I’ve wanted to catch up with you for a while. Matter of fact you’ve been on my mind constantly. Now I have got to admit, I didn’t know much was going on with you till Gabby Union called you out, but even then I really didn’t know it had gotten as deep as it has. But when I saw that Anthony Anderson called you “Ann Coulter dipped in Butterscotch,” I was like ‘damn, Gina.’
I need you to know that I am not going to jump on the bandwagon of questioning your motives, loyalty, or most of all your race. I hate that litmus test foolishness, designed to tell us who is really ‘black.’ I don’t think it is fair nor necessary, and it does nothing to advance a more meaningful conversation that your statements could have led us to have. Whether it’s BET or Black History month, the challenge you posed and the questions you asked are at the heart of being black in America.
The question of African American engagement with white culture has perplexed scholars, ministers, rebels, and radicals for quite some time. Dubois, Washington, Asante, King, X, Cleage, Walker, and others have pondered what our best course of action is: do we seek full integration or do we strive to remain strategically segregated? How do two peoples, whose history remains mired with violence, distrust, and misunderstanding while simultaneously dependent on the other for success and survival live in community. It’s like the ultimate college roommate conflict in which no matter how good it is, it is always one misspoken word or dirty dish away from somebody threatening to break the lease and walk out (then realizing that there is nowhere else you can go).
Well, it is a little more complicated than that isn’t it? I mean a more accurate description would be if one roommate was forced into the lease at gunpoint only to be told that despite paying their half of the rent in blood, sweat, and tears, that they could only use the sink on Tuesdays, never could have kitchen or internet access, and could be locked out at the whim of the other. Not only that, but they begrudge you the use of the resources of the apartment you both pay for, and they are also mad at you when your dishes are dirty, clothes are unkempt, and complain that you never return their emails. They take your work and turn it in as their own and call YOU out for plagiarism when you turn your essay in. Even when they go out drinking and wreck their car (which you never get to use), they blame you and your very existence for all that has befallen them.
Stacey, we are just one year apart, but we are contemporaries. Remember when MTV made its debut? The only black people we saw were Michael Jackson and sometimes Prince. It was the dawning of an age in which our generation was wrestling with what did it mean to be the first heirs of the promise of the Civil Rights movement. We could go to integrated schools and University. Spike Lee was making movies, Miss Melody, Latifah, Kool Mo Dee and KRS-One were blowing up the party circuit and spitting socially relevant rhymes. We were rocking asymmetrical bangs and reveling in all things black. We wanted to know our history; we needed to know that we weren’t always slaves or beasts of burdens. We needed to know the role that we had in building the world’s great civilizations including America.
So in walked Donnie Simpson and BET. All of a sudden, artists that weren’t on MTV found a home on BET. The music AND images of Phyllis Hyman, Rachelle Farrell, Staci Lattisaw, Public Enemy, Ten City, and Angela Bofill were available. Yes, there was booty shaking, but these images were of us in the rich Technicolor of our American experience. It let us know our beauty nor our heritage were punch lines. A young Mariah Carey, a sultry Anita Baker, and MC Lyte and Salt N Pepper reminded us of the power of black women. Wynton Marsalis and George Duke were the first time that many of us learned about jazz and began to dig deeper into Monk, Holliday, and Davis.
Stacey, don’t you remember how Tavis Smiley, Ed Gordon, and Bev Smith gave us our first peek into the fact that there were black journalists and the issues that deserved to be covered that weren’t being shown on the NBC Nightly News? In its early years, BET spoke to an emerging African American middle class, who knew every day that their success was empowered by AND actively subverted by a larger American infrastructure.
Your critique of BET’s state in 2016 is on point. I don’t watch the BET Awards anymore. But let’s not blame BET but Viacom. BET under Robert Johnson served a community service to us; it provided news and entertainment through a racialized lens. But Stacey, so does every other channel, it’s just that we are taught to look at the other channels as ‘mainstream’. Under Viacom, BET is a shadow of its past values. Except Being Mary Jane, most of its original programming verges on buffoonery. But see that’s my point, at one time BET promoted African American life as seen through our eyes but now it is a channel that sees us through the racialized eyes of another.
Stacey, you know what? I wish the old BET were back. I would love to see Ed Gordon or Bev Smith moderating a debate between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton on the eve of South Carolina. I would love to see the Hip Hop Republicans explain why they believe conservatism is the way forward without the clutter of Fox. What would an interview with Donald Trump or Ted Cruz glean? I wish I could say that our interests were the same of every other American, but it is not. Redlining and redistricting impact African Americans. Debates about charter schools, public school funding and the public infrastructure have broader consequences for us. Intervention in foreign countries means that more of our young men and women will die on the front lines. Yes, white mothers and fathers have these concerns but not, in the same way, we do Stacey, and you are too smart not to know that.
I do think Anthony was wrong calling you Ann Coulter. NOBODY deserves that no matter how much we disagree. Stacey, you don’t have to prove your black card. You are a strong black woman as evidenced by the way you are taking no guff from anybody. But don’t let that strength cloud what you know deep down: that for folks with Black Skin in America it can be a dangerous and unwelcoming place. And like every other human in the world, sometimes no matter how bad or jankey that home is, we need a place to lay our head. Don’t like BET then, Sister, don’t watch it or take its money. But don’t say we don’t need it — maybe sisters like you and I don’t, but we can’t speak for every sister and brother in this nation who is in the struggle and let’s be humble enough to admit that.
By the way, that get rid of Black History thing…well that will have to wait for another letter.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Sister girl. Hope to talk to you soon,