, post show, with Grover Norquist, the guest.

Former host Derrick Ashong and myself, with show guest Grover Norquist.

Now, we normally don’t publicize things about our personal lives or jobs on Racialicious.

However, this time is a bit different.  After appearing on Al Jazeera’s The Stream as a guest, then guest hosting, then subbing for the amazing Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, I finally decided to make it official. I am joining The Stream (American Edition) as Senior Digital Producer.

I am announcing it here is because I want the Racialicious community to come with me.

Over the years (we’re coming in on seven, almost eight for those counting; close to a decade for the MMW peeps) this community has brought some of the most challenging questions to our doorstep in the service of discussing race. How do we understand issues of race when this whole concept is fictional? As soon as you cross borders, racial labels fall apart, but the societal consequences remain. To what extent does colonialism play into our discussions of racism and solidarity? Where does religion and religious identity intersect with race? How do we even craft terms to describe ourselves without further playing into these systems that do not serve us?

I’ve often felt frustrated that we didn’t have the resources to go out and actively source stories. While some members of our community who are journalists have provided us with great pieces over the years, there are so many times when I wished we had a team to dispatch and cover events. And that’s to say nothing of all the media critique we’ve done over the years. Continue reading

Idris Elba is Hollywood’s Troublemaker

by Guest Contributor Shane Thomas, originally published at Media Diversity UK

There are few names as globally recognisable as Nelson Mandela. And likely even fewer whose name generally invokes strong feelings of warmth and goodwill.

Mandela was recently in the news as a result of his ill health, with elements of the online world and news networks partaking in an emetic game of “Nelson Mandela death watch”. Mercifully, at the time of writing, Madiba is still with us, and he has become a talking point again by proxy, due to the release of the trailer for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

The aforementioned is a movie biopic, traversing Nelson Mandela’s life. Early indications suggest that it is being positioned as strong contender for the 2014 Academy Awards. If the release date of January 3rd next year isn’t a sign to this effect, then the fact that the film’s production company is The Weinstein Company certainly is.[1]

On face value, this would seem to be a positive sign for diversity in Hollywood. After all, it’s a film where black characters are front and centre, without – as Jamilah King succinctly put it – needing a “white co-pilot”. And if you don’t think that this is an issue, more often than not, when films are made about communities of colour, the proviso is that a white character is a key cast member.[2] Continue reading