On Sunday, Jan 17, 2010, in the height of the NFL Playoffs, 60-minutes, a CBS evening news show aired a segment titled, American Samoa: a football island.
Reporting from American Samoa, 60 minutes news correspondent, Scott Pelley, profiled American Samoan current and past high school football stars to include the famous Pittsburg Steelers safety, Troy Polomalu. Throughout the segment, Pelley used the growing number of Samoan athletes in the NFL to surmise an argument favoring a Samoan boy over any other "American" boy by an estimated 56%. This speculation presupposes that Samoan boys born in American Samoa are not American, in spite of their status as U.S. nationals; it also purports a highly divisive narrative against Samoans in the NFL and in general. Pelley employs rather bland centrist tactics by attempting to profile the Samoan race as a biological framework for football players. He points out every obvious disadvantage he could muster against a people from impoverished communities on a small island and further describes young Samoan athletes as having some kind of physiological advantage. “You’re all born big” says Pelley to Governor of American Samoa Togiola Tulafono, as he parades the Governor down a nostalgic display of autographed football memorabilia from Samoan players and their teams. Pelley is just short of an anthropological explanation, akin to that of Margaret Mead ‘s exploitation of Samoans, creating the conspiracy of a “Samoan advantage” with scenes of boys climbing coconut trees (depiction of monkeys) and using machetes for household chores, a plausible image of a violent people, and pacifying any resistance with a tear-jerking conclusion on Samoans having a lot of ‘heart.’ Again, I note how Pelley’s narrative perpetuates racial stereotypes and divide.
What is most disturbing about this ’60 minutes’ segment isn’t so much the perpetual nature of subliminal hate messages against Samoans woven throughout a picturesque paradise island nor is it Pelley’s incompetent reporting of American Samoa noting, ”the only US possession south of the equator” (albeit other U.S. territories exist such as Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, of which there are many islands and atolls that the U.S. occupies as military testing grounds, etc in the Pacific)… rather, it’s the audacity of this privileged white male, having no indigenous context to report on an immigrant population such as Samoan Americans, insult the contributions of their forefathers and demoralize the importance of the continued struggle for inclusion.
Mainstream media conglomerates, such as 60 minutes, often make themselves off to be a ‘watchdog of democracy’ reporting on issues of social importance, and unveiling universal truth. In fact, these are often misguided by media owners inserting their exclusive biases and more often than not, these news sources are becoming more dangerous for our communities than the obvious right-winged Fox News Channel. At least the Fox doesn’t come in sheep’s clothing.
While media moguls serve as lapdogs of plutocracy and protect the interest of their politico-economic elite; we continue to support their venom by watching their version of public airwaves. It’s time we stand up against media threats directed against our communities, and hold the Scott Pelley’s of the industry accountable through media uprising. Seems almost anecdotal in 2010 to have handy the ‘serenity prayer’ for these situations, but I’m afraid it’s gonna take more than prayer, and more than 60 minutes of our lifetime to admonish this injustice. With that said, my new resolve is to have the serenity to persevere, the courage to unite our voices and the wisdom to create our own programming content inclusive of community, equality, shared responsibility, opportunity, justice and human rights for all people, not just the few.
Author's bio: Val LiHang To’omalatai Jacobo, a Samoan-Chinese American, was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. She was rooted in Samoa, which she considers her homeland, from 1977-1987, before returning to the U.S. Val worked a fulltime job in the transportation industry to support her mother and sisters, founded her college’s Pacific Islanders Association (1990), led social work initiatives for interns of the California Department of Corrections Parole and Community Services division, while receiving her Bachelors degree in Criminal Justice (1994) and her Masters Degree in Public Policy and Administration (1997). Subsequently, she launched a tri-lateral career in public service as a policy analyst for a public university, and maintained private and non-profit interests simultaneously. She currently serves as the CEO/President of The Jasmar Group, an investment firm with a community-centric focus; and serves as a Managing Partner for both Vajon LLC a public relations firm and Erica Printing a garment manufacturer in Los Angeles. Val serves on the board of community based non-profit organizations such as Tafesilafa’i Inc and newer agencies such as EPIC (Empowering Pacific Island Communities), and PacBiz, (The Association of Pacific Islander Businesses and Professionals. Val is a leading authority on Pacific Island community advocacy and public relations in the greater Los Angeles area, representing the progressive voice of the Pacific diaspora. Her current passions include blogging for progressive websites such as Asian Pacific for Progress and Pacifika Voice, and producing community engagement multi-media projects.