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.