“Build your own table” was a common theme at the Knight Chair Speaker Series: A Conversation about How Race is portrayed in The Media.
The discussion panel was hosted by Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University’s (FAMU) School of Journalism and Graphic Communication, at the School of Architecture and Engineering Technology’s atrium on March 24. FAMU’s Knight Foundation Chair Francine Huff was responsible for fostering the event and served as the moderator for the panel.
Huff said the purpose of the panel was to “cater to the student’s interest”. She hoped that many of the students would walk away with some food for thought and a better understanding of how the media portrays race.
“I’m reading all of these things, and watching all of these events in the news, and the topic of race just continues to come up,” Huff said. “It’s coming up now more than ever and it’s the first time in quite a while,” she added.
The evening’s panelists included; TV critic and author of "Race Baiter" Eric Deggans, FAMU Communication Law Professor Leah Hunter, Ph.D., FAMU alumna Shonda Knight of Tallahassee’s WCTV-TV, and womanist scholar Rondrea Mathis, Ph.D.
The panelists covered various issues and topics related to race in the media, Including February’s White Oscars ceremony, police brutality, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Build your own table, take the roof off, and come sit down,” urged Mathis.
Her motion was made during the panel’s discussion on this year’s Oscars ceremony. She suggested that if there is no room at the master table, build your own and do your own thing.
“Instead of finding a seat at a table that’s already established why not build another. We have this great generation of African-American writers and leaders who can instead build their own,” Mathis said.
Leah Hunter, Ph.D., expanded on the idea of not only building your own empire but also being a part of the master’s table. She urges students to seek professions as producers, writers, and directors in order to have better control over what’s being said and done.
“I think we should fight to be a part of that table too. It allows us to not only have control of our own, but gain control of theirs as well,” Hunter said.
She further explained that the decisions being made by white executives of many of the major Hollywood film production companies ultimately dictates what will be portrayed in many of the films and what may or may not get nominated.
“Until there are more of us, we’ll never have the representation that we desire. We need to have more people that look like us, understand us, and represent our ideals behind the scenes and in these studios making these decisions” added Hunter.
Alumna Shonda Knight of Tallahassee’s WCTV, revealed that the diversity issue is not limited to Hollywood, saying there is a need for more African-Americans to work for major news companies in order to reach the masses. As a news anchor and executive producer, Knight knows firsthand the importance of having diversity in news rooms.
“It starts with us. It’s all about how we go after the job. We need to be aggressive so that we can have a seat at that table,” Knight added.
The Pew Research Center of Journalism and Media found that in recent years there has been a decline in the number of black journalist in America. In comparison to other media outlets, newspaper companies and newsrooms have received the hardest hit. Hunter hopes becoming more aware of the current situation will cause current students to realize the need for more diversity within the profession.
“That’s why education is important. It’s important for all of you who are interested in media and journalism to go forward with your professions,” Hunter said.