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Racial Issues on Center Stage This Week, But What Truly Matters?

by Todd A. Smith

What Matters Most

            America has always salivated at celebrity culture.  The every move of celebrities (good or bad) is followed by mainstream and tabloid media alike for better or worse.  When it comes to the issues that really matter like important racial issues, however, most Americans are silent, even though their lives could be adversely affected by it.

            Television personality and Chef Paula Deen has been engulfed in controversy recently for admitting to using the N-word in the past and being accused of condoning a racist and sexist work environment.

            While Deenís use of a racial slur and accusations of racism should be taken very seriously, who among us in todayís society has not used derogatory slurs about another group of people behind closed doors?  If that was the criteria for having a job, none of us would ever find employment.

            Nevertheless, polarizing racial issues should be taken seriously, and I understand corporations distancing themselves from Deen.  However, what is incomprehensible is that it seems many were more outraged by Deenís use of the N-word than were shocked by the United States Supreme Court overturning key sections of the Voting Rights Act.

            That decision by the Supreme Court has the potential to adversely affect all minorities, which could make it harder for many to vote.  Deenís actions have no impact on anyone except Deen, her family and her employees.

            Despite the high courtís decision on the Voting Rights Act, recent history like proposed voter ID laws have shown that America still battles with racial issues, and progress is usually met with stiff opposition. 

After Reconstruction when African Americans made tremendous strides politically, laws like the Black Codes and vigilante groups like the Ku Klux Klan did all they could to thwart that progress.

            It was not until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that some of those efforts were permanently halted and African American voters everywhere could have their voices heard.  Unfortunately, rolling back those rights could have the same adverse affect if we are not vigilant as a community.

            Social media has become a powerful tool in the fight against inequality.  It was because of Facebook and Twitter that the Trayvon Martin murder came to light, and hopefully as a result George Zimmerman will receive the jail time that he deserves.

            However, it is important that the African American community realizes that our fight did not end with the election of President Barack Obama and the arrest of George Zimmerman. 

The community must realize that the same way technology was used to make history at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and demand justice in Sanford, Fla, is the same way technology must be used to ensure that the Supreme Courtís recent decision does not negatively affect voting rights in those nine states with a history of racial discrimination at the polls.

            Nonetheless, it is perfectly OK for us to use social media to have fun like many did with the birth of baby North West.  However, we as a community and a country have to always remember what is important in life and it is usually not pop culture and celebrity. 

Racial issues, gender inequality and religious freedom are often overlooked by mainstream media. But we have to realize that we live in a day where most private citizens are members of the media too, with blogs and social media sites.  Use these powerful tools to make a difference, not just to brag about your accomplishments or what celebrity is in a relationship with whomever.

One of my heroes John H. Johnson, the founder of Ebony and Jet, was often criticized for having celebrities on the front cover and not political or community leaders.  His reasoning for putting celebrities on the cover was because celebrity sells and substance like racial issues and religious issues do not.

Over 60 years later, our society has not changed one bit.  Very few are in tune with whatís going on in their community and many blame the media for not informing the masses on what issues are important.

That reality is not limited to the African American community. 

In Tom Fentonís book, Bad News, the former CBS senior foreign correspondent wrote that he tried desperately to encourage his bosses to inform the public that foreign terrorists were planning a big attack on America. 

However, his bosses did not believe that their audience would care about foreigners with names that were hard to pronounce.  The result of not airing that information was the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

ďWe argued that (Osama bin Laden) would figure importantly in Americaís future,Ē Fenton wrote.  ď(CBS producer Randall) Joyce and I saw that bin Laden was the leader of a terrorist network bent on attacking American interests.  Our bosses saw him as an obscure Arab of no interest to our viewers.Ē

While the networks can be blamed, the public deserves just as much blame because the media business is just like any other business; supply and demand.  If we start demanding more substance, we will get more substance and therefore more results.

However, if we continue to confuse whatís important in life with what simply does not matter in the grand scheme of things, our laissez faire attitude can have dire consequences.

This article was published on Friday 28 June, 2013.
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