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Irresponsible Journalists of the Week: Tucker Carlson and his Whitewashed Panel Discussing "Blackness"

Heather Wood

Oh no, they didn't..

So, when the producers of MSNBC's Tucker program decided to air a segment on "blackness" this week -- specifically the degree and quality of presidential candidate Barack Obama's blackness -- did they not pause, even for a second, to realize the panel they had assembled was completely white?

No, nothing? No pause for concern whatsoever?

What about the question itself: "Is Barack Obama black enough to win the presidency?" Was this something pitched and approved in a news meeting, celebrated by MSNBC's executive producers as "timely" and "groundbreaking"? Did they honestly think they could get away with this?

Host Tucker Carlson opens the discussion, speaking in a very serious voice, trying as hard as he can to remove himself from the situation by back-peddling, "I'm not even sure what that question means. I know that it makes me uncomfortable and it strikes me as unfair, but what does it mean?"

Cut to: A.B. Stoddard, white chick from The Hill, who was raring to address the topic. In the course of two sentences she insults Obama as not being "black enough" (and calls him an immigrant, which he is not), says Gov. Bill Richardson is not quite "the ideal representative of the Hispanic community," and rounds it out by saying Hillary Clinton is not "the ultimate female candidate." WTF is this chick talking about? How and when did degrees of race and gender factor in to one's worthiness in politics? The only question that should matter to the American people - for all candidates - is: Are they good enough?

Stoddard clearly makes Tucker even more nervous, so he tries to intellectualize this inappropriate discourse as "an academic question," the motion seconded by panelist Jonathan Alter, white dude from Newsweek. They go on to marvel at how Obama has received more criticism of his "blackness" by African-Americans than by whites, and whether the real question is whether or not Obama is "too black to be president." So they clearly are merely commenting (academically, of course) on a negative situation they have not fueled. Nice try, but I don't think so.

This discussion is not only offensive, racist and inappropriate, but it's completely irresponsible for a media outlet to introduce this nonsense into the presidential discourse at all. It's true that many Americans are judgmental, racist and sexist, and of course these prejudices factor in to their decision-making at the election booths. But it is the responsibility of the media to present objective points of view, not fuel this narrow-minded thinking.

In my opinion, the question (which reduces an extremely accomplished man to nothing but a shade of brown) shouldn't be asked at all. But maybe, if this panel were hosted by Tavis Smiley instead of Carlson, and it included Al Sharpton (repeat presidential candidate, civil rights leader), Spike Lee (groundbreaking filmmaker who has a thing or two to say about racial prejudice), Halle Berry (an Oscar-winning, bi-racial actress who has faced this question her entire career) and Carol Moseley Braun (the first African-American woman to be elected to the Senate and a 2001 presidential candidate) and any African-American Studies professor in the nation, then I might pull up a chair and listen to what has the potential to be an "academic" discourse.

When the topic of "blackness" is discussed by those who are actually -- wait for it -- black, it no longer holds such a racist undertone of judgment (well, at least it's reduced a bit). Instead it becomes a discussion of a shared experience. Each of these people could shed light on their encounters with this and other equally-offensive questions in their lives and careers. It might even teach some white people a thing or two. But there's probably a reason Tavis Smiley isn't hosting this round-table discussion: African-Americans in this country already know they are judged on their color and excess or lack of "blackness." There's no need to expose yet another facet of racism to the masses.

Now, I understand I may very well be worthy of my own ridicule as I am yet another white person entering this discussion. But I am smart enough to know where my boundaries lie as both a journalist and a white person. Even though my feelings of outrage hit closer to home than they might for most of White America (my husband is African-American, so by the nature of my family, I am acutely aware of how racism permeates every facet of modern life), but I cannot and will not ever speak to an experience of which I am not a participant.

When I have children, they will be bi-racial, like Obama, and will no doubt one day face the question: Am I black enough? I'd like to be able to tell them: Someone just like you was elected president, not because he was black enough, but because he was good enough.

Heather Wood is the co-founder/editorial director of the online alternative women's magazine, and an online editor for

© 2007 Huffington Post

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