Race Relations and The Media
I am not going to stand on the proverbial soap box and speak about how disparaging it is that there are not more positive minority role models on television. I won’t even speak about how despite the advances we’ve made in media, there is still a significant difference in how minorities are portrayed. These are all things we are well aware of … what may not be so obvious, however, is how this all started for each of us. The way that we think and feel about our own race and how we relate to other races plays out everyday in the movies we watch, the television shows we may despise and the films we love.
Race relations have been on the forefront of many people’s minds this week due to the controversy with Donald Sterling, whose racist comments lead to his ban from the NBA and a $2.5 million dollar fine. It is also believed that he will be forced to sell his NBA team, the Los Angeles Clippers. While this story is definitely newsworthy, it completely eclipsed the story of 200 Nigerian school girls who were kidnapped from their school and believed to be sold to a group of Islamic militants for a mere $12 a piece.
Even more shocking to me is that these girls were kidnapped two weeks ago! I just heard of the story via social media this week, which prompted me to research the matter. The outcry for these girls’ safe return is passionate, but not seemingly widespread. You would think that the story of 200 females kidnapped from any place (regardless of race or country) at the same time would be headline news across the globe. But, I have not seen a barrage of news coverage, similar to what was shown for the Donald Sterling controversy or any other national tragedy such as a mass school shooting. Why is this? I clearly don’t have the answer. But, it made me think about race and how the media handles it. What is considered important (or entertaining) in the medium?
This past week, I’ve been watching old episodes of The Boondocks, which is a satirical cartoon created by Aaron McGruder. It follows the lives and adventures of Huey and Riley Freeman, along with a host of other characters. This show provides equal parts humor, obscenity and offensiveness. But most importantly, it is thought provoking, eye-opening and revolutionary. The show forces us to face our stereotypes in such a way that challenges us. It is hoped that you won’t just look at the show and laugh, but to also think, “What am I going to do about this?” Or, “How can I make this situation better?”
This show is similar to the racial comedy that The Chappelle Show tackled. The Chappelle Show sketches highlighted the disparity between races, also in a satirical and humorous way. The sketches made us look at how we interact with each other and the injustices that minorities face daily. Some of the best examples of shedding a light on these differences were in the sketches about the different judicial systems for whites and blacks (“Law and Order”) episode, along with the “Black Bush” sketch. Both showed how there is seemingly a different set of rules for White and Black America. It also forced thought about our culture, shortcomings, stereotypes and areas for improvement.
The overall problem with satirical comedy is that it does not always translate how it was created and intended. Unfortunately, not all audiences get it. Often times, it is misjudged as racist or setting race relations back as opposed to moving it forward.
These were all similar arguments made about Spike Lee’s film, Bamboozled. Even though the film opens with the blatant definition of satire clearly stated, the film was still misunderstood by many. As a person of color who works in communications and media daily, this film stands as one of my favorites of all time. I went through so many emotions with this movie. It made me angry, it made me sad, it even made me laugh. But, overall, it made me think about the choices I make when dealing with the branding and imaging of minorities in the media. It helped to remind me that it’s not just about me. As an African American, what I release speaks for my race as well. Now, I know we can have a huge debate about how the actions of one person should not reflect on an entire race. Even though this is true, it is not necessarily reality. For many African Americans, what they do goes into the pot with all the others in constructing the makeup of how we are perceived, and in some cases, how we are treated.
This is the bottom line about race relations and the media … we have to start talking about it! Ignoring it or sweeping it under the rug will not bring about real results. Placing a band-aide over a crack in the ceiling will not stop the roof from leaking. Spike Lee was quoted this week as saying, “Racism is an illness … we have to deal with it.” Nothing could be more true. Lets have the difficult conversations about why certain stories are covered while others are not. Why are there a limited amount of scripted television programs starring minorities? Why are negative images of minorities more on display than their positive attributes and community involvement? We all have to acknowledge our part. Just as much as big business needs to answer these questions, we as consumers must also take responsibility in what we support. Because as I often say, at the end of the day, this is the entertainment “business.” Profits and bottom lines often speak louder than integrity and goodwill.
Stevie Wonder pleadingly sings, “We must never be a misrepresented people,” at the beginning of Bamboozled. This is true. What are you doing to ensure this does not happen?
Lets start this discussion … what are your thoughts on race relations and the media? Do you think satirical comedy (shows like The Boondocks and The Chappelle Show) works, or are they more harmful than good?