My thoughts on BET, the Oscars and The Donald — and the reason that being colorblind in this country makes you blind to the experience of people of color. Note: If you don’t read all of this, don’t bother to comment.
Let me be clear before I start: I am a proud, Irish-Catholic white kid, with a last name that sounds Jewish, a Boston accent and a Boston Public Schools education.
Sound liberal enough? Actually, I’m a Republican — a political party that has a more diverse field of contenders than either the Democrats or the Oscars. Go figure.
But, while I may have been a big fan of “The Apprentice,” the former star of that TV show will not be the recipient of my vote for president.
Because, above all else, I’m an American. And if we truly want to be a country where the color of someone’s skin doesn’t matter, then we must first be willing to acknowledge that the experiences of people of a different skin color — and the wounds that may lie beneath that skin — really do matter. And that to be colorblind in this country is to be blind to the experiences of people of color.
Which leads us to this:
“… Well, what do we do with BET, Black Entertainment? Right?” Donald Trump said, referring to Stacey Dash’s response to the #OscarsSoWhite issue — she called for an end to BET in a recent interview with Fox News. “The whites don’t get any nominations,” Trump continued. “… I never even thought of it from that standpoint.”
(Let’s ignore the fact that BET is actually owned by Viacom for a moment — which only makes Ms. Dash and Mr. Trump’s comments all the more absurd.)
So Fox News plays divide and conquer versus #OscarsSoWhite, then Donald Trump weighs in with this incredibly ignorant response about BET, but none of the people that loathe him for his anti-Mexican/Syrian/Muslim/Female policies, make much of a fuss about it? He gets a free pass? How the hell does that happen?
The answer may say as much about us, as it does about Mr. Trump.
Sure, candidate Trump is so blatantly ignorant toward seemingly everyone who isn’t a white male, that it may have caused many to miss exactly what his words implied (if he even remembers saying them). More likely, it was America’s own collective obliviousness to subtle racism itself that caused so many to overlook the ignorance of what he said. How else can you explain how immune we have become to television news networks’ (both liberal and conservative) use of divide and conquer? Are we not aware that it, too, is a form of subtle racism? We see it daily, like when an African American (Will Smith) says something the media deems controversial (“I’m boycotting the Oscars”), then a news network immediately finds another African American (Stacey Dash), to discredit that point of view (“Let’s eliminate BET and Black History Month”). It’s actually not that subtle when you are aware of it. I highly doubt that Stacey Dash will call for an elimination of the other 11 months of the year as a response to Donald Trump boycotting a presidential debate, if anyone even bothers to ask her opinion this time.
Look, nobody should be surprised that Mr. Trump showed a complete lack of awareness, understanding or compassion when responding to Dash’s comments regarding BET. It is, however, surprising that everyone else seems to have missed what he really implied. Which is, that he thinks BET is guilty of a double standard. But to suggest that, only reveals that he never considered why black people would want to create a TV network to showcase and honor the entertainers that their community identifies with, or why there would be a need for a network like BET in the first place.
The BET network was not created as some means to discredit white artists, actors, films or musicians. It was created after years of broadcast television failing to have a proportionate number of shows that properly showcased black entertainment. It was a network created by, and created for, black people looking for more programming that they could identify with. The name of the network didn’t mean, “Hey, white people, keep channel surfing because you are not getting any awards here at BET.” No, that type of behavior has historically been perpetrated by awards shows like the Oscars. Hence #OscarsSoWhite. You can debate whether Will Smith’s choice to boycott is wrong or not, but you cannot debate the lack of diversity at, or the track record of, the Oscars. Nor can you seriously use the BET Awards as proof of some sort of black “double standard.” Which Donald Trump tried to do by saying:
“The whites don’t get any nominations …”
That jab is an incredibly lame defense. It’s also an inaccurate one. White people are, in fact, nominated for BET Awards. Yet not only have I heard that inaccurate sentiment echoed numerous times on social media, but for decades I’ve also heard, “If we had White Entertainment TV, we’d all be called racists.”
Newsflash: We white people don’t need “White Entertainment TV.” We already had White Entertainment TV. We’ve had it since the very moment that TV was invented — it’s simply called TV!
Seriously, is the idea of black people having their own network actually divisive? Certainly not. Especially when you consider that BET rose to popularity at a time when MTV was often cited for not playing music videos made by black artists. That’s right. MTV’s programmers were frequently accused of discrimination in the early 1980s because of their reluctance to play black music videos. Relegating the few black artists they did play to late night, or after hours, airing of their videos. MTV hid behind the excuse that, “we only play rock ‘n’ roll.” (Rock ‘n’ roll — which was created by black artists, then taken over by white artists, I might add.) Black artists eventually made their way onto MTV, thus generating billions of dollars for the network. But, according to Rolling Stone magazine, the playlist only expanded after CBS Records (now Sony) President Walter Yetnikoff pressured them by threatening to pull their roster of white artists from MTV if they would not air Michael Jackson’s videos on the network. Ironically, not only did BET then have to play second fiddle to MTV for the right to exclusively air those Michael Jackson videos — airing them only after MTV’s exclusive right to air them first ended — but now BET is owned by the same corporation that owns MTV.
I wonder if Donald Trump has ever thought of MTV from “that standpoint“?
Not likely. Nor is it likely that anyone else, crying foul against BET, has either. Because if they had, they would realize that they are the ones who are actually guilty of a double standard. They are also the ones failing to grasp the simple concept that pro-black does not mean anti-white. Otherwise, why wouldn’t they hold other TV networks to the standard they want to hold BET to?
Does the Logo network, being pro-gay, mean it is anti-straight? No, it’s just pro-gay.
Does the Lifetime network, being pro-female, mean that it is anti-male? No, it’s just pro-female.
Does The Do It Yourself (DIY) network, being pro-do it yourself, mean that they are anti-hire a contractor? No, they just teach you how to save a little money and do it yourself.
So, why the issue with BET?
Simple: It’s a double standard. A white double standard that is based on race. And to discredit BET for reasons of race, is to discredit the black experience in this country. Because if a race of people, after being oppressed for 400 years, are not allowed to have one major TV network, out of about 500 channels, without some of us white people thinking it’s a problem, then we really have not grown that much as a country.
You know, the country that Donald Trump claims to want to make “great again”?
Great slogan. Just try remembering that America has not always been great to all people.
Yes, we have a black president. Yes, Oprah has almost as many billions as Donald Trump, himself. Yes, Ben Carson has given him a good scare in the Republican presidential polls. And yes, this country has come a really long way in a really short period of time. But there are still people out there trying to recover from centuries of the systemic dismantling of their identity at the hands of our ancestors. There are still many people, of different races, faiths, orientations and genders, struggling to find their place in our society. BET was created to be one of the voices for that struggle. If you start to think of them from “that standpoint,” then you may actually begin to realize that it is not only OK for BET to celebrate black culture, but it is also a vital part of the healing process of this country.
This commentary is not intended to inform African Americans of what they already know. They have experienced what it means to be black in America for hundreds of years, and no white person, no matter how close to it, can claim that experience as his or her own. (Sorry, Rachel Dolezal, that means you, too).
What it is intended to do, instead, is to suggest that we take a look at ourselves, and hold a mirror up to our own community, and point out some of our own hypocrisies. However uncomfortable that may be.
For the record, I don’t think the Academy intentionally snubbed black artists’ work this year. Though I can’t help but suspect that a few of its white members could have made a better effort to see “Straight Outta Compton” — which should be nominated. And somehow, I suspect many of the white folks, upset about the Smiths boycotting the Oscars, will be a lot less troubled by Mr. Trump ditching out on something as vital to this country as a debate to become the next PRESIDENT. Simply because he is mad at a woman. Seriously?
How’s that for the art of the double standard?