Roland Martin and the Tragedy of Racism

I'll say this: Roland was less irritating than Soledad O'Brien...

I’ll say this: Roland was less irritating than Soledad O’Brien…

CNN has been engaged in either a purge or a make-over in recent weeks, depending on one’s point of view. One of the talking heads given the gate was Roland Martin, who describes himself on his blog as “a dynamic and engaging journalist.” Upon getting the bad news, Martin, who is African-American, took a hard look at his own career and abilities, applied an objective analysis, and concluded…that CNN was racist. He told the Huffington Post:

“You have largely white male executives who are not necessarily enamored with the idea of having strong, confident minorities who say, ‘I can do thisWe deliver, but we never get the big piece, the larger salary – to be able to get from here to there.”

Martin cited as proof the fact that when he guest-hosted a show for the network, the ratings didn’t drop: “If it’s a ratings game, and we won, how is it I never got a show?”

This is the permanent handicap a legacy of racism in the U.S. culture and the workplace bestows on American blacks. Not necessarily discrimination, but the impossibility of ever knowing whether discrimination and not legitimate factors have been the reason for a career setback, a failure, or the inability to advance. It is potentially crippling if the African-American, like Martin, uses the doubts created to relieve him of the duty of honest self-assessment, and to block him from the responsible course of rededicating himself to improving his skills and marketability.

I don’t blame Martin for making the choice he did. I have been fired a number of times, and as a well-connected, white, WASP male, I never had anyone to blame but myself, or believe me, I would have loved to point the finger elsewhere. Since I couldn’t point the finger elsewhere or find a vendetta or conspiracy no matter how much one would have let me off the hook of my own failings, I had to accept that fact that a substantial reason for my career collisions were my own failings. As a black man, Martin had another option, and, as I might have in his position, took it. Unfortunately, accepting the assumption that prejudice and bias is what blocked his way at CNN will continue to impede Martin’s success professionally and personally.

Of course it’s possible that CNN management bias undermined Martin, though I doubt it. As dynamic and engaging as he thinks he is, I always found him to be a pugnacious race-baiter with a knee-jerk response to every issue that could be predicted with near 100% accuracy by anyone who had watched him pontificate more than once. I often wondered, in fact, if Martin was only on CNN to boost the network’s minority component, rather than because he had anything unique or appealing to offer audiences other than his color and reliable liberal slant, unless the network thinks there is a market for arrogance. (Then again, Piers Morgan still has his job.)

And voila! There is the other handicap America’s racist past has inflicted on its black citizens: a nagging doubt by black professionals and often those who deal with them that their positions were acquired through affirmative action—that is, bias of a different kind—rather than merit.

Other than eliminating affirmative action as a first step, I have no idea how to address the reasons for Roland Martin’s plight, but I know this: in  cases where there is doubt regarding the cause of a serious problem, the rational and responsible approach is to assume the cause is the one you have the power to address, even if that assumption is a painful one. Martin should handle his crisis like any white professional must, by assuming that it is his responsibility to perform an unblinking audit of his assets and deficits, and to do the hard work necessary to increase the former and minimize the latter. He can’t change his race. He can improve his skills and appeal to audiences; anyone can.

Yes, it is unfair that Roland Martin or any African-American should have to wonder, “Was it my failings, or racial bias that lost me my job?” He is smart enough to know, however, that automatically crying racism does nothing to address either the nation’s race problems or his professional ones, and indeed exacerbates both.


Sources: Huffington Post, RealClear Politics

Graphic: CNN

10 thoughts on “Roland Martin and the Tragedy of Racism

  1. I don’t give Martin any benefit of the doubt and neither should you. As someone who is black it has become too easy for individuals like him to use racism to excuse his incompetence. I found him to be a mediocre journalist.

    The very things Martin and his leftist ilk riles against, in a heartbeat they’ll use for some gain. You can bet that Fredrick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, the Tuskegee Airman and a whole host of blacks who contributed considerably to American society in the past had to deal with far more racism than the smarmy Martin has ever experienced.

    • The Frederick Douglass mention is especially apt here, his speech, ‘What the Black Man Wants’ is excellent, and I think had his advice been followed by both the abolitionists, southern racists, and the progressive left been followed then Martin’s experience would be much different.

      ‘ “What shall we do with the Negro?” I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are wormeaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature’s plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! If you see him on his way to school, let him alone, don’t disturb him! If you see him going to the dinner-table at a hotel, let him go! If you see him going to the ballot-box, let him alone, don’t disturb him! [Applause.] If you see him going into a work-shop, just let him alone,—your interference is doing him a positive injury. Gen. Banks’ “preparation” is of a piece with this attempt to prop up the Negro. Let him fall if he cannot stand alone!’

      • PERFECT quote! Apparently it is long forgotten by members of his own race who have found “easier” ways to wend their way through the world. See also my general comment below.

  2. I found him to be a mediocre journalist.

    You certainly thought more of him than I did…

    Martin wasn’t even good enough at his job to be incompetent – The man was incapable of debate, could not get a fact right to save his life, and was condescending to boot – I don’t understand how he got HIRED, let alone how he lasted even this long…

  3. After a steady diet of people crying “racism” at the drop of a hat (about half a century of it, in fact!) I pretty dismiss such claims unless there’s a wealth of evidence to support it. It seems evident that no such evidence exists in the Martin case. What angers me still is the ongoing gutlessness of people in public or professional life who still kowtow to those claims. Black Americans and the nation as a whole would have been far better served if more men of all backgrounds took guys like Martin and those who enable them to task. Young black people would have benefitted most of all. No cheap cop-out for them would have existed if those who should have demonstrated moral courage had done so.

  4. I think I’ve mentioned this before in another context, but when Bill Cosby addressed the NAACP a couple of years ago, he talked about black Americans and racism, the importance of family and education, the way black men can mentor fatherless black children, that black Americans as a “minority group” have in their hands the power to improve their own “brothers and sisters,” and that in general it was high time blacks stopped playing the “blame game” for everything that went (or was) wrong in the culture. He was booed and hissed by the NAACP gathering there. The “blame game” is so entrenched I don’t think we’ll ever get out of it.

    Martin was inept, an ideologue (even for CNN), and not even vaguely interesting, except for his negative and uninformative commentary.

    And he’s wrong, wrong, wrong about the networks. Especially on local DC news programs (NBC, ABC, CBS) there are black women who have been on the air for about 20 years — long past the “babe” stage — and have become respected “institutions” on the air here. Why? Because they’re GOOD at what they do. Not because they’re filling a quota. These women are informed, confident, and clear that they are there because of their skills, not because of affirmative action. Martin needs to look around him and try to divine (if he can) the difference between black broadcasters who hold their jobs for long periods of time because they’re good at what they do, and his own performance on CNN.

  5. have no idea how to address the reasons for Roland Martin’s plight, but I know this: in cases where there is doubt regarding the cause of a serious problem, the rational and responsible approach is to assume the cause is the one you have the power to address, even if that assumption is a painful one.

    I see a problem with your comments Jack. It’s pretty much the “If you’re not perfect, I’m not discriminating” defense of bigots. In pretty much ever case of actual discrimination, there’s a fig leaf of cover. There’s some doubt. Suggesting the downtrodden should ignore the elephant in the room is not good for society.

    I agree that an internal locus of control for our actions is important, but it’s actively bad to assume that we have direction control over results. It’s not rational to assume we were the cause of the results, and it’s not responsible. We have input, yes, but good process does not necessarily lead to good results and bad results do not necessarily mean bad process. We should look to see what the actual causes were that led to a bad result, both internal and external. Not assume one or the other.

  6. Whew? Would it be racist to have a greater expectation of the author given the fact, that the author is self-identified as a wasp. Therefore, as a Black person I made the assumption that his educational experiences would and should be far more open-minded. My question is, “How can a person race bait or misalign facts as they are presented and clearly speak to the factual issues, despite public opinion.”Unless you’ve walked in the shoes of your own melanated journey, what is the basis of your opinion to judge racism and the white rage being used to defend nonsensical behavior.

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