African Americans watch 72 hours worth of TV a week. Ever since I heard that staggering number at last week’s Steward Speaker Series kickoff, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. That is a crazy, ridiculous amount of time, especially when you realize how so little of the programming is geared toward us and how few African Americans own TV networks. African Americans don’t even own a piece of the pie; it’s more like a sliver.
We’re so proud to have the few channels we have, we don’t even think about how many we don’t have or how we are being effectively shut out from owning channels. In steps businessman Byron Allen. I knew Allen from the TV show “Real People,” and then it seemed like he disappeared — at least to me. Well, Allen didn’t disappear. He was building an entertainment empire, and many people forgot about him until we heard he bought the Weather Channel. Then it was, “Byron Allen? The guy from ‘Real People’ is a millionaire? How?”
Allen is the founder and CEO of Entertainment Studios and for almost four years he’s been fighting cable giants Charter and Comcast for their lack of diversity when it comes to licensing networks. I vaguely recall hearing about this several years ago but didn’t realize how important this lawsuit is until recently.
Allen filed a lawsuit against the cable companies that take millions of dollars in subscription fees from Black people but do very little business with Black people. Allen called the little business they do “window dressing” to make it look as if Black people are included economically.
He won the case against Charter, and the company immediately filed an appeal. In the Comcast case, Allen says the judge dismissed his case twice while Comcast says three times. Allen says he figured since Charter appealed the decision, he’d appeal the Comcast decision, so both cases went before the Ninth Circuit Court. Guess what: the Ninth Circuit Court upheld the decision in the Charter case and reversed the Comcast case. Essentially, Allen won. Allen used the Civil Rights Act of 1866, Section 1981 to prove his case.
“This is the original civil rights act in America,” Allen said in a video on The Grio’s YouTube page. Allen owns The Grio. “It was put there to protect the newly freed slaves. This law simply states that we will have a pathway for fair contracting, government contracting and commercial contracting — a fair opportunity to inclusion in contracting. That’s basically what it says.”
Well, in true American fashion, these companies decided it’s more important to fight this ruling than to actually work with Allen and other Black people who own media companies, so the case goes before the Supreme Court on Nov. 13. According to Allen, the Supreme Court rejected 99% of the case, but they do want to use this opportunity to review the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Charter and Comcast are arguing that you can’t use this law unless you can prove the discrimination happened 100% because you’re Black. That’s a hefty, pretty much impossible burden to prove. If the Supreme Court sides with the cable companies (the Department of Justice has written an amicus brief of behalf of Comcast, by the way), that decision could reverse years of progress.
“It is so heinous for Comcast and Charter to take this civil rights statute to the Supreme Court to eviscerate it, to dismantle it, to position it so it can’t be used,” Allen said.
While we’re mad and boycotting Gucci, H&M, Prada because we’re so “woke,” we’ve been asleep in front of the TV and Comcast and Charter have been getting away with trying to change the direction of civil rights for their economic gain.