Black people live by the curriculum of Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation, and pursue love as it relates to a Maxwell record. They tolerate Tyler Perry, but know that they can do better. They do not watch BET, and are sure to complain about VH-1’s Hip-Hop Honors. Aaron McGruder is their scholar of satire, and The Boondocks is a black pop-culture prerequisite.
If you’re black, educated and worthy of a platform these are the rules that you follow. Otherwise, join the rest of the coons at KFC –and don’t forget to leave your copy of The Coldest Winter Ever as you exit the elite.
In the past month I’ve written articles concerning (what I considered to be) problematic depictions of homosexuality in The Boondocks; as well as my personal frustration with the gimmick that is Janelle Monae’s music. As a writer I welcome discourse regarding my work. In fact, I thrive from such. But the nature of the comments that I received for my Boondocks and Monae pieces in particular were disappointing for a very distinct reason:
“see what black radio does to a persons mind..it clouds a persons judgement when it comes to authentic talent, that you’ll never hear on “black” radio.”
“The Black Community is not open minded enough to understand what a real artist is. Janelle Monae is the most talented black female in music since Lauryn Hill. Her music are telling stories and we know majority of black people dont like to read.”
“Rest assure the majority of men of color are not gay and this show depicts how men of color view the [homosexual] society and raises questions on different topics.”
These comments (which I haven’t edited for spelling or grammar) represent a decent cross-section of responses to each article that attempt to define what “black” is in the most painfully subjective manner possible. Black radio. Black men. Black people. –all among phrases that tend to introduce an atmosphere where black culture is a brand afforded to just a small group of pre-approved consumers.
Somewhere between blogging, social networking and Kanye West albums enthusiasts of black media have reached a divide –one where intellect and education are synonymous with cultural complacency.
But here’s a wild notion: Black people –regardless of class, cultural literacy or educational background- are capable of original thought. I know that statement follows the trend of generalizing black Americans that I bemoaned earlier; but I think it’s time to cease attempts at standardizing intellect and insight. Especially as they pertain to race.
There isn’t a credential in the world that qualifies an individual to determine rules of practice for an entire demographic. “What black is” doesn’t cater to any one specific notion; no matter how widespread, lauded or disapproved. Like any other culture, the black experience is organic by nature.
Instead of facilitating a space where one is either praised or condemned based on the intellectual worthiness of their pop-culture indulgences, why not encourage a generation of media consumers to thoughtfully engage their cultural pursuits? Because Tyler Perry, Nicki Minaj and BET will continue to exist until they’re replaced by similar mainstream fixtures. That won’t change –so perhaps it’s a matter of changing one’s reaction.
Any product –no matter how thoughtfully constructed, or effectively presented- has the potential to harm someone who doesn’t use it properly. Following that logic, even if every black person in the world sat down and agreed to enjoy Janelle Monae, it wouldn’t eradicate social impropriety. Nor would it drastically shift America’s perception of the black experience. Because the black experience is more than just the consumption of black culture –but also the internalization and response.
Not that everyone will get it right. There are certainly plenty of people across the country that engage black culture and still miss the message (or develop an appreciation for the wrong message). But adopting any widespread assumption that “black is this, and you’re foolish for liking that,” without any further engagement of that individual, is only useful as it relates to being counter-productive and embarrassingly arrogant.
So, “Pretty Boy Swag” anyone? (Oh, that actually does suck)