One Halloween, when I was five or six years old, I first
became aware of prejudice and bigotry.
I yelled out the traditional demand for candy, "Trick
or Treat," as I stood at the familiar front door of my neighbor in our 1950s Long
Island, N.Y., subdivision. The woman with the foreign accent stretched out her arm to drop
the coveted Halloween treats into my orange-and-black-colored bag.
As she did, her sleeve moved upward and exposed a series of
numbers tattooed on her forearm. I asked if the tattoo was part of her Halloween costume,
and her answer surprised me. She said that some bad people who had killed her family put
those numbers on her, and that her numbers must have been a sign that God wanted her to
As I have looked back upon that moment through the years, I
have realized that prejudice and bigotry affects us all on a personal level. There's
no escaping the effects. When one individual or group suppresses the free self-expression
of another, we are all threatened.
I use the phrase "self-expression" in the context
of being free to be who we are -- our age, our gender, our ethnicity, our national origin,
our physical abilities, our freedom to practice our religion and our freedom to make our
own lifestyle choices.
It is the respect that we have for this freedom of
self-expression that unites us all in America.
The United States is a unique place to live. We have a
culture where diverse and often conflicting groups live together. Those of us living here
appear to be united by our mutual regard for diversity.
The cable-television industry benefits from the American
freedom of self-expression that we enjoy. And in many ways, the industry is a reflection
of our own society -- united in our diversity.
Cable television provides its wide variety of programming
choices for every age, for each gender and for targeting different ethnic cultures.
There's programming in various languages to appeal to our newest arrivals -- and for
those who wish to hold on to their heritage. There's programming for the
hearing-impaired and the blind, as well as for those who want to push their bodies to
their physical limits, or just to get in shape.
There's programming for the way that we each choose to
live our lives -- education, religion, music, sex, drama, talk, politics, news, sports,
travel and so on: diverse programming united in a single delivery system to the home.
But there would be no Black Entertainment Television, nor
Playboy TV, nor Bravo, nor The Odyssey Channel without the freedom of self-expression. We
could not watch World Championship Wrestling or a "Three Tenors" concert if we
did not all agree to respect the other's freedom to choose.
This week, we, as an industry, gather to celebrate our own
unity in diversity. We gather in the knowledge that our very existence and individual
livelihoods depend on the freedom of self-expression.
It's just that this topic is not always obvious nor
Amid the presentations at the National Association of
Minorities in Communications' Urban Markets Conference, let us all remember that
targeted and ethnic marketing is more than just good business.
While we are "mining new frontiers" of
programming diversity over bagels at the CTAM breakfast or during cocktail banter at the
Walter Kaitz Foundation Fund-Raising Dinner, let's call to mind that there's a
bigger picture in which we each play a vital role: Every day, we individually make a
difference in the lives of others.
By providing choices to a people who are free to choose,
this industry of ours helps to preserve an American freedom of self-expression. By
safeguarding this freedom, we indirectly reinforce our own livelihoods. And, most
important, perhaps we even divert the cruel and painful tide of bigotry and prejudice.
I know that we do this, already. I know that cable
television has improved the plight of many of those who have been oppressed, and that
cable has provided a voice for those with opposing viewpoints. The programming that we
provide has helped many to learn about others, which, in turn, helps to eliminate fear and
ignorance. We should be proud.
It is in this light that I call upon this industry to set
aside a public-service moment, a printed-guide ad space, a news commentary, or even an
on-air graphic in honor of what unites us all -- a respect for our diversity by preserving
our freedom to be self-expressed. Without this freedom, we all would have much to lose.
My challenge is simple: Let's set aside one day to
celebrate American unity. It would be a single day to draw greater awareness to the
importance of preserving and appreciating our freedom of self-expression.
That Halloween was 40 years ago. Little has changed since
that Long Island subdivision of my childhood, but the impact of that moment on that single
day has affected my life ever since. Imagine the impact that we, as an industry, can have
on the lives of millions toward overcoming bigotry and prejudice and replacing it with a
respect for each individual's right to self-expression.
Please give this challenge some thought and open a forum of
discussion toward making it a reality.
Joseph Schramm is founder and president of Schramm
Telemedia Inc. Schramm, a cable-television-marketing veteran, specializes in