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Don Lemon at 27th Annual Elton John Aids Foundation Academy Awards Viewing Party

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In an article that was released on Friday (January 15), news outlet Mediaite, sometimes deemed a conservative politics and media site, referred to CNN news anchor Don Lemon as “openly-black,” a term that started trending on Twitter. In addition to people finding the description weird, hilariously funny and offensive, some users are also wondering why no one on Mediaite‘s editorial team flagged it before the story was published.

In a tweet posted two hours ago, a political reporter for The Washington Post named Eugene Scott initiated the conversation with a single tweet just asking what the term “openly black” was supposed to mean. He included a screenshot of Mediaite‘s article, which was focused on Don Lemon’s controversial comments from earlier this week where he said those who voted for Trump were also in support of the Klu Klux Klan and Nazis.

Being a writer himself, Scott shared his opinion on Mediaite‘s usage of the term by saying that as a general rule, people shouldn’t be describing others using terms they don’t truly understand and that overall, media outlets need to start hiring more Black editors.

Even though Scott posed a question surrounding what Mediaite meant by referring to Lemon as “openly black,” I think the more important point he made was that the media industry’s lack of Black editors for prominent publications negatively impacts the quality of journalism as well as levels of sensitivity that mass audiences are exposed to. Just like with “openly black,” the scarcity of Black professionals in editorial spaces aids in the phenomenon of questionable terms that seemingly popped out of nowhere becoming a part of the mainstream conversation.

Am I the only one who remembers ears being flooded with the term “BIPOC,” aka, “Black, Indigenous, People of Color” last summer as our country and the world worked its way through social unrest? Even though the term was supposed to highlight the issue of Black and Indigenous people specifically as being targets of violence in America, why was the summer of 2020 when people were protesting in support of Black Lives Matter when the term became “trendy?” Also, why were news outlets constantly saying the country was going through a “racial reckoning” to come to terms with the “realities of racism in America” when Black people have been living the realities of racism in this country since we got here? We’ve been protesting and calling out racism, white privilege and police violence for longer than we’d like to admit. It only makes sense that when things like this happen, we’re still left asking how can terms like “openly black,” “BIPOC,” and “racial reckonings” serve us since they don’t accurately describe us or our experiences.

The real problem is that in the wake of said “reckonings,” while many companies have brought on diversity and inclusion experts, or recently implemented more inclusive HR initiatives, until more Black people are hired in the media industry, mistakes like this will continue to happen. With a lack of Black media professionals in entry and associate levels of the industry and a lack of mentorship for the ones who are, we can’t be surprised when things like this happen.

But the act of just simply “hiring more Black editors” won’t erase the problem either. Even though Black editors might help, it can’t be the job of Black people in the journalism world to constantly serve as “racism radars” for the companies they work for. Why should the responsibility of monitoring the levels of racial sensitivity in their outlet’s publications be specially placed on their shoulders? When will it finally be the responsibility of all the writers, all the editors, and all the publishers to simply not be problematic in the work they release?

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