The tales are all too familiar.
One African-American journalist with a career that has spanned decades and whose walls and desks are littered with awards and accolades recalled a certain Black celebrity who used to occupy a spot on speed-dial.
Before becoming famous, the actress, who currently stars in one of the biggest television hits in years, would constantly call the reporter seeking publicity, the journalist said.
“I used to do stories with her when she was an unknown. Her publicist had me on speed-dial,” said the journalist, who requested anonymity in order to not jeopardize a new job with a mainstream media organization.
“Then, when she got on this big show, the publicist refused to grant me a one-on-one because the publication I worked for, in their eyes, apparently was too small,” the reporter said.
A recent news article published by The Washington Informer detailed how many top African-Americans and/or their publicists regularly decline interview or comment requests from the Black Press.
The long list includes individuals such as Taraji P. Henson, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, former President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Common, Drake, Diddy, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett-Smith, LeBron James, Serena Williams and even TV One’s Roland Martin and the Rev. Al Sharpton.
“I’ve seen this a lot,” freelance writer and digital investigator Ebony McMorris said in an email.
“I started out my career at NBC and when I moved to Black Press, I thought people would be happy to talk. I was sadly mistaken.”
Former Washington Informer reporter Barrington Salmon, who still writes for several African-American publications including The Final Call, said he’s even discovered talking to top Black Lives Matter leaders is a daunting proposition.
“There are people I’ve been calling, bothering for interviews — the women who founded Black Lives Matter, the organizers of the Women’s March, about 90 percent of Congress — and that makes me want to scream,” said Salmon, a veteran journalist of three decades.
Sharon Williams, a freelance editor, said she’s requested many interviews with Black newsmakers such Shaun King, Sharpton and the Obamas, but has been routinely turned down.
“I feel like if I told them I was calling from the New York Times, they’d respond,” said Williams, who has won several writing awards and a journalism fellowship. “It’s a problem in the Black community. There’s an attitude that, unlike other races, when we come up, we’d still rather see others fail or not come up, as it were. It goes back to slavery. This is what the master wanted and, lo and behold, the master is still getting it.”
Such individuals are “about selling and personally profiting from Black cool, from Black genius, from selling their access to Black people, from selling themselves,” said Rinaldo Walcott, an associate professor and director of the Women and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto.
“They are still working in the tradition of the Black body as commodity to be sold to white people and whiteness,” Walcott said. “They still operate from a position whereby white notice, white endorsement, white validation is the pinnacle of success.
“They are bounded and shaped totally by racial capitalism,” he said. “So we live with the contradiction folks proclaiming to care about and desiring the freedom of Black people might ultimately only be interested in how close in proximity to whiteness they can use blackness to achieve.”