By Arelya J. Mitchell, Publisher
The Mid-South Tribune and the Black Information Highway
Victoria Rowell was one of the most popular figures on America’s premier daytime drama, “The Young & the Restless” (Y&R), which is presently celebrating its 40th Anniversary. Not only that, Victoria Rowell was one of the most popular African American figures in daytime drama; and herein lies the problem with her. She was (and still is) African American and she had the audacity to attempt to cross over into the scriptwriting realm as some white actors in her genre have done. In fact, it had been highly rumored that she was coming back to reprise her role as the feisty “Drusilla” until she had the nerve to ask for an equal opportunity to try her hand as a scriptwriter for the Emmy-laden series.
Apparently, this desire made her a troublemaker, and there’s nothing like a Black troublemaker when it comes to making trouble. Ask too many questions and make demands to break the black ceiling, and that’ll pretty much do the trick in getting you labeled a troublemaker and in her case ‘killed off’ as a leading character.
Now we’ll give Y&R this much: They do hire Black actors and do give them ample storylines. Three new faces are there now. But lest we forget, integrating the soap genre in the first place was an uphill battle. One only has to ask pioneer Ellen Holly who integrated ABC’s “One Life to Live” in 1968. In spite of looking whiter than most whites, Ms. Holly was still an African American and still subjected to disguised Jim Crow treatment. (Read her book for more insight).
Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg recently has been all over the map talking about her new book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”, and how women shouldn’t apologize for being assertive about climbing the corporate ladder. But you see there is a striking difference between a Black woman who wants to “lean in” and a white woman such as Nina Tassler who obviously has ‘leaned in’ to ascend to the presidency of CBS Entertainment. I’ve not read Sheryl Sandberg’s book (I plan to and to review it), but I doubt very seriously if she even attempts to look into the schism between Black women and white women in Corporate America. If so, I stand corrected.
When we looked at the CBS Entertainment department media page there were nice headshots of Tassler along with photos of ONLY white females and white males; thus, depicting that state of the white female getting what she wants in a fight that Blacks initiated in the Civil Rights Movement. It was a Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and other Angry Black Women who laid tracks to the 1964 Civil
Rights Bill that ultimately included white women by default.
When we asked Ms. Tassler back in February to tell us if there were African American scriptwriters and/or producers on the Young & the Restless, we received no response. We even pointed out in that memo that all the photos of top-notched executives on the Entertainment front were white women and white men. We put in our request twice. Still no response.
You see, Nina Tassler has learned how to ‘lean in’ to insert the first rule of Corporate America in dealing with Blacks: First rule, if you ignore a Black long enough, he/she will just go away. That didn’t happen with Ms. Rowell who has had a long row to hoe in trying to let Y&R viewers and others know that here it is the 21st Century and 40 years into a Number One daytime drama which has yet to hire a Black producer and/or Black scriptwriter. Now if we are wrong, why couldn’t CBS head honcho – or rather honchoette answer?
For the record, ABC crossed that hurdle in the last century when it hired an African American scriptwriter for “All My Children.” Y&R has yet to budge.
Its teeth have been clamped like an alligator that just ate a swamp rat—and those rats are African American longtime and loyal fans who are no more than consumers who really don’t count except in CBS’s daytime Nielsen’s ratings to leverage its clout to gain big time advertisers such as P&G. And speaking of Nielsen, we have used such stats as the following in other editorial and commentary pieces to demonstrate how the African American as a collective is a powerful buying (consumer) market on which Corporate America can make big bucks; yet do little else when it comes to promoting African Americans beyond that black ceiling:
“…With an overall aggregate household income level of $695.6 billion, African-Americans continue to be viable consumers with a collective buying power estimated to reach $1.1 trillion by 2015.” (Nielsen 2012)
We watched one afternoon to see who some of the Y&R sponsors were. Of course, P&G, McDonald’s, Weight Watchers, Dove, S.C. Johnson, Macy’s, Hershey, Progressive, Restasis — all of whom have put in their bid for the transient black dollar via Y&R.
Years ago we covered the Coke discrimination allegations which ended in a class action settlement. This Coke lawsuit stemmed from the very argument that Victoria Rowell is on a mission to rectify in that when Blacks sought to be promoted beyond the black ceiling at Coke they were allegedly duly punished and/or retaliated against. It did not matter to the company that these Black professionals had Ivy League degrees and ample experience: They were deemed ‘un-promotable’ based on skin color, according to the lawsuit (which we printed in its entirety and covered the story in-depth). Here, we still call it the CCS (Coca-Cola Syndrome) because the Blacks there could not believe that this was happening to them in the 1990’s.
Be that as it may. But let us make this statement now: We don’t intend to beg CBS for answers. We don’t intend to beg Ms. Tassler for answers. Because you see there is that other steadfast rule of Corporate America that if you send a Black-anything around the mulberry bush enough times, that Black will soon tire out and still go away. We won’t be doing that either. So here we are back into that Black and white decision-making schism. And back into that Black woman and white woman schism. Even in the Women’s Movement Black women complained about being relegated to “the Help” category. Tassler seemingly has gone this route. Let us say, amen or ‘awomen’ to that and move on to reality.
CBS’s daytime drama genre operates much like the NFL did when it propagated the myth that Black football players could not hold the position of quarterback because Blacks could not think. CBS daytime drama holds the theory that Blacks cannot hold the position of scriptwriter and/or producer because they cannot think.
One has to wonder what was the big deal in giving Victoria Rowell the opportunity to be a scriptwriter when she has contributed largely to making Y&R popular among African American viewers (consumers) and mainstream viewers? To reiterate, many white actors have transitioned into the writing area without all the fracas. Now be it understood that if CBS daytime drama department were to get a Black scriptwriter and/or producer it will more than likely not be Victoria Rowell, because Ms Rowell like most Black troublemakers would have to be punished and hung out to dry as an example to other Blacks in the industry of how not to be promoted. Along with this comes an invisible blackball. Then the usual will follow which long has been practiced: When Black troublemakers dare make a demand it is incumbent upon the company to hire a palatable Black in the position the troublemaker paved the way for to further make an example of him or her. After all, this is the way of the plantation.
Oh yes. And the other implicit rule is that CBS will probably beef up those donations to buy more banquet tables at the annual NAACP event to further shut up Ms. Rowell who by the way has received numerous Image Awards from the venerable organization. But as of late, the NAACP doesn’t seem to be bothered much with Ms. Rowell’s situation or other Blacks who are out there craving for an alleged affirmative action opportunity to be promoted to non-acting positions in the industry, because white women such as Ms. Tassler will make sure of that by denying those on whose Black backs they rode to get their prima donna titles and designer shoes. Now remember this is the same network that let Charlie Sheen run around loose acting like a proverbial spoiled brat then welcomed him back with open arms before he went off the deep end again. This, of course, dovetails with CBS’s white female/white male Entertainment department. Face it. Even in the 21st Century, ‘Miss Ann’ still has privileges at ‘Mammy’s’ expense.
This issue is bigger than Victoria Rowell. Because of her and other Blacks who had to do the “Hollywood Shuffle”, this subtle discrimination is being brought to the forefront in the daytime drama arena. This is about economics and opening the ranks in the executive and writing suite which still has a ‘White Only’ and now ‘White Woman Only’ sign hanging on the door.
Bottom line is that this is a cause in which Black women organizations such as the venerable National Council of Negro Women (the oldest Black women organization founded by Mary McLeod Bethune and brought further by the late Dr. Dorothy Height whom I had the pleasure of meeting as a member and one for whom I shall have everlasting respect). Every Black sorority should involve ‘herself’. Victoria Rowell has not only proven herself as an award winning actress but as a dedicated philanthropist in the Black community. She deserves R-E-S-P-E-C-T if not kisses from CBS’s Number One daytime drama.
It’s enough to make us restless.