Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Black Entertainers

One of the most common questions I receive from non-Black people is, ‘Why do Black/African-American people always want to be considered separately instead of just being PEOPLE?’ My normal reply is, “Believe it or not, I don’t KNOW all the Black/African-American people in the world, so I can’t speak for all of them.” This may seem like some kind of wisecrack, but it’s the truth. Black people DO possess the power of independent thought and what some may see as reality, others may see as complete fantasy. Take brother ‘Buckwheat’ for example, he was the lone black character on the Little Rascals show back in the late 30’s (Stymie didn’t show up til later). His big bulging eyes and wide open mouth of incredulous disbelief was accessorized with his electric mop of hair. To this day, people of all colors can see a picture of Buckwheat and start smiling. But yet, in the Black community, there is a large faction of folks who are very offended and disgusted by the stereotypical ‘coon’ images that they feel Buckwheat glorifies.

When I was growing up, we had to be very careful of where and when we watched the Little Rascals. Because if certain relatives walked in and saw us looking at it, they’d flip out…

What are ya’ll doing??!!

(We were all laughing at Buckwheat putting firecrackers in Alfalfas shoes, now we had to freeze and BUCK our eyes with worry) Uhh..watching tv.

Ya’ll don’t need to be watching NO show that makes fun of black folks like that! All the other kids on that show are walking around with shoes on, hair combed, neat, talking like they’ve got some sense. But there they have the ONLY black boy on there, hair all nappy, eyes bucked out, sticking out his butt and smiling a biggo watermelon smile all the time!! Turn that junk off!! And don’t let me catch ya’ll watching it again!!

Personally, I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about..Buckwheat was O-tay to me. It wasn’t until I grew older and more educated on Black American History, that I was able to understand the sensitive areas that the images of Buckwheat stirred up in a lot of Black folks. Although we’re in 2003, there are a lot of Black people still bitter about the Middle Passage and slavery. And now that we live in an ‘integrated’ society, they want to completely obliterate all negative images or references of Black folks as an inferior race. Some go all the way to the right and just want to completely submerge themselves in Black culture. They only want to live in Black neighborhoods, marry Black spouses, attend Black churches, shop in Black owned stores, watch movies/shows with Black people in them, listen to the Black radio stations, go to Black clubs and eat Black (soul) food.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the Black people who want to completely eliminate color from the equation and prefer to be thought of only as a ‘person’. Some go so far as to intentionally avoid ALL things Black, to further distance themselves from this restrictive barrier. It doesn’t even matter if their skin is darker than Buckwheat’s, they only want to associate with non-Black people. From the non-Black community in which they live, their non-Black spouses, non-Black churches they attempt to completely ignore anything and anybody that tries to draw them into the ‘Black’ side of life.

I think these are both dangerous extremes. In an ideal world, the color of your skin shouldn’t make a difference as to how you’re treated. But the sad fact is, America 2003 is not an ideal world. We still harbor a lot of the same racial prejudice and hatred that was here when the first slave ships arrived. Its obviously on a lot less overt and accepted level, but its still there. Those who act like racism no longer exists are just as bad as those who constantly seek out the smallest reason to pull the ‘race card’ out. Ideally, I think we all should strive to judge people solely by the content of their character, but we’re still a ways away from that Nirvana (I like that group too..white boys jamming!).

On the REAL side of the coin, William ‘Buckwheat’ Thomas was a young black boy making money on the big screen in the 1930’s. That in itself should be applauded considering the state of Black folks as an economic group at this time. The entertainment talents of Black folks has opened many doors and venues to the mainstream general public. I think everyone should be proud of their heritage and always ‘represent’ their people and culture to the fullest. But at the same time, ultimate success is gained when all racial, gender and cultural barriers are transcended. We may start out as a Black student or a Black teacher, Black writer, Black dancer, Black singer, Black actor, Black doctor, Black lawyer, but once excellence is displayed on a consistent level, that’s when those barriers are slowly but surely brought down and that ‘Black’ prefix is erased.

Some people are upset because Black folks get ‘special’ privileges. Black folks have their own greeting card section, Black folks have their own television channel, Black folks have their own awards show, Black folks have their own magazine and book section, etc. Since this is America, we all have our choice as to what group we want to identify with. These aforementioned ‘color’ specific areas for Black folks aren’t meant to show a superiority or inferiority from the mainstream, just a difference. I love the Black culture that raised me and I’ve never even considered it an option to be anything other than Black. But when it comes to my endeavors as a person, I want to be considered as a good writer who just happens to be a nappy headed Black man from the Southside of Houston, Texas. I don’t want my work to be herded and constrained to the ‘Mahogany’ section of the bookstore or magazine rack. I want to be in the mix of the general population, balling with them good white folks..ya feel me? Many black entertainers have been ostracized and ridiculed by their own people for ‘selling out’ to the mainstream by profiting off of stereotypes. But these same people talking down about them wouldn’t offer them the time or a thin dime when they’re out looking for ‘respectable’ work. I’m not a sellout, but I WILL buck my eyes and shuffle a lil bit on stage or split a verb and use some ebonic slang if it will keep the coins dropping in the hat. Don’t be mad, its just part of the entertainment game. We all have to shake what our mama gave us…O-TAY?