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Nadra Kareem Nittle

CNNís Don Lemon: "Anchors of Color on Television Are Light-Skinned"

By June 30, 2011

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Next time you're watching the news, take a look at the anchors of color featured. What's their skin tone? Is it closer in hue to Will Smith's or Don Cheadle's? CNN's Don Lemon pointed out during a recent interview with the Root.com that a disproportionate amount of minority news anchors "are light-skinned." When asked if there's a colorism epidemic on television news, Lemon said:

"When I look around the entire television landscape, I do see--I don't know if it's lighting, I don't know if it's makeup--there are many anchors of a lighter hue. I don't know where that comes from. I think that is part of our society. ...Does CNN have a brown paper bag test?†I think that's a good question for any person to ask."

If you're not in the know, the brown paper bag test refers to the old practice of using paper lunch bags as a standard to filter out African Americans by skin color. Those lighter than the average brown paper lunch bag were viewed as having ideal complexions. The majority of black celebrities today are either the same color as a paper lunch bag or lighter--Chris Brown, Beyonce, Halle Berry, Alicia Keys, Drake, Rihanna. Given this, it's no surprise that CNN's anchors tend to be lighter-skinned. There's Lemon, of course, T.J. Holmes, Soledad O'Brien and Fredericka Whitfield.

It's difficult to say why the network's most prominent black anchors can all pass the paper bag test. Is it a matter of outright discrimination or the fact that news anchors are judged on how attractive they are and that in Western society, lighter skin is considered more attractive than darker skin? Whatever the reason for the trend, colorism is clearly the byproduct, and that's not acceptable. The problem is that colorism's harder to police than racism. If CNN had no black anchors whatsoever, African-American advocacy groups could easily call out the network and demand that they hire some. It's a bit harder to demand that a network not only hire African-Americans but also hire those of Naomi Campbell's complexion.

I'm fortunate enough to live in a news market that's incredibly diverse--Asian-Americans, Latinos, blacks and whites all anchor the local news in Southern California. And while many light-skinned blacks are featured, there are also several dark-skinned reporters of note, including Marc Brown, Beverly White and Amy Powell--who are African American--and Darsha Philips, who's said to be Sri Lankan. None of these news reporters could pass the paper bag test, and it's made no difference in ratings (as far as I know). Since the American people come in all colors, there's no real reason why TV news reporters shouldn't as well.


July 4, 2011 at 2:44 pm
(1) Alisa N. says:

Hmm never thought about it until I saw this story. Guess seeing a black face regardless of the hue was never that big of a deal to me. I have seen a few darker skinned reporters however. Can’t think of the guys name that used to report in the evenings. Isha Sesay does not report on the American CNN but she does report for CNN International and she’s anything but light skinned and very beauftiful.

July 5, 2011 at 3:24 am
(2) joceeco says:

I have thought about this often concerning CNN, but like ususal I am told that we (blacks) are too sensitive and making it an issue is silly, because we need to stop making an issue of color within our own race. As a dark skin handsome African American male, I have always been aware of the prejudices dark skin folks experience from whites, blacks and others throughout America and the world. We may be able to regulate ones behavior through legislation, but we can never legislate in order to regulate ones thoughts! America and the world will always be prejudice and sometimes even racist towards its darker citizens, but we must not react with the same behavior. We must intellectually navigate the hatred and make opportunities for ourselves in this world. Hopefully, haters of dark skin will realize the error of their ways, and learn to live more civil and loving lives.

July 16, 2011 at 5:57 pm
(3) joan says:

It is a fact that several of the anchors – who are black – are actually of mixed parentage – ergo, mullatto.

Diane Malveaux, Soledad O’Brien, among others, have all claimed to have a white parent. I do believe that Don Lemon also has referred to his white family and his black family.

Halle Berry has a white mother – and I believe Mariah Carey has a white mom.

And so does Barack Obama, although some people seem to ignore his Irish heritage.

August 1, 2011 at 10:03 pm
(4) Ron says:

Great article. I say take a look at commercials on TV. Colorism is more pronounced.

July 4, 2012 at 10:42 am
(5) Jay Andre says:

Who gives a flying figg. Most of you are just jealous. And some of you are palefaced ducking into the tanning salon at lunchtime.

August 3, 2012 at 12:02 am
(6) the realtruth says:

blacks are so OVER represented on TV news it is almost comical.

August 23, 2013 at 4:12 pm
(7) Derrick says:

It is what it is…

January 8, 2014 at 6:48 pm
(8) athena says:

I feel the same way. CNN is a really bad culprit, almost ALL of their anchors who identify as Black are light-skinned especially the women most of all. I see a lot more darker-skinned black women on my local newstations which I’m happy to see. I feel like CNN is the light-skinned factory and they’re all coming off a conveyer belt, maybe we should all write a letter to Ted Turner and ask him if he’s using a paper bag test. Malveaux is a light-skinned Creole from Louisiana, both her parents would identify as black and I believe she does. Soledad always talks about race in America and how she identifies as black (I know she had to and chose to identify as black politically) I understand that she has a unique experience growing up in Long Island in the 70′s as the only black -biracial family but I bet it didn’t hurt when she got her job that she could damn near pass for white (yes I know she is a Harvard grad) if it wasn’t for her hair. BTW I am of (black and white parent combo) and I’m ethnically ambiguous, most ppl think I’m “Spanish” i.e. Latina (if that even makes sense) and I’m tired of colorism.

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