Why is Phil Donahue the moderator of forum on race relations?

October 02, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

Alan Keyes and Sister Souljah. It certainly makes for one of the livelier match-ups you'll see this fall on PBS.

Keyes, the Republican candidate for the Senate in Maryland, and rap musician Souljah are two of the panelists featured in "The Issue Is Race: A Crisis in Black and White" tonight on MPT (Channels 22 and 67). The two-hour forum on race relations is presented by Phil Donahue and includes Washington Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly among its other panelists. U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Keyes' opponent, was invited to be a panelist, but declined, Donahue tells viewers.

In the end, the ever-so-white-male and show-biz presence of Donahue greatly diminishes the discussion, but there are some worthwhile moments along the way during which the participants either ignore the moderator or tell him what a fool he is on certain matters of race.

One of the louder moments between Keyes and Souljah comes when Keyes interrupts Souljah's analysis of the African-American experience as a process of white institutions consciously and FTC constantly frustrating and destroying black efforts, enterprise and aspiration.

"Don't tell me we have won no battles," Keyes shouts at Souljah.

Souljah says that's not what she said and fires back that Keyes' distortion of her argument "lacks integrity -- especially from a black man in the Republican Party."

Keyes finds himself defending his participation in the GOP with Donahue, too. Donahue introduces a question to him with a long, Donahue-esque litany that includes, "You shared a platform with Pat Buchanon . . . you work for George Bush . . . Does it embarrass you to be surrounded by white Christians?"

"It doesn't embarass me to pursue the power to transform this society by whatever means necessary," Keyes responds.

In addition to the panelists, there are also three persons called "advocates" by the producers. They are Time magazine correspondent Sylvester Monroe, PBS journalist Tony Brown and Cornel West, professor of religion and Afro-American Studies at Princeton. Each offers a video essay, and the three sit at another desk separate from the panelists.

When you see the three black experts seated at a desk off to the side, while Donahue struts around the hall like a peacock, you might start to wonder why a black man or woman couldn't be moderator and be presented to viewers as the ultimate authority on this discussion of race instead of a white guy who has pulled such stunts on his own syndicated show as cross-dressing to get ratings. I know of no particular expertise Donahue has when it comes to race.

You might wonder if PBS and Time magazine, which co-sponsored the show, have really been listening to any of the talk about media and race, which has been pointing out for more than 20 years the dangers of continually presenting only white males as the repositories of knowledge and control.

DONAHUE FORUM

What: "The Issue Is Race"

When: 9 tonight on MPT (Channels 22 and 67)

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