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The Fate of Net Neutrality Hinges on the House

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The slur was only the latest from actress and comedian Roseanne Barr, who has a well-documented history of racism and anti-Semitism. Within hours, ABC cancelled her rebooted sitcom.

But here’s a question: When the day’s outrage dies down, what will remain?

Disney-ABC will remain part of a deeply centralized corporate media built on White supremacy and benefiting on every level from the preservation of the U.S. caste system.

Some will point to the hit show Black-ish as proof to the contrary.

In reality, Black-ish and shows like it are an aberration, the response to decades of advocacy and the explosion of streaming and online content centering diverse stories — and the audience share they represent.

Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

What’s really broken about Disney-ABC and their counterparts is the incredible monopoly they hold on the entire U.S. film and television system.

The danger of a single story

Black, Asian, Latinx, Muslim, queer, trans and other voices are largely absent both in front of and behind the camera. When represented, they’re usually depicted by White gatekeepers — who depend on dangerous tropes that only deepen the harms our society inflicts.

According to the recent Color Of Change report Race in the Writer’s Room, only 35 percent of TV shows during the 2016–2017 season had a Black writer on staff.

Within those writers’ rooms, fewer than 5 percent of writers were Black.

That means that 65 percent of writers’ rooms featured no Black writers at all, while only 17 percent of rooms featured two or more Black writers.

“The outrageous level of exclusion in writers’ rooms has real-life consequences for Black people, [other] people of color and women,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color Of Change.

Portrayals of Black people as beasts, savages and born criminals aren’t just offensive, they feed a cultural imagination that spills into reality as police brutality, Stand Your Ground laws, frivolous arrests, sentencing disparities and other state-sanctioned violence.

The same line can be drawn between TV portrayals and Islamophobia, homophobia and other violent harms — and the ways they show up in our nation’s policies and traditions.

Telling our own stories

It’s no wonder that creators of color have flocked to the internet to tell their own stories without permission, bypassing corporate gatekeepers and traditional barriers like wealth, access and structural racism.

Major networks are slowly taking note as shows like Black-ish, HBO’s Insecure and the CW’s Jane the Virgin have popped up amid an otherwise Whitewashed landscape.

But then Trump’s election sparked a resurgence of White supremacy in the public sphere, a new mainstream validation complete with a media-friendly rebrand as the “alt-right” movement. Van Jones called the election a “whitelash.”

The Roseanne reboot — which ABC revived to court Trump voters — can easily be described as the same.

If only the implications of this backlash were limited to our TV lives.

Trump's war on media

In real life, the nation has seen a barrage of policies from the Trump administration that will wreak havoc on communities of color, the poor and the foundations of democracy for generations to come.

The media system has not been spared.

In December 2017, Trump’s FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, presided over a vote to end Net Neutrality, the rules that prohibit internet service providers from blocking or otherwise discriminating against online content.

In other words, the wide-open world of internet opportunity that enabled marginalized communities to create, distribute and see their own stories — flying in the face of corporate media — will now be subject to corporate control.

Major ISPs like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon have recently made or plan to make large investments in content-producing companies, which means they’ll have a strong interest in determining which voices get heard.

For example: If AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner is approved, Comcast would then have an incentive to slow down or “throttle” its users’ internet connections when those customers are watching HBO Now — which belongs to AT&T.

Shaping narratives for human dignity

This FCC vote to end Net Neutrality is just one part of the Trump administration’s agenda, one that leverages racism and xenophobia to fuel the president’s authoritarian ambitions.

From referring to African nations as “shitholes” to official White House documents labeling supposed Mexican gang members as “violent animals,” blatant White supremacy from the Oval Office has become the new normal in 2018 discourse.

Now more than ever, we cannot afford to lose the internet.

We are in desperate need of diverse storytelling, perspectives and portrayals of the real lives and souls of people in this country who aren’t heterosexual, cisgender White men.

The internet is our last line of defense in the world of media, which does so much to shape people’s perceptions of one another and the communities in which they live.

What's next for Net Neutrality

The FCC vote was disastrous, but there’s hope: The Senate recently voted to overrule the FCC.

It’s now up to the House of Representatives to pass its version of the same measure, a resolution under the Congressional Review Act that would reverse what the FCC did and bring back strong Net Neutrality regulations.

If our representatives don’t honor the will of over 86 percent of the people in America and restore the Net Neutrality rules, we’ll potentially say goodbye to the one open platform in this country.

Who determines the future

It was outrageous but not surprising when ABC decided to give Roseanne a show despite her history of racism. The U.S. economic system is built on the dehumanization and exploitation of Black, Brown and indigenous peoples. There’s no reason to expect any corporation to depart from these roots.

I don’t expect a big corporation like Disney-ABC to make programming decisions that prioritize humanity, any more than I expect corporations like Verizon, AT&T and Comcast to fairly determine which voices are heard on the internet.

Corporate cultures are dictated by the dollar. The internet should be dictated by people.

In terms of numbers, it’s true that Roseanne enjoyed good TV ratings during its short reboot run. But with the rapid decrease of cable and TV viewership, it’s also true that audiences have chosen to invest their attention elsewhere.

The future is already here: It’s podcasts, web shows, indie series and films, and other online content created by many and reflecting the voices of all. That future is in peril unless we fight to preserve Net Neutrality, which is 100 percent essential to ensuring these stories are told.

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