Thursday, September 13, 2012

Journalist Steven Gray Examines the State of the Black Middle Class in America

Steven Gray, Time Magazine's last black correspondent
"It's the middle class stupid" might well be the underlying political catchphrase that summarizes the central domestic policy issue of the 2012 presidential race.

Given the sluggish rate of global recovery and massive shifts in the landscape of the changing American workplace, that 5-word variation on political strategist James Carville's infamous  and oft-repeated campaign theme for Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential run (It's the economy stupid) might well be central to the 2016 presidential race too.

Even a cursory analysis from the themes, messages, speakers and soundbites from the recent Democratic and Republican party conventions suggests that the Obama campaign team seems to get it. Unfortunately (for the GOP anyway) it's a concept that clearly seems to be eluding the wavering Mitt Romney campaign; as evidenced by his insufferably dim-witted efforts to blindly attack the Obama administration foreign policy cred in the wake of the September 11th attack on the US embassy in Benghazi. It's all over the media so no need for me to kick that horse except to add that poor Willard is a walking train wreck when it comes to articulating his foreign policy positions and by virtue of his own self-implosion, is managing to make Bush junior look like Henry Kissinger at this point. 

While the alarming erosion of the middle class seems to warrant only tepid coverage and analysis from the bulk of main stream media, there are any number of media sources, NPR, PBS, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Rolling Stone, and Mother to name a few, that are consistently covering it with the sense of urgency it deserves and staying on top of the harsh truths of what's really happening in our nation. 

Case in point Steven Gray. Yesterday on the 'Tell Me More' show on NPR, most-excellent host Michel Martin had a really insightful interview with journalist Steven Gray (pictured above) about a recent article he wrote for, "Can the Black Middle Class Survive?" an in-depth analysis of the devastating effects on African-American wealth and employment in the wake of the Great Recession; as well as a penetrating and honest look at his own experiences after being let go from his job as a correspondent at Time Magazine almost a year ago. Definitely worth a read.

There's no question that it's not just the black middle class under threat in 2012, but Gray offers a compelling mix of fact, opinion and insight into the particular challenges faced by college-educated African-American male professionals trying to reenter the workplace in the face of a persistent 14% unemployment rate (for blacks) and a work culture where we are often isolated among our peers and co-workers in ways the main stream media doesn't always examine.

My one constructive criticism of the article from an editorial standpoint is that it almost seemed as if it could have been two different pieces; I felt that his experiences with Time could have been an interesting article unto itself. He's a good writer who, like thousands of people across the nation of different races, is facing a changing (shrinking) 'print-centric' industry still struggling to re-define itself in the era of digital transformation; but that doesn't mean he doesn't have some legit concerns about how his race and age played into his departure from Time or how the lack of cultural diversity on the masthead or in editorial meetings will affect their content moving forward in terms of the kinds of stories they cover.

Give it a read for yourself, but one fact he shared struck me. After his contract with Time was not renewed, the magazine no longer has any black correspondents or editors. None. It's a theme that spirals out into many different job sectors and Steven Gray (a journalist with a solid resume) rightfully delves into what that means not just for African-American journalists and media professionals, but for America as well.

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