NBC Stirs Controversy With 'Black Women' Series

Black Viewers Want Context, Solutions -- Not Just Critiques

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Carol Watson Carol Watson
The online world has been buzzing with news about this week's series on black women appearing on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. There is already quite a bit of controversy about the topics to be covered coming from both black men and women on the blogs (see here, here and here) and email blasts. Some were enthusiastic about uncovering the struggles and issues that are often the topics of conversation by black women already and others have been skeptical about NBC motives and divisiveness. The five-day series covers the influence of hip-hop music lyrics, the disparity of education between black men and women, the breast-cancer death rates of black women, and a look at the number of black women who never get married compared to the number of white women who don't.

The journalists covering the stories are incredibly talented black women that I am sure had to fight hard to get even these 2-minute segments running for five consecutive days. But the debate on the value and context of the information still creates a storm among black consumers. Blacks continue to demand a positive and solutions-oriented point of view from media.

Based on the comments and feedback (scroll to the bottom of this post), the black consumers -- and women in particular -- celebrate and respond to the recognition by NBC of their growing importance. They also embrace and applaud the accomplishments of the black female talent working on the news segments. Uncovering the power of black women and the trends moving forward has value to marketers that may not already have a focus on this segment. The buying power, the entrepreneurial and education trends and the head-of-household roles are all brought to light throughout the news segments. Most multicultural agencies have known about these strengths and trends for quite some time, but it may be news to brands and marketers that have not already tapped into this valuable consumer.

For many black women, the complaint about the news series is the constant burden of the negatives with little or no solution or context for the reasons for the disparities. The Monday segment compared black women to white women and comparing black women to black men -- a pattern in news media that makes the black consumer cautious and hesitant about the motivations of the media. As Essence Editor Angela Burt-Murray said in an online comment, that segment may make a black woman want to shoot herself in the head.

Thankfully, the online interviews provide far more context and information than the two-minute segments. And the Tuesday segment on breast cancer did provide far more context and empowering solutions than the Monday night segment on educational disparity. Hopefully the remainder of the week will provide more balance and context.

The recent study by Procter and Gamble's My Black is Beautiful showed that black women are definitely paying attention to and remembering the negative and one-dimensional portrayals.

Yet the importance of the black female in making purchasing decisions for herself, her family and now her business make her vitally important now and the years ahead. Marketers in particular must be careful not to accentuate the burdens that these consumers know too well and pursue these consumers not with reminders of their challenges but with celebrations of their achievements. And it doesn't hurt to support the black male counterparts that black women will always stand behind and root for.

The media angle is a little more tricky. There will never be consensus in our community about the value of news coverage that is not always positive about black women or blacks in general. But there is no denying the value of the debate and conversation that comes to the surface as a result. The recognition of this underserved consumer as a significant contributor hopefully encourages blacks to respond positively (or negatively) to the media outlets such as NBC that step into the debate. It not only adds to the conversation, it's another opportunity for black consumers to make their voices and dollars heard.
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