Images Of Blacks Blacks Hurt Blacks


Black people are now making money by putting on minstrel shows, movie thrillers and rap celebrating misogyny and violence -- largely for the benefit of whites.

Are we are so dazzled by the flash and the cash that we don't see how we are contributing to our own destruction?

Looked at superficially, blacks are making "progress" in television and in films. Recent studies indicate that young non-black audiences are "crossing over," buying our music, watching our images, attending our films.

But is this an advance?

The other day I got into a spirited debate with a black colleague at work. She was upset with me for criticizing the rapper Ice Cube for his inflammatory attack on Korean Americans after a Korean grocer killed a 15-year-old black girl in Los Angeles.

My friend argued that rappers such as Ice Cube perform a much needed service. Everyone, she said, has an array of options to pursue to get what they want -- except for black people. Rappers like Ice Cube are the extreme end of the African American arsenal. Thus, my friend said, I have no business speaking out against him.

Ten years ago, I would have bought the line: Don't speak out against fellow blacks because "the Man" just loves it when we put each other down in public.

But 10 years have passed. On television, I see an unprecedented number of sitcoms with blacks, and a whole lot of rap videos. Most of the comedies communicate parody images of black men. We are shucking and jiving, or we are making jokes about our own criminality, or we are playing the black buck to non-black America.

Rap videos do have a pulsating beat, a style so fresh everyone now wants to imitate it. But they also indulge a romance about lawlessness, and they glorify hypersexuality. Black males assume a look that is alluring but intimidating at the same time. Man, aren't we bad.

Besides Ice Cube's rap, there's Public Enemy's rap video attacking officials of the state of Arizona because that state doesn't celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday. The rappers poison an Arizona state official and blow up the governor with a car bomb.

It's gotten so bad that comparatively benign rappers are compelled, every once in a while, to present bad boy images as if to reassure their audience they are "real" black males.

The star of the TV show "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" recorded a rap with his partner, DJ Jazzy Jeff, about going to traffic court and confronting his accuser, an old white woman. The rap features the following refrain: "You saw my blinker, bitch!"

Or consider television shows such as "In Living Color" (which aired during half-time of the Super Bowl). In a comic skit two "homeboys" loot the lockers of football players.

Then there are black action films such as "Juice," which deliver the message that the typical black male either murders someone or is about to be murdered by another black male.

These raps, comedies and movies are creating a new sort of self-inflicted racism. And too many black Americans refuse to see it simply because these images are being offered by other blacks.

Nowadays I can't go anywhere after dark without feeling the consequences.

I walk into any convenience store and get followed by store employees. I am just as likely to be followed by the Ethiopian who owns a store two blocks away as I am to be followed by the Asian man in the convenience store across the street.

Shopping in one convenience store around the block I was trailed by the Arab owner who ignored all the other customers in the place. I got angry and said something to him. He got angry back. At that point I dropped my groceries on the floor and stomped out.

But to tell the truth, if I had the video and film images of black males dancing in my head, I wouldn't want black males walking into my store. I'd probably call the cops if I saw one walking at night through my neighborhood.

Hugh Pearson writes widely on African American affairs. He wrote this commentary for Pacific News Service.

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