Why Do You People Still Need All that Black Stuff?

Maurice Broaddus is the author of the novel series, The Knights of Breton Court (Angry Robot).  His dark fiction has been published in numerous magazines, anthologies, and web sites, most recently including Dark Dreams II & III, Apex Magazine, Black Static, and Weird Tales Magazine.  He is the co-editor of the Dark Faith anthology (Apex Books).   Read his blog where he often opines on issues of race, religion, writing, and pop culture and learn more about him at www.MauriceBroaddus.com.

I thought this week I’d go for something a little less controversial.  A little while ago, I let Chesya Burke direct me to RaceFail on teh Interwebz.  There’s plenty enough out there without me having to seek it out.  Yet, when she calls in that “I ain’t playing.  I’m about to choke somebody” voice, I have to check it out.  Let this be a lesson to you interwebz:  quit winding her up, cause she winds me up, and I got deadlines.

The cause of the umbrage was the fact that the BET Awards will be a royal affair: Prince is getting a lifetime achievement honor.  The 51-year-old joins the likes of James Brown, Whitney Houston, Diana Ross and Al Green in being honored by the BET Awards, which will celebrate its 10th year in Los Angeles on June 27.

The thread in question involved this old chestnut:  “One would think that since we’ve come so far as to have a black president we wouldn’t need award programs where the winners have to be of a particular ethnicity. Imagine the hate and protest that would come if there was a White Entertainment Television channel and awards ceremony, or a White Miss America Pageant. Are these ethnic-centered events still needed? Are they racist? What are your thoughts?”

Now, my first thought was that this would mark the first time I’ve wanted to tune into BET since A.J. and Free were the hosts of 106th and Park.

Now to parse the fail.  I’m not going to cast this person as racist.  It’s a question that on the surface is a gut reaction to what one might see as unfair.  I’ll accept that premise at its word.  However, as I’ve said before, just because folks are your friends doesn’t mean that they aren’t capable of saying and doing ignorant things.

Fail #1:  I was right there in the elation of electing President Obama, believing that I’d never see that day in my lifetime.  Of course, the fact that so many still had that sentiment ought to put this whole conversation in check, but I’ll continue anyway.  I know the temptation is to believe that now that we have a black president, the sins of racism have now been erased and we can move forward.  I guess this ignores the entirety of history as I double check to see where someone breaks the color barrier, say Jackie Robinson, all of the racism just goes away.  Just like with Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith coaching in the Super Bowl, the first black head coaches to do so. It doesn’t, and the backwash of latent racism his election has churned up should be evidence that we haven’t come as far and aren’t as sophisticated as we’d like to believe ourselves to be.  Plus, I don’t look to politics and politicians to cure what is a heart issue.

Fail #2:  The old “White Entertainment Television”, “White Miss America Pageant”, and because I’m in a generous mood, I’ll toss in one for free, “White Expo” argument.  Now, I’ll spare you my standard quips (“WET?  Yeah, we’ve always just called it ABC, CBS, or NBC.” “White Miss America Pageant?  It was only recently the pageant even realized there were beautiful women of color in this country to begin with.”  “White Expo?  Really, cause we let you have NASCAR.”).  Just like you can spare me conveniently overlooking the fact that BET, Black Miss America Pageants, and Black Expos (and I’ll throw in Historically Black Colleges since it won’t be but 30 seconds before someone throws in their tale of woe about not getting a scholarship because they aren’t black) wouldn’t have been necessary in the first place if black people hadn’t been shut out of institutions.

Now, horror has had its own legacy of RaceFail, so I turn to it to answer the question “What would the protest look like?”  It would look something like when Brandon Massey was doing the anthology series, Dark Dreams.  All of a sudden, many white “recognized racism when they saw it.”  They thumped their chests loudly at this “brand of segregation” and “affirmative action writing” … when we’re not even a year out of yet another “best of” anthology series having a table of contents featuring only white men.  So again, it’d be nice to declare us in a post-racial era, but let’s actually live like we’re in one first before we declare us there.
Fail #3:  Privilege and the “need for such things”.  Being a majority in a society, holding the bulk of the power, with the weight of history and social institution behind you, it’s easy to see any inroad/erosion of that as unfair.  In your quest for colorblindness, you don’t realize how much that negates people of color.  As I said at the conclusion of my blog on white privilege (and, yeah, for the sake of continued conversation, I no longer refer to “white privilege” as “crackernomics”):  I know, I know, you gentle white souls, this means you rage against the gods of political correctness as your slice of the American Dream pie continues to get cut into. The conversations are tough, exposing your possible denial, defensiveness, guilt, and shame of benefiting from systemic injustice. Be strong white people.

As for the need for such things, I look to institutions such as the “black church”.   It was a miracle that it came about in the first place and it still serves a vital function in the black community.  Would I like to see a post-racial church?  Absolutely.  Just as I recognize that it will take continued serious work and conversations to make it happen.  Until then, you can’t keep complaining that all the black kids sit with each other in the cafeteria.  Sometimes, we just need to.

Asking those questions isn’t racist.  It’s ignorance and there’s nothing wrong with ignorance as long as we’re willing to listen and learn.  I want to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” as much as the next person, but we aren’t there yet.  Hopefully we can keep having conversations until we get to this post-racial Nirvana we all are so ready to skip ahead to.

Comments

  1. says

    “It’d be nice to declare us in a post-racial era, but let’s actually live like we’re in one first before we declare us there.” <– This.

  2. says

    I’ve often been of the opinion that systemic poverty leads to social injustice leads to racial injustice. As a cyclical entity of awfulness. Ending systemic poverty, which affects all races and nations of this world, will allow various cultures to thrive.

    A lot of the very smart, well-meaning folks who decry the special status of any ethnic group – for instance, folks who criticize affirmative action – are trying to say something like “white people can get trapped in systemic poverty, too!” And, though they are correct in that statement, it does kind of miss the point about how one ends systemic poverty.

    The thing I like about focusing on systemic poverty is that it requires racial and cultural sensitivity. Different impoverished cultures face different obstacles to educational and economic growth. The reason a Cherokee family is poor generally has very little to do with what makes a Vietnamese-American family poor or what makes an Irish-American family poor, for instance. (Generally-speaking, Cherokees were survivors of genocide, impoverished Vietnamese-Americans are often war refugees, and impoverished Irish-Americans are deeply ingrained into the cultural traditions that caused generational poverty long back into the Middle Ages and farther.) Treating the poverty of individual cultures the same does not work any more than extending Affirmative Action to all poor people will do anything to solve the reason the program exists. (Affirmative Action programs to increase access of African-Americans to higher education and economic opportunities exist to fight poverty in a manner that helps that particular culture, and hooray for it.)

    It’s much harder to put your foot in your mouth when you’re focusing on something everyone tends to hate about equally, too. Poverty sucks. All poverty sucks. We can all agree on that.

    I don’t really know what this has to do with the table of contents of anthologies, television programs, black churches, or anything like that, but it does provide a better angle, I think, with which to discuss racial issues.

    As for the continual #racefail that seems to happen all over the internet, my only opinion is to stay out of them, whenever possible. I’ve found focusing on the negative aspects of things on-line only leads to cyclical storms of negativity that do little to deal with the root causes. People are wrong on the internet all the time, no matter how many times the good forces of the world try to stop them.

  3. musicalcolin says

    It’s kind of depressing, though maybe unsurprising, to get a bingo card entry on the second comment.

  4. says

    Re: J M McDermott

    Racism affects people of all walks of life, rich and poor. Classism intersects with racism, but you’re missing most of the picture if you focus on the intersections only (or make it all about classism).

    Many of the writers being excluded from anthologies are not that poor. They’re educated, have computers and have the time to write. Solving poverty won’t help them get a fair chance of being included in anthologies. Only tackling the racism and making people aware of it will help.

  5. J M McDermott says

    On the edge of a lot of difficult redux, I think what I am trying to communicate is that the issue is infinitely more complex than just an anthology. A voice is a start, but it is a far cry from a finish when the systems that feed racial divisions still have a long way to go.

    What I don’t like about it is how it’s impossible to talk about something very complex and very painful without calling into question everything one believes consciously and subconsciously. Bingo indeed.