On Being Black and Having It Both Ways In The Mainstream Media
Yesterday there was a rather spirited discussion in the VSB comments section about whether or not The Boondocks was problematic because of the way that it exposed presumed “black” culture to audiences that are primarily white.
This isn’t a new point by any means – it seems that whenever anything that is viewed as uniquely black develops a mainstream platform an iteration of this conversation rears it’s ugly head. A very notable example of course is when Dave Chappelle walked away from his hit TV show. More recently, however, versions of these talking points have emerged in the context of the Black Jeopardy skit that happened on last weeks episode of SNL.
I found the kerfuffle via SNL to be particularly interesting in the wake of the concerted effort from folks for the show to have a more substantial black/nonwhite presence. For better or worse Lorne Michaels did exactly that, casting a black woman as well as hiring two black writers. Yet when we got a sketch catering to a black audience written by black actors and casting black people…(some) folks took issue.
This begs the question: if we are given the seat at the table that we demand, should we be concerned with how our message is received.
Before I go any further, let me admit my bias and say that I thought that the Black Jeopardy sketch was funny. (I’m also quite easily amused so you may want to take my humor tastes with a grain of salt – I’m currently giggling at an overweight cat falling right now).
Beyond that, however…I’ve never been explicitly concerned about how white people receive black content once it’s been given the space for a large audience. While I understand other peoples valid concerns, I don’t think putting content out removes the social responsibility of white people to see their privilege and know when they are able to jump in and when they should just step back and listen.
Furthermore, the folks who use caricatures and entertainment-created characters to justify their prejudices are not my worry. I don’t find value in putting out content that takes every effort to avoid the potential of future confirmation bias. In my opinion, desiring a space to depict the varying versions of the black experience is disserviced if we feel required to dilute the message to accommodate for the ignorant and the hopeless. The second we feel dictated by people who are already uninterested in our narratives is when we cede our power before mobilizing it.
To sum up…it’s not my problem if the white audience didn’t get the joke. I’m only interested in ensuring that we have a multitude of avenues to say what we want to say in the manner that we see fit. If nonblacks get it, great. If they don’t…I’m trying to find a bother, but it seems that my pockets are all out of them at the moment.
Anyways, what say ye, folks of VSB? Am I being ignorant of reality here? Or should we go three sheets to the wind and stop worrying about what white folks may or may not think?