For 12 hours on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, MTV aired in black and white. The stunt was done in conjunction with the network’s release of its #TheTalk public service announcements, which encourage viewers to have real conversations about race with family and friends. The campaign was replete with slogans like “MLK is now” and “It’s time to have #TheTalk because discussing race goes beyond black and white.”
In an interview with AdWeek, MTV president Stephen Friedman said “millennials believe strongly in fairness, but they can also find it difficult to talk openly about race…this campaign will give them a forum to express true color bravery.”
I wholly reject the idea that millennials find it difficult to talk about anything, much less something as relevant to today’s current events as race. It was millennials that launched the #ICantBreathe movement on social media — a movement that spawned a nationwide discussion about the prevalence of police brutality against young, black men. And in 2010, a study by the Pew Research Center found that roughly 90 percent of millennials would be fine with a family member’s interracial marriage (that high level of acceptance held true across races).
MTV itself found that most millennials consider themselves to be post-racial. Last year, as part of its ongoing Look Different campaign, the network conducted a survey of 3,000 people between the ages of 14 and 24, according to the Christian Science Monitor. The research found that 73 percent of whites and 66 percent of nonwhites said they don’t see racial minorities any differently than they see white people.
Of course, all of this does not mean there is no room for millennials to further discuss race in deliberate, meaningful ways. And the network’s public service announcements — which include celebrity testimony from people like Kendrick Lamar, Penn Badgley and Common —are a good starting point. However, MTV should have used MLK Day to constructively look at its own coverage and how it might lend itself to different racial stereotypes. I like the idea of airing everything in black and white as a visual representation of what the day is supposed to explore; however, I think MTV could have put together a more thoughtful package that helped viewers examine exactly what MTV means when it says “MLK is now.”