Following the brutal killing of George Floyd, Black Americans had enough and took to the streets to make their voices heard. The protests were top of mind, media led with stories all day, and even various reforms were being implemented in several states. Then something happened. Or rather, it didn’t. The House passed a Justice and Policing Act, but it now languishes in the Senate with neither party interested in pushing it back to the top of the agenda. Minneapolis decided not to “defund” the police after all. As the situation with COVID-19 devolved and the election inched closer, the media prioritized these stories and suddenly the demand for equality of Black Americans has taken a backseat. 

Apparently racial injustice does not command the same ratings as politicians ridiculing each other like children in a sandbox or hearing an infinite number of medical experts telling us to wear masks. I do not intend to minimize the importance of elections and plagues, but surely there must be some room between daily polls and infection rates for a 400-year pursuit of racial justice. I fear if the current movement for social justice fails to produce bold results, long after the election and virus pass it may be another 30 years until the next opportunity for peaceful change. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” And here we are again; the white liberal and white run liberal media letting down Black Americans.  

It is always hard to get people to prioritize something greater than their own self gain and desires. The liberal media wants quick ratings and rid of Trump and white liberals want rid of Trump. But the energy we have seen on the streets for change will be wasted if it's based on the illusion that simply removing Trump will solve inequality. Many white liberals marching or running twitter accounts to bash President Trump declare these the darkest four years in American history. I laugh as we have clearly seen worse: slavery, Civil War, two World Wars, the Holocaust, the Great Depression, 1968, the Vietnam War, and so on. Conflating the anti-Trump movement with civil rights is weakening demand for real change. Is going back to life before Trump returning to a society of equality? 

Ice Cube’s Op-Ed last week in The Hill called for unprecedented, comprehensive change to remedy vast economic and racial injustice in his Contract with Black America. As he noted, Trump is not the cause of racism but instead a symptom of a society willing to accept it. Biden is no savior of Black Americans (although they surely saved his career). Biden’s policies announced on July 28 show no dramatic movement to try to get at the root causes of racism. I commend him on his historic Vice-Presidential selection of Senator Kamala Harris, but in itself it does little to change the economic realities of 13.4 percent of the population. His statements and actions over the years show he, like most Democrats, take the Black vote for granted and lacks the political will to engage in structural, systemic change.

If our democracy cannot provide the answers, what choices are we leaving people with? History tells us if we make demands and take sustained action, change is possible. LBJ was known to be a racist and even declared upon passing the Voting Right Act in 1965 that “N***s would vote Democrat for the next 200 years!” The circumstances of the time, however, gave him the political will to get the act passed despite personal views, and he did so with the help of many Republicans similarly pressured. The goal should not be to change the minds of devout racists, it is to get them, like LBJ, to make the changes that eliminate the conditions that perpetuate racism. Isn’t getting what they want the reason Evangelicals support Trump, or do they really see him as a godly person? It is time to keep eyes on the prize, put aside politeness, and vote for whoever answers the call at all levels of government and corporate America.

My wish: that Black Americans choose this moment to DEMAND a return on investment for their vote and that liberal media and liberals get off their ass and join in for the betterment of our nation. There is a chance to make historic change and it should not be squandered. Fox does an admirable job of holding up the militant right, but who speaks for the militant Black media? Rather than replace coverage of social change, the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Blacks should be highlighting it. The New York Fed tells us 41 percent of small Black businesses were wiped out by the end of April; the corresponding number for white-owned businesses was 17 percent. Only 3 percent of lending goes to our 13.4 percent Black population, and PPP loans followed the pattern. Unemployment has soared, but what has not changed is Black unemployment is double the rate of white unemployment through good and bad times. White families have 10x the net worth of Black families and the number is now widening. Some 33 percent of the jailed population is Black. LBJ’s Voting Rights Act DID get the Democrats the Black vote, but the act has been weakened and needs more teeth.

So, what happened to media coverage and debate about systemic racial inequality? Layla Saad in her eye-opening book “Me and White Supremacy” argues persuasively that “white silence is violence. It actively protects the system.” So perhaps the media and most American’s really do not want change since the system works for them. Maybe with all going on, the timing is bad. From a Birmingham jail in 1963 King lamented the white liberal “..who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” 

While the liberal media pretended to care about Black lives, it turns out social protest ratings were best positioned as a halftime show between COVID-19 surges. The media needs to air more Black voices like Ice Cube, Darrick Hamilton, Roland Martin, and Van Jones; not based on their personalities but their IDEAS. We NEED to focus on the disease that has afflicted this country for centuries that no vaccine will cure. But that will not happen if it is not demanded.

We express shock at the ineptitude of Beirut stockpiling quantities of highly explosive ammonium nitrate and wonder how it could be ignored given the inevitably of a massive explosion. The explosion itself garners worldwide media and political attention, whereas the long lingering problem was too boring or complicated to get notice. And so, in America, the inevitability of a formula where 1 percent control the 99 percent combined with systemic racial inequality resulting in an explosion lies outside our gaze. We should be warned by President John F. Kennedy’s prophetic words that “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” We can debate the solutions, but first we need to create the political will for the media and politicians to focus on the problem.

Elections are held every two years but getting people in the streets across the nation (and even world) is a rare event. If real change is not delivered now, people will go back to believing small reform is the best our Democracy can do, and the energy expended in peaceful protest will be all for naught. But the frustration will continue to build and build. One day a match will be lit to the ammonium nitrate hidden in the hearts of America’s oppressed and we will all wonder how we ignored the inevitable. Today’s social movement and the Contract with Black America is a chance to avoid such a fate, but it will not succeed unless our political and corporate leaders are FORCED to commit not to reform but to systemic change. If the Black vote is simply given based on Biden being less of a racist than Trump, what gets accomplished?

Real change will only happen when voting with both ballots and wallets is conditioned on answering the call for major change. Until our political and corporate leaders feel they have no choice but to do what most of us know is right (but many “too busy” to get involved), they will not gather the political fortitude to follow through and undertake permanent change. And our kids will be fighting this same fight in 30 years wondering why we were so afraid to make OUR leaders EARN Black support and enact true systemic change instead of merely changing the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Or perhaps they will inherit a much uglier fight due to our inaction. If not now, when?

Jeff Kwatinetz is a longtime entertainment executive managing the careers of hundreds of the biggest names in Hollywood. He is a partner with Ice Cube in the BIG3 basketball league and Cube Vision. Kwatinetz has a master’s degree in communications from Northwestern University and a JD from Harvard Law School.

Published on Aug 13, 2020