BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Dr. Jan Dates, author, co author, actually, of the new book, "Split Image: African Americans in the Mass Media." What's it all about?
JAN DATES: Well, there's so much -- I mean, we've got almost 500 pages. But "Split Image" -- we came out with that idea of calling it "Split Image" because we believed that the dominant culture in our society had established an image of African Americans that was the one that everybody thought about, the one that was really most pervasive in society, in all the media. We started with minstrelsy, but it's also radio, film, music and recording industry, broadcast journalism, print journalism, public television, commercial television, radio, advertising.
We saw that the African American, throughout the history of those various industries, was attempting to get another image that hark to his vision of his own reality and was not able, really, for the most part, to get that image established in many places. And I think the most telling example of that is what happened in the music and recording industry. A lot of people really know the history of people like Pat Boone, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, who used African American music and reaped benefits and rewards from it and fame and fortune, and the originators of much of this music, in many instances, died obscurely and oftentimes in poverty.
But those are just the most prominent examples. There are so many others. And we talk about that kind of thing in the book. So what we're saying is that there's a split in the image. There's one image that is the strong one that has been determined by people outside of the African American culture and the other that has (audio loss) people have attempted from within the culture to get into the mainstream, to get onto the theme, and they were unable to do so; hence the split.
And we use the theories of Stuart Hall and Antonio Gramsci, their theories which say that when you have a dominant culture and a subordinate culture, that you are going to have a tug of war between the cultures, because the dominant group is trying to control and influence everyone, including the subordinate culture. And the subordinate culture, knowing that they're being dominated, is attempting to overcome that domination to do something. So you've got this constant tug of war between those two forces. And we saw that as a way, you see -- I mean, a mechanism for really grabbing hold of history and looking at it. We are hoping, therefore, to help everyone have a more balanced vision of our history.
At this point, we think it's so focused on the European contributions to the development of the various mass media. And we started doing it because we were teaching courses at Howard University, and young people there are mostly African American, and they thought, "There's nobody in these books who's African American who's done anything, so maybe we just haven't made any contributions to society in this regard." And I would say to students, "Well, that's not true, you know. We certainly have had African Americans who've made contributions. They tried in this way, they tried in that way, and oftentimes just weren't allowed to move forward. The doors were closed." And so that's how we got to the idea of "Split Image" and that's how we really started with the book.
LAMB: Was it a difficult thing to do? Were you angry as you wrote this?
DATES: No, I wasn't angry. What I was doing was I was trying to set the record straight. I was trying to let young people know, and hopefully make them feel positive and good and realize that, "Gee, it's not as bad as it seemed, because it seemed like we weren't doing anything and, in actuality, we were doing a lot. It just wasn't in the books." And let's get the books organized. Let's straighten it out so that people will know. And I don't mean just the young African American people who need to know, but the same thing is true about young white people and white people, in general, who have an inflated notion about European Americans' contributions to society and truly believe that they really did all the things that caused the creations of the things that we all enjoy today in the mass media.
And I'm saying to young people, black and white, that there were contributions made by other groups, and let's set the record straight so that we can begin to respect each other, because I am very concerned that a lot of African American youngsters in the inner cities really feel that their people, their ancestors, have not been respected. They've not been made to feel that they have contributed, and so therefore, they feel hopeless about themselves, because if their ancestors aren't respected, if their predecessors are -- are negated by society and made to feel that they are less than, then there's no hope for them. And that's part of the reason why they have no stake in society. And what I want to see us all have is a stake in society -- to love this country and want to do. And I think one of the ways to do that is to increase internal respect, make you feel good about yourself. And that comes with respecting who you came from. "What is the stock that I've come from" "Who are the people from my community who've made a contribution to this?" And "How can we help to control and set the future course?"
LAMB: Who was Marcus Garvey?
DATES: Who was Marcus Garvey? Who? Well, Marcus Garvey did so many things. I think there were about eight or nine publications that he started as a newspaperman, not just in his native land, Jamaica, but also in other parts of the world, including the United States, where he did about three or four different newspapers. He thought that it was very important to communicate. He thought that there needed to be some opportunities for the African Americans to really be able to talk between, within and among its own group of people. Marcus Garvey also was one of those who started a book publishing company. He had a back to Africa movement. I mean, there are so many things that he did. We talk about him in the book and we talk about the fact that he was a strong advocate for self determination for African Americans, and that's why we think he had a lot that was positive that needed to be said.
LAMB: You split this book up in -- as you said earlier, in many different ways, in films and records and all that. What did you concentrate on?
DATES: Well, I was co editor. I think that was one of things I'd like to make sure you know. And William Barlow -- Dr. William Barlow, who is associate professor in the department of radio, television film in the School of Communications, was the other co editor. I'll say this to you, too: There were a number of faculty members -- there were about eight or 10 of us in 1982 who met over the Xerox machine and started realizing that we were all doing the same thing -- copying articles out of various publications and chapters out of various books that did give an African American thread to what we were teaching.
I was teaching, for example, history of broadcasting and film and introduction to mass communications. And in teaching those courses, there wasn't anything about the African American experience in there. And so we would meet and we'd say, "You know, we really ought to do something. I mean, this doesn't make sense; we're all copying these different articles out of these publications." And we said, "If we don't do it, who will? We've got to get a book done."
So we called some people who had written chapters in this book and that book -- it was like Chapter 10 in one book and Chapter 9 in another book -- and then various publications in periodicals. And for one reason or another, many of them could not be involved with us. And we wound up saying, Well, OK, then, I'll do this chapter and you do that chapter. And I wound up doing four chapters and, you know, the introduction and the conclusion, along with Dr. Barlow on the two -- the introduction and the conclusion we did together.
He did two chapters and then we had Dr. Thomas Cripps, who's a renowned historian in the subject of film and also the African American in films, and he did the chapter on films. Dr. Reebee Garofalo, who is a faculty member at the University of Massachusets, and he did the chapter on the early period of the music and recording industry. And Dr. Lee Thornton, who is currently at Howard University in the department of journalism -- and Dr. Thornton, of course, was a CBS correspondent , White House correspondent for eight years and had a lot of experience in the broadcast journalism area. And so Dr. Thornton, Reebee Garofalo, Thomas Cripps, William Barlow and myself worked together on this, along with some other faculty members who got discouraged because we finished the book, basically, I guess, about three or four years ago, but we had a lot of trouble getting it published.
And I contend that the reason that we had trouble getting it published is the same reason that we wrote the book: because the decision makers in the various university presses who looked at the manuscript and said, you know, "It's a good idea. We like what you're saying here, we like what you're saying there. We think you have a basic, you know, handle on what you're doing and we wish you luck, but it just doesn't quite fit with what we have in mind." I think what they really meant was, "We're not really focusing on African Americans."
They did say, in some instances, "There's a very limited market for this. You're really going to only have people from some of the black schools, historically black colleges and universities who will read it and a few from some of the African American studies programs in various majority schools. And some of those programs are now fading out." So they thought the market was so limited and what we tried to argue to them was that, in fact, the market was not that limited. And I went and did a survey -- I went to many conferences and I sent the survey to a lot of different contact people across the country, asking them what interest they might have in the publication like this and how they might use it as a primary text or as a secondary text and so forth. And we got back excellent responses.
So I took that to some of those publishers and said the same kind of thing. "Yes, indeed, we do, in fact, have an audience out there. There are people who are interested in this subject." And they said, "No, I don't think so." And so finally, Howard University Press, which had been on hiatus at the time when we were trying to get this done, was ready, then, to do publications again and I took it to Ambassador Auguay, who was the director of Howard University Press, and asked him to look at it and just give me an idea about whether or not he thought it would be marketable. And he was very excited about the book.
And I contend that, when you have people from other cultures, other ethnic and racial groups, in any mix -- that is, in any industry -- you're going to get this kind of thing. Now because he is an African American and has an understanding of what we were trying to do and why, he immediately was excited about it. And I guess the rest, you say, you know, is history. I mean, he went on with it. It took him less than a year to get it really out. I just take my hat off to Howard University Press and I think that's part of the reason why a lot of times people say, "Well, why do you need a black press? Why do you need to have something that's -- in quote -- 'separate' when we've already got general market organizations?" But this is one of the reasons. The book wouldn't have been published, I believe, had it not been for Howard University Press. And I was so excited when we've gotten these good reviews and people have said, "Gee, it's a good book and it's really doing something and it meets the need." You know, it just makes all of us who are part of it feel so good about it, because we believed in it. But you do get discouraged and we lost some people along the way because they felt discouraged. They thought, "Well, I guess it's never going to happen."
LAMB: But what is it you see today in the mass media that makes you the most irritated about the way blacks are portrayed? Give me an example.
DATES: Well, I guess one of the things that irritates me is what happened with Spike Lee's film, as opposed to "Driving Miss Daisy."
LAMB: Which one are you talking about now, "Do the Right Thing"?
DATES: "Do the Right Thing." That was the one that was out at the same time. And, you know, I mean, "Driving Miss Daisy" was the film that got the award. It seems to me that part of the reason for that was that the majority culture -- the dominant culture -- wants to maintain the status quo. It likes things the way that they were or the way that they used to be. And that was really looking back to the past. It was a nostalgia film. It was a film that kind of said, you know, things were so much simpler and better when black people were serving white people, as he was.
Spike Lee's film, "Do the Right Thing," really made a lot of people uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable, too. I think people were uncomfortable because it brought up issues that made you feel you don't know the answers. You don't know where it's going to go. You don't know what's right, you don't know what's wrong. There are just so many complexities in what he was doing in that film. And so it's not neatly wrapped up and packaged and you don't go out of there feeling, Well, OK, now we have triumph of good over evil, because it is just too complex and simplistic. It is just too complex to do -- in the simplistic thing of saying, We'll wrap it up now and say this is how it should end.
I think we need to be uncomfortable somewhat in order to straighten out our own house. We need to do some soul searching and we need to think about the direction that our society is taking. If we can learn to respect each other -- and that's part of what the book is about. I think for us to share a vision of what our history really was that is based on a more balanced representation of who contributed what things, as opposed to the more European biased histories that we've been used to reading. And, I mean of course, I'm speaking of the African American in this case, but there are certainly other cultural and ethnic groups that should be included in the mix as well so that we can begin to respect each other. Because, you see, the African American youngster who reads about his people in a book like this will feel a sense of pride about some of the things that happened. And the white youngster who reads it will also say, "Yes, there were contributions made."
In a lot of campuses today across this country, we've got divisions between these groups that we're talking about because of a lack of respect for contributions and for understanding of history. And I'd like to think this book might be a small contribution to helping to increase the respect. And I would hope there'd be many more as a result of this one.
LAMB: What do you think of Norman Lear?
DATES: Well, I think he was trying to do some positive things and he was on the cutting edge at the point in time when he was doing "The Jeffersons" and "Baby, I'm Back" and -- well, the other of that genre. He was bringing wrenching social issues into America's consciousness and he was using a bit of courage to do that, because I think at that point in time, it was not being done. He had started with Archie Bunker and then moved on to bring "The Jeffersons" in. So I have respect for him, as I have respect for all people who are creative and who are trying to do something that they think is good and positive. There are some things I would have liked to see him do differently, but that's true about a lot of people for me, you know. I would have liked, for example, for there to have been more African Americans who were involved in developing some of the theories, as I would like for that to be the case today. Because I think that there is an authenticity that one brings to any kind of creation that people can see.
Even if you're not a part of the culture, somehow the authenticity rings true for you and it certainly rings true for those people who are a part of that group. Today in our society, we still have white males dominating almost all of the industries, and in particular the mass media industries and, therefore, everything is filtered through the prism of their experiences, as opposed to allowing for the infusion of the diversity of perspectives that you would get if you had people from other groups involved in deciding what is the focus, what should be what we put on this year. When you have everyone from the same group kind of rubber stamping each other's experiences because you come from the same experiences, you never have that enrichment, that enhancement, that -- I don't know, strengthening, broadening.
LAMB: Why do you think the white male dominates the media business?
DATES: Well, the white male dominates this society. And you're asking why? I mean -- all right, I'll tell you why I think it's true and I'm sure people who study history would know. The Europeans settled in this country and, of course, brought Africans in 1619 to help to build the country. Africans were brought here, enslaved and, of course, you also had other groups like the Asians and the Indian, the Native American, who were also used as chattel to help build the country.
The African American was the one who got the least of all, because he and his children were enslaved in perpetuity. It's the first time in the history of the world that you had a situation where you couldn't get out of slavery, that your children had to be enslaved as long as the mother was a slave. A very important point. If a father had been the one who was designated, there would have been a lot of difference in how this all would have sorted out. Well, when you have that kind of situation, where you enslave one group who work and toil -- I mean, you're talking about the labor. You're talking about crops being grown, you're talking about houses being built, railroads being laid, just all the things that made this society the dominant society that it is in the world on the backs of African American people, and they were owned by those of European descent. And then the Europeans were the ones who were able to reap the money, to put it into various banks, to pass it on to their children and their children's children. And so the question really is -- Why would it be any different?
LAMB: Is the white male going to be there in control forever?
DATES: I don't think so. And I think that we're at a transition period right now. By the year 2000, a third of the nation will be non white. And that number is going to grow. I think it can be either a time of smooth transition where, basically, white males and females help all the groups to begin to respect each other and to work together to continue to make America strong and dominant in the world. We either have a period where that happens in a fairly smooth way -- not totally smooth, but fairly smooth -- or we're going to have great upheaval.
I believe that it is the educators in this society who are going to help to make the difference, because they're the ones who are working with young people, helping to shape their worldviews. Right now the worldview is European dominated in their minds. I think educators are going to have to help young people to think of it differently. And I don't think we can just say, "Well, go to your frat parties and separate yourselves from each other and think of yourselves as better than when you're out of the classroom." I think we're going to have to help them to shape some of these worldvu -- views and get into their minds, not just in the classrooms, but also helping them in their interpersonal interactions with each other. It's one of the strengths, I think, of college life when you have caring faculty who work hard to help young people to think beyond just what happens inside of that classroom.
LAMB: You talk about integration. Is it a good thing?
DATES: Well, you know, I really was working for integration as a young person. I thought that was the answer. I was much more arrogant then. Today I think -- I don't know the answer. I'm not sure. I do know that we're all in the same boat and if we don't learn how to work together, we'll all sink together. It seems sensible, therefore, to try to work together to save the ship. You can't save the ship when you're off at one end building your part of it and somebody else is building another part and you're duplicating efforts. It just seems to me integration makes sense theoretically. Theory and practice are two different things, though. And one of the problems is that with integration, the African American has lost.
And the reason I say that is because, when there were all black schools, for example -- just as one example -- you had teachers who were all black and who really understood the young people they were working with and were able to infuse in them a certain feel for who they were. I remember my teachers saying to me, you know, "You've got to be somebody and you're going to be. And this is how you're going to do it." And they had standards and they held us to them and they put your feet to the fire when you didn't meet those standards. And they made you want to do. And there were just so many of us who were in a public school in Baltimore City in a very poor neighborhood who worked very, very hard to try to be respected by those teachers, who knew that we could do and were saying to us, "You must do it. We expect it."
I'm not sure what happens when people who are not as inspired and inspiring are working with young people who they maybe do not respect because of society and history, which makes them think that maybe these people are lesser beings. Because history has been written by the European in American society, the European -- persons of European heritage in American society, that was what was stressed. And, you know -- I mean, there's nothing, in quotes, "really wrong with that," because when you think about it, one of the questions that's come up is, `Why is it that the Indians never won any of the wars?' Because the Indians didn't make the movies. OK. By the same token, it blacks had written the books and had been in power, maybe they might have done the same kind of thing. What I'm saying is, now we realize the penalty of doing that kind of thing, of being so narrowly focused and so shortsighted. We realize the penalty -- we must start to do something to make it right, if for no other reason than to save everybody's skin.
LAMB: Let me ask you about something specific that this white man has gone through in the last couple of months, and I want to ask you to explain it. This network has put our cameras in front of a black owned radio station here by the name of WOL. You've probably heard of it.
LAMB: Owned by Cathy Hughes. And any of our listeners or anybody listening to it has heard Cathy basically say, "Vote for the black. Don't you dare vote for the white." What would happen if a white owned radio station said, "Don't you dare vote for the black. Vote for the white"? I'm listening, saying to myself, "Why are we delineating between the white and the black so strongly?" Explain that.
DATES: Well, on the issue of politics, you know -- that's not my area, but I will just say what my thoughts ...
LAMB: Well, the reason I -- let me tell you why I asked you.
LAMB: It is a black owned radio station, clearly, and she makes a very strong point of that. It's a black business and makes the point of saying, "You should be doing business with black people if you are black or an African American."
DATES: Well, part of the reason that you have Cathy Hugheses in the world saying things like this -- and she's not the only one; many African Americans are saying that. It's part of what I said a few minutes ago when I was saying that when you had black teachers in black schools, you had an infusion of a caring about those youngsters that was different from what happens, maybe, to a large extent, when they are a part of a large group of young people who are black and white, and the teacher is white and she feels more affinity for her white students than she does for the black students who, sometimes in her own mind, cause trouble.
And so, therefore, she, or he, might not respect that youngster in the same way, and might not see some of their strengths, you know. One of the things that's so important to know is that you can go to a situation and you take certain baggage with you when you go. And you see things one way and somebody else with other experiences, other baggage, goes to that same situation and sees totally something different. You know this is true when you talk about an accident. You stand on a corner and you see it and you're standing at one angle; somebody else sees it and they're at another angle, and they tell you a totally different story of what happened. So we know that's true in something like that, but it's also true about most experiences. It's very important, therefore, to me that we would have African Americans in various capacities so they can give that perspective.
I think what you have the Cathy Hugheses of the world doing is saying is we've been shut out of this; we've been shut out of that. We no longer have black businesses as viable entities because once integration came, you didn't even have an opportunity to become something big in the black community because black people went, just as their counterparts did, to businesses at the mall. They went to places other than the black community to do their shopping and to do -- you know, have their services and -- and have business taken care of for them, have their needs met by people outside of the community. And what they're saying, basically, is if we don't start to buttress these and support these entities in our community, then we won't have anything -- we don't have anything, really, that we can hold on to and say, "We have built this. This is ours." And therefore, we won't have power that money brings. Because unless you own something in American society, you really don't have a lot of power. It's either political or it is -- it's either politics or money. Those are the two areas that are most powerful in our society.
And those are two of the areas where the African American has not had traditional power. So they're trying to, by the bootstraps, pull people into being supportive of African American entities. And I understand and support that to some extent. I do understand the concern that you raise, though, when you say, "Now you are saying it's OK to say do everything that you want to do -- Support black politicians regardless; it's got to be a black. How would you feel if I said, 'Support only whites?' Of course, whites are in the majority and we could outvote you every time, so it would be ludicrous and you would be very upset if we did that because you know you'd lose.'"
And that's an argument that is a good point. But I think white Americans have to realize, too, and look, too, at what the reality is. We have a situation where we need viable, strong contributors from all groups. If you don't do some things to start getting that support system in place in the African American community, as well as the other communities that are ethnically oriented, more problems accrue. Part of the problem that we see with the African American male, who's so alienated from society, is related to that, feeling that they don't have a stake. "Why should I follow the straight and narrow path," a young man might say, "when I see that that has gotten my father and my uncle and my brother very little?" He's looked at in disdain by people in society. If he goes into a store, people immediately start pushing buzzers and saying, you know, "He's probably going to steal something." Those young people hear that and realize that they're not being looked at in a respected manner in society. And so then they look to other ways to get their feeling of self worth. In the eyes of larger society, of course, those are negative ways. And in their own eyes, they're negative in many ways, too.
LAMB: Let me show the audience this book ...
LAMB: ... so they know what we're talking about. It's called "Split Image: African Americans in the Mass Media." And it's co authored by Dr. Jan Dates, who's associate dean of the School of Communications...
DATES: At Howard.
LAMB: ... at Howard University.
DATES: Co edited, actually. We edited and then...
LAMB: Oh, but you wrote a lot, though.
DATES: Yeah, I did. I wrote four chapters and Dr. Barrow and I did the introduction and the conclusion, as I mentioned. Yes.
LAMB: All right. Let me ask you another one of these trick questions on -- like...
LAMB: ...on WOL. We have Black Entertainment Television. What would happen if we had a White Entertainment Television?
DATES: Whites are in the dominant posture. Black Entertainment Television tells black people that these programs really are designed to meet some of the needs that have not been met by the larger society because the larger society has not really had an interest in this particular group. And so it is a mark for letting people know exactly what the program is. And it's also a kind of a feeling of pride.
LAMB: OK. And let me just ask you, where does this all lead to 10, 20 years from now? Do we end up, some day, being segregated again -- whites watching one television, blacks watching another; listening to one radio station, reading newspapers? That's what I want you to take this whole thing.
DATES: Well, I would hope -- I don't think that we can survive like that. And it seems to me this book is part of the contribution to our getting the perspective broadened. I'd like to see a future where we would have textbooks that would include the African American participation, the Asian American participation, the Native American participation, Hispanic and so forth -- Latino -- in the textbooks along with the European American perspective. I don't see any way to do that but to have decision makers, policymakers, of all those different racial and ethnic groups and cultural groups at all levels in the various industries and the various businesses that run this -- this society. Once that happens, I think decisions will begin to be made that are less Eurocentric bias decisions. You won't have a repeat year after year after year of people saying, "A book like this is not going to be marketable because white people aren't going to want to buy it."
I don't think that's true. I think had there been more of other groups besides the one group that, because of their experiences, don't see the need for this -- if you have some African Americans, some Asians Americans and Latinos as a part of the decision making group, they're going to say, "You know, there is a need for this and this is why." They're going to see things from a different perspective. I believe that. And that's why I think -- no, I don't think our society is going to wind up in those camps unless we continue to do exactly what we've been doing, which is let -- have the white male domination continue at all the policy decision making levels. I think then what we'll have is probably a lot more negatives than we've had even so far. But once it begins to open up and people begin to realize that we must include other people, we must respect other people's cultures, other people's contributions, we must respect each other, I think then we'll be moving toward an integration that is less of a losing situation for other groups besides the white group.
LAMB: Who are your -- we talked about Marcus Garvey for a while. I shouldn't suggest he is a hero of yours, but let me ask you, who are you heroes in over the years -- black media heroes?
DATES: Black media heroes?
LAMB: The people that were pioneers, that you have the most respect for when you teach the history of black media involvement.
DATES: Well, as you know, there are not a lot, but of those who are there and who are able to get through the system, you have, of course, the Bill Cosbys and the Bryant Gumbels of the world.
LAMB: Got some pictures here. We'll show some of them.
DATES: All right. And you've got the Oprah Winfreys and the Debbie Allens and there are others. Today, in the commercial television and public television industry, you are beginning to have middle level management people who are able to make some decisions. There are not a lot, but there are more than there have ever been. And I think that's going to start to open some doors and change some things. Because there are, as we've mentioned before, different perspectives that will come as a result of that.
We talk about people like, for example, "Harris and Company" is one of the programs that I talk about quite a bit when we're doing commercial television. And I don't know if you remember that series, but it was on in the middle 1970s -- I guess it was toward the end of the 1970s, and it was a series that was -- there were only four programs in the series, but it was one of the few times that you had the African American perspective being developed, which is why it lasted such a short period of time, I believe. It wasn't allowed an opportunity to really grow, really, and have people find it and then say, "Gee, this is worthwhile."
Many people who saw the first program in that series recall -- even 10 years later, 15 years later, will say "I cried like a baby when I saw that show. It just was so moving to me. There were so many things about it that made me say, "That's true about my life, that's true about somebody I know."' And they just felt something as they saw that program. So a program like that, a program like "Frank's Place,"and the kinds of things they were trying to in "Frank's Place." I remember particularly there was a program that had to do with voodooism and the whole thing of spirituality. A lot of times, the larger society looks at that and thinks, "Crazy people. They believe in all these spirits and they believe in sticking pins in cushions or sticking pins in dolls and something happens to a person and that sort of thing."
And it's kind of laughed at or looked at in derision. With "Frank's Place," they used that same kind of theme -- spirituality, voodooism -- but they did it in such a way that there was respect for the culture. Because one of the things that is true is that, if you truly believe in some things like that, they do affect you. And so the way that the story was developed and the plot was allowed to flow, there was a respect for the culture, even though you might not necessarily believe it. You had a feeling for understanding why those people felt as they did and reacted as they did.
It's the respect, I think, that we're talking about, more than anything. It's the authenticity and the feeling of trying to show it as it truly is to the people who live in the culture. That's the kind of thing that I stress when I talk to the youngsters who are talking about the history of the African American experience in some of these industries.
I talk about Tony Brown, for example -- public television. Tony Brown has more shows on public television than any other producer that has to do with the African American experience. He had a lot of courage. He did a lot of things that other people would look at and frown on. And there were some things that he's done that I haven't really been particularly fond of. But I have to say that he has had courage to bring issues to the table, focusing on the needs of the African American community and the concerns of the African American community in a way that hasn't been done and probably couldn't be done by people from outside the culture.
LAMB: When do you find yourself being upset with Tony Brown? What kind of things don't you like that he's done?
DATES: Well, I guess they aren't things that are public so much. There are some things that I know about him because I know people who know him, so they aren't public kinds of things. There are times when I've felt that he's gone a little too far on in the public arena, where he has pushed a little further than I thought was necessary on some issues. Those are the kinds of things that have made me concerned.
I'll talk about one other person, a young woman -- Carol Lawrence was her name -- who started out with an idea for a series called "Were You There?" And what she wanted to do was to do the same kind of thing on public television that we were doing here with the book "Split Image," and that was to kind of get the story straight, to talk about some of the contributions that African Americans had made to society in some way. She had an excellent idea and she was -- it seems to me -- I don't know her personally, but from reading about some of the things that she did, she seemed to be a very bright person who had a lot to offer. Well, she's no longer in public television and I haven't been able to find her, because I wanted to contact her for some things related to the book. And I think she got discouraged, because in this case, you had a young African American woman -- strong, good ideas about what she wanted to do -- and she put together a package of about eight programs. It took her about six years to get money to do that from public broadcasting. That is not the norm for a bright producer from the larger community. The norm is something like maybe eight months. But this woman -- all those years and she wound up getting her shows on the air eventually. One of them was the one on Oscar Michaud, for example, where she used film footage -- Oscar Michaud was a black filmmaker from the 1920s -- and she used some of his film footage and some re enactments, some historical references that were not film footage, but they were artifacts from that period, and was able to tell the story of what he did and how. And the courage that it took for this black man to fight against the odds and try to do what he wanted to do -- because he felt he wanted to use film to tell a story and he was going to do it and he had to, you know, scrounge money and he had to work in people's basements and in barns and just had all kinds of problems trying to do what other people could do with ease. I mean, that's the story, and those are the kinds of stories that we tell.
LAMB: You have a long piece in here -- three or four pages long -- written by Phyllis Crockett of National Public Radio. She's done a number of shows with us, so our audience may remember seeing her -- a black woman who is a reporter there. And it's a detailed account of her struggle.
LAMB: I'll paraphrase; the message that I got from what she wrote is that NPR has been discriminatory.
DATES: Yes, very much so. And they haven't changed. I think probably NPR is as narrowly focused today as it has been through the years.
LAMB: Can I just interrupt to ask you -- this is a pretty tough piece on NPR, and she's still working there?
DATES: As far as I know she is.
LAMB: Why would she agree to write this tough a piece about the place she's working? Does it work in her favor when she does something like that?
DATES: No, but I think that she was so angry that she was willing to take the chance. I could tell you some other stories, but I won't do that.
LAMB: But what was the tough thing about her rise to being a White House correspondent for NPR?
DATES: What was the tough thing?
LAMB: What was so tough about it? What was the route ...?
DATES: Well, I mean ...
LAMB: ... for her to get there?
DATES: Well, I mean, the story is told in there. She had experience. She had worked in the industry. Someone who was her counterpart who was white would have gone in as a correspondent right away. She went in as -- and I've forgotten what what the level was, but it was under the level where she would have rightfully been had she not been African American.
And this is repeated over and over again. She stayed at one level, and when she talked about it to her white counterparts, they said, "You've got to be kidding. You've had that kind of experience and you're still this? How could that possibly be the case?" That's because they didn't understand, either, you know. They thought, "I'm making it on my own. I'm moving through the system; I'm doing well." And people don't know what's going on with other people. They're concerned about themselves. But when she opened up and talked to some of her white counterparts and they were so surprised at the situation and it just seems to me that the Phyllis Crocketts of the world -- and there are many of them -- have to have a lot of resiliency, determination, courage, and I think she's shown that.
LAMB: Let me read some of what she said and get your reaction to it. "At one point, I tried to organize the remaining African Americans at NPR to press for a better deal. I was devastated to learn that while the great majority, if not all, felt we were being mistreated a group, virtually none was willing to fight for his rights."
DATES: Probably. Probably normal behavior because many people would say, "At least I'm here. I've got enough food to pay the rent. My children can go to school. If I rock the boat -- I know what happened to Charlie; he's gone. He's now out hitting the pavement trying to find a job. So I'm not going to rock the boat. I'm going to be quiet. I'm going to go along." I understand that. I don't condone it, but I understand it. Because who knows the situation that that person is facing that causes them to do that? What I do is take my hat off to the Phyllis Crocketts who say, "I don't care. I'm going to stand up for -- I have reached the point. This is it for me. I'm going to stand up and I'm going to say, 'This is what I see happening.'" You know, Adam Clayton Powell III was a vice president there.
LAMB: Head of the news department.
LAMB: I mean, vice president for news. The news boss.
DATES: OK. No longer there. He might not agree with this. I don't know, because I don't know him at all. But it seems to me that he was trying to do some very positive things for the African Americans who were trying to get into this publicly funded agency and get an opportunity to learn the craft and practice it as others did. He opened some doors. And I, and a number of other people, believe that's part of the reason why he's not there today. He might say, "That's not true. I was involved in other things. I wanted to do something broader. I wanted to do something different," -- and that's fine.
But my perception, as an outsider, is that had he not pushed so hard to do some things that would have been helpful to that organization, in my judgment -- when you open the doors and when you truly allow for the free diversity, a flow, I think you enrich and enhance what NPR is about. Because when you think about it, you know, it was that the public broadcasting system really was designed to meet the needs not already being met by the commercial operations. And part of those needs that they were supposed to meet had to do with cultural diversity, racial diversity. And yet we find that, in many instances, what happened was you had a repeated pattern of the same kind of thing that happened in commercial television, including looking toward getting the ratings. If you don't have the ratings -- even though you don't have the ratings in some instances -- but if you don't, then there were some problems about whether or not you'd continue to be on the air. And this, of course, caused some of the programs that were courageous black programs to not continue.
LAMB: Phyllis Crockett also writes, "Above my typewriter at work, I have this quotation from Frederick Douglass, the great order and abolitionist." Quote, "'If there is no struggle, there is no progress.'"
DATES: And I say that all the time to students, because I believe it. "If there is no struggle, there is no progress, there is no growth." No one is going to give up power easily. They have to be helped to be made to understand the need to do so and what they're going to gain from it. And I think that's part of what we're trying to do in society when we use books like this and when we talk about the future and talk about the fact that we're going to have multiracial, multicultural, multiethnic -- everything in this society after the year 2000. And so it is in the interest of everybody to start to build bridges between groups of people.
LAMB: "Looking forward" -- this Phyllis Crockett again of NPR -- "Looking forward, I don't believe there will be much change for African Americans in journalism. If you are a carbon copy of a white person with the only difference being black skinned, your chances are probably no better than those of a black who celebrates the black experience."I'm not sure I understand that.
LAMB: "Those raised in a black cultural environment know the difference." She goes on, saying, "Few whites know these cultural differences." And I wanted to ask you about that.
DATES: Oh, well, she's talking, I think, about skin color -- you know, hue; the fact that if -- and I guess that it's true, generally -- people tend to hire people who are like themselves, regardless of race. I mean, you know, when somebody comes across the doorsill and you're going to hire them, you tend to look at them and you think, "Oh, that's me when I was young," or "That's my wife." If it's a woman, you know -- "someone I can relate to." It's human nature. I would argue that we have to consciously think beyond the facade, beyond what we see, and look for the qualities and not just the skin color and/or the persona that is there.
But what are we looking for? Are we looking for brightness, creativity, ability to convey information, communication? Those are the kinds of things that we ought to be about and not so focused on "people like us" as the mode for bringing other people in, and not only bringing them in, but promoting them. But I think that it has to be a conscious effort. And it takes a lot of courage to do that. You know, in the book, we talk about Ed Sullivan and Steve Allen and some of the people like that who had courage at that point in time -- Arthur Godfrey, another one -- who did, in fact, bring in African Americans and refuse to push them into the demeaning stereotypical kinds of patterns, but, in fact, brought them in in a way that was, in quotes, "respectful of their creativity and talent" at a time when everybody else was saying, "If you don't do that, if you don't let them just act like stereotypical African American people" -- of course, they didn't call them that -- "the Southern market is just not going to tune in and you're going to have real problems with ratings and you're going to have trouble with money and you're not going to get sponsors." There's still courage for that. I'm saying we need courageous people today.
LAMB: Why have you done so well in this society?
DATES: I don't know, because I'll tell you, I grew up in the projects in Baltimore City. My mother was a single parent who was raising three daughters. She was always very strong, very firm about what she expected of us and what she wanted us to do with our lives. And she planted our feet and started us in that direction and would not allow us to do anything differently. How do you get that and pour it into somebody else? I mean, I've often said to her, "You know, if we could just get that and just kind of extract it from you, put it in a little vial of some sort and then just kind of give it to other people, wouldn't it be wonderful?" She laughs, you know.
But, of course, there are other people, too, who focus and who really set their children on a path and move them. I don't know exactly where it comes from, because her background would not have said that she would necessarily have had that as a part of her mode of operation. She was orphaned when she was 5 years old and she lived in orphanages and she lived with relatives, and she was quite young when my sister, my older sister, was born. I'm saying that to say that, in our society, a lot of times, you would think, OK, you've got a situation here where it's not going to happen. You're not going to have "success," in quotes, for people in a situation like that. And yet it did. And I'm not the only one. I mean, I have friends who came up in a situation very similar to that and who are doing as well. So why do some people weave their way through the system without getting blown up by the land mines that are all around them, and why do some people get blown up? I don't have the answer, but I would think that part of it is she respected us as people, and that's what we want to do. We want to increase the respect that we have for ourselves and other people by setting the record straight in history.
LAMB: This is what the book looks like. It's published by Howard University publishers. And this is "Split Image," the title, "African Americans in the Mass Media." And our guest has been the co editor, Dr. Jan Dates. Thank you very much for your time.
DATES: Thank you. I enjoyed it.
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