Monday, November 27, 2006

"Was it something I said?", pt. 2 - As the Michael Richards mea culpa tour chugs along, it detoured yesterday into the Los Angeles studios of Rev. Jesse Jackson's "Keep Hope Alive" radio program. True to form, Richards once again denied any racist intent, saying that (as reported by the Chicago Sun-Times) that his rant was an attempt at "belittlement" of his African American hecklers. For his part, Rev. Jackson continued to make the case that Richards' comments were a small part of a mosaic of racism in the United States. Jackson attempted to connect Richards' use of the "N-word" with the return of Trent Lott to Republican Senate leadership, the absence of black representation on evening network programming and the government's feeble response to Hurricane Katrina.

While I am seldom in agreement with Rev. Jackson, I must admit that I wholly concur with him in his critique of the media establishment. As an industry, the media have served as one of the griots of the narrative of racism.
The media (to include the film and recording industries) have shown themselves to be intrinsically racist in that they reinforce every stereotype that the supposedly evolved white liberals that populate its positions of influence have professed to eschew. Worse yet, they have persuaded much of American society that the problem of racism exists beyond it’s confines, when exactly the opposite is true. By devious design, the media have maintained racial homogeneity; to put it plainly, the corridors of power and influence within the MAC are whiter than a Ku Klux Klan rally held in the middle of a snowstorm.

The rise of extremely talented (and some less so) African American and Hispanic performers and directors, along with a smattering of writers, editors and producers could lead one to believe that the media are indeed agents for progressive social change. But this is merely a sop to the sensibilities of those within it's ranks who claim to support diversity. At best, the media work to create a false diversity, and it is necessarily judged by its fruit. With regard to how blacks are portrayed in the media, the stereotypes have not changed appreciably since the days of minstrel shows in blackface, as exemplified by the media’s obsession with the anti-social and criminal behavior of black males and the hardiness of the “pimp culture” from so-called blaxploitation films of the 1970s to today’s rap music.

Today the media seem much more concerned with blacks participating as personalities than with blacks demonstrating excellence, thereby reinforcing white supremacy and black inferiority. (A confirmatory question would be to ask how many of today’s black actors got their start as rappers versus the number of white actors who did likewise.) And in as much as blacks do display overall excellence in the media, it is in areas where they are stereotypically seen to excel, such as entertainment and athletics. ("Well of course Emmitt Smith is a great athlete and a great dancer.")

Also too, primarily due to the influence of market research, media companies have begun to subdivide their programming based on race, so much so that no one is shocked by the idea of the now-defunct UPN network being seen as “black TV,” with reliably stereotypical viewing faire such as Girlfriends and The Parkers. Much of the same could be said regarding the stereotyping of Hispanics and Asians were both groups not largely invisible in the media. (It is apparent that the media has not quite figured out how best to stereotype Asians and Latinos.)

While my agreement with Rev. Jackson's assessment of the media is copious, I do have to quibble with his assertions that reemergence of Trent Lott represents some sort of racial Gotterdammerung (while simultaneously expressing no concern about the presence of a former Klansman roaming the Senate), or that - as discussed elsewhere - the response to Katrina was indicative of racist intent. But what I find most objectionable is that Rev. Jackson felt any need to indulge Richards at all. His protests to the contrary, Mr. Richards is most manifestly racist of any person or group in question. By my lights, it is unseemly that Rev. Jackson would give Richards any more of a forum than that which he usurped.

No comments: