More minority representation needed

“SNL” producers need to act rather than mock.

Sam Jasenosky

Last weekend’s episode of “Saturday Night Live” delivered its highest ratings of the year since March. Using host Kerry Washington, “SNL” skewered recent criticism of the show’s diversity.

Washington’s hosting perhaps drew viewers, coming at a pivotal time in the debate over the show’s diversity. In October, longtime “SNL” cast member Kenan Thompson told TV Guide the cast’s lack of black women was due to the small number of talented black comediennes, rather than holding the producers responsible.

Though the increased audience may not be aware, Washington, star of ABC’s “Scandal,” is the first black female lead on a prime-time network drama since the 1970s.

Washington began last weekend’s show in a skit as first lady Michelle Obama. Eventually, the skit called for Oprah Winfrey to appear. The camera focused awkwardly on Washington in an attempt to satirize the show’s need for Washington to play all of the black female roles.

When Washington left for a third black female character change (Beyoncé), text appeared on the screen apologizing for the show’s lack of diversity.

The apology mentioned the producers’ habit of hiring white male comedians for the cast, which they said is “not an ideal situation.” Six white, male cast members impersonating Matthew McConaughey then jokingly dominated the stage.

Though there is value in recognizing the problem, the skit was a lazy attempt to avoid responsibility for the lack of diversity on the show.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Miriam Petty, professor at Northwestern University and black popular culture expert, said while she doesn’t think there’s a conscious attempt to exclude black women from the “SNL” cast, the fact that most of the men making the casting decisions are white suggests that racial and gender bias is “going to happen.”

I agree with Petty’s observation. However, I don’t think the seemingly inevitable prospect of gender and racial bias justifies the lack of representation on television.

University of Connecticut sociologist Gaye Tuchman coined the phrase “symbolic annihilation” to mean media’s neglect to represent minority groups at all, which ultimately reinforces their minority status within society. Tuchman found that media’s inaccurate portrayal of certain groups may play a part in limiting those groups’ chances at success, which is symbolic annihilation at work.

I’m not blaming “SNL” producers for the distress of all black comediennes, but they are fostering their struggle.

It’s counterproductive for Thompson to assign blame for the marginalization of a group to that group’s lack of “ready” talent. Rather, Thompson, other cast members and “SNL” producers should consider that perhaps there would be more “prepared” black female talent if there was representation of that talent on TV in the first place.

Talented comediennes of color do exist: Consider up-and-comer Issa Rae. Rae has nearly 150,000 YouTube subscribers, and her videos have more than 20 million views.

Producers need to seek cast members like Rae to diversify roles on TV.

There is not any one person responsible for the lack of representation on “SNL” — even the producers aren’t solely to blame.

But they are the people with power to shift representation in the future. They should be working to implement change, rather than mocking that power.