A while back a reader wrote me trying to refute my claim that if Saturday Night Live wanted to keep up with the times it needed diversity to stay relevant.

I don’t know whether this individual was black or white. But I got the feeling they were black but woefully ignorant of “America’s Love Affair with Black Culture.” Their emailed response to me was that black people – and by extension “Black American Culture” – are not relevant because non-black people “don’t get it.” This was after I used Beyonce, Michelle Obama, Oprah, the TV shows “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” Lil Wayne and the NBA as examples of how ubiquitous certain facets of black art, black culture, black people and black artists have become in the pop culture mainstream. Their argument was that our culture was a niche, a black niche, that pretty much only operates on a frequency that only people with permanent tans can hear.

I could believe this if it weren’t for the fact that right now pop music is amuck with various “swagger jackers” appropriating the most outré variations of black culture (basically, all the parts you can’t take to church on Sunday), repacking it poorly with lazy facsimiles then mass producing it for the culturally and historically ignorant. I could also believe this if “The Chappelle Show” had never existed. It was a show my old upstairs neighbors, who were both white males, loved intensely, but admitted that they did not get the vast majority of the jokes. I’m pretty much convinced that’s what made Chappelle abandon the show – white people happily enjoying black culture in full ignorance of what they are watching, lapping it up without context, then shouting “I’m Rick James, bitch” (often while having no clue of who Rick James was),

You don’t exactly have to be “from the streets” to appreciate Lil Wayne, Lil B or any of the “Lil’s.” In fact, they need you need to not be from the streets. They have to sell those albums to somebody. If black rappers were solely relying on the violently romanticized black underclass to fund their lifestyles Kanye would be rapping more about Harold’s Chicken and less Harrods.

Black American culture has always been in style. Always. Whether it came in its classic, noble form of Paul Robeson singing a Negro Spiritual or if it came in the blackface form of Al Jolson singing “Mammy.” Black artists innovate, create, remix, reproduce and people consume it … although certain audiences have “certain” preferences. It’s no knock to Robin Thicke, Eminem or Macklemore, (whose albums I own) but for certain clueless consumers they might as well all be Pat Boone, a way to like something black without actually crediting any black people. Like they’re Diet Coke, but maybe they’re Diet Coke with lime.

(At least they’re not Boone. Boone is so inherently dissimilar from the artists he “recreated” that he’s not even trying to pass off Coke as Diet Coke. He’s not even Pepsi. He’s the Diet Mr. Pibb of appropriation. Heck, he’s so opposite day, he might as well be a can of Fresca. Here he is taking all the funk out of Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” to the point that it kind of makes me want to vomit off-brand Skittles.)

If people tell you they’re not interested in “black” people because we’re a “niche” what they really mean is this haircut would look better on Miley Cyrus. It’s about control. Everyone likes black people if they get to “control” the image, if that image of blackness is taken out of our hands and reduced to what is most profitable. There aren’t a lack of black TV shows and sitcoms today because white people won’t watch them . (“The Jeffersons” and “The Cosby Show” didn’t stay on the air during an even less diverse time because only Decatur, Ga. was watching.) You can get a black show on the air right now if you’re willing to produce the image of black people that gatekeepers want to see. Unsurprisingly since the entertainment industry’s gatekeepers are overwhelming old, white and male, what they “think” Americans want to see is pretty retrograde.

It’s not disinterest that ruins our image in popular culture. It’s that there is almost too much interest in us. And, as a result, we are reduced us to a mess of stereotypes and butt-jiggling. We’re more complex than that, but complexity doesn’t sell. Butt-jiggling, on the other hand, has been en vogue since before Josephine Baker strapped on the banana skirt. Since Sara Baartman was kidnapped and put on display throughout Europe. The only difference is between then and now we have more opportunity to own our image and control it. You can have black writers, actors and directors like Steve McQueen (who’s black and British) and they can create “12 Years of Slave” and it’s an extremely different (and more grounded) work than the pop art of Quinten Tarantino’s Mandigo fantasy “Django Unchained.”

Or you can have former NBA player wife Shaunie O’Neil creating a revenue streams for her recently dumped friends!

You can own your image. But there’s already an established audience for watching “black people being ridiculous.” It’s profitable. It’s been profitable since “Beulah.” Since “Sleep n’ Eat.” For some, it’s too lucrative to move from caricature into creation and control. So you stick with what works and put a new spin on an old trope.

The problem has always been that when we wanted to be seen as individuals with our own wants and desires, when we want to create art that reflects that, some people – mainly the culturally ignorant and racists – have no desire to see it. So it’s not about white people not getting a black joke. Most people LOVE a black joke. What they don’t like is conscious black thought rooted in self-determination.

Fortunately for SNL (or for most of Hollywood for that matter), they aren’t in the “conscious black thought” business, but entertainment, something black and white Americans have enjoyed watching black folks do since Pigmeat Markum. So they should do quite fine if they ever diversify their ranks.

Whether black people retain any ownership or control remains to be seen.

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  • HighlyIntelligentGemini

    Paul Mooney said it best (also reiterated in the movie “Be Cool” by Cedric the Entertainer)

    “How is it that you can disrespect a man’s ethnicity when you know we’ve influenced every facet of white America. From our music, to our style of dress, not to mention your basic imitation of our sense of cool. Walk, talk, dress, mannerisms, we enrich your very existence. All the while contributing to the gross national product through our achievements in corporate america. It’s these coneits that comfort me when I’m faced with the ignorant, cowardly, bitter and bigoted who have no talent, no guts. People like you who desecrate things they don’t understand, when the truth is you should say thank you man, and go on about your way. But apparently you’re incapable of doing that”.

    That pretty much sums this article up.

    • Jo

      You have got to be kidding me, right? Black people have hardly influenced every facet of white America. Besides music your influences stop. Just remember everything you own was created by a white man. From the car you drive to the the art of film-making to the computer that you use. Whites have a much greater influence on black life than vice versa.

    • akinibe

      I guess you never paid attention during black history month! Blacks invented so many of the things that have influenced this society greatly. So dont be ignorant, just acknowledge the facts.

    • ghanderman

      do you know that every time you stop at a traffic light in the car you say was invented by a white man (i mean, its not as if white america would ever admit to the depths of influence black america has had) its a light that was created based on an original design by a black man? thats right….traffic lights were invented by a black man: garrett morgan. hahahahah and theres so much more, its awesome! but, sadly, youll never know bc your mental illness prevents you from dealing in reality. im sorry you are sick. i will pray that you get better.

    • Laylah Lauree

      WRONG! White people have murdered and raped their falsified truth into “history.” Isn’t it ironic that in the Bible satan is the ruler of this earth and white people own the majority of the wealth on this earth? Hence the term satans spawns. White devils have no souls so they have lied, stolen, and with no conscious taken everything from the indigenous people of this world. It is supposed to be like that, it is written. You and your breed will enjoy the luxuries of this life, My people will enjoy eternity. :) First and LAst!

    • Laylah Lauree

      And don’t forget, it was Black people who taught your people how to bathe although most of you still don’t do so properly. The Moors taught you neanderthals everything you know then you used that knowledge to conquer and destroy (satans plan). Black people built America. Look at how you culture vultures cant help but try and imitate everything we do, and while you have the wealth you are still envious to the core We get the bigger picture!

    • ghanderman

      its bc white people are from a societal context where backstabbing, hypocrisy, dog eat dog, lies, fraud, theft, (the lesser of the evils), genocide, slavery, denial, etc etc etc are considered normal. they dont even know the first thing about being human bc they are broken spirits. why else can they have done the things theyve done collectively and individually? only sick, spiritless, broken people see a logic in spreading that kind of social disease around. we should pity them, really.

    • Jack

      You should not give credit to negroes where credit is not due. Where
      do you think negroes acquired guitars, pianos and brass instruments?
      Do you think they came over on slave ships? They weren’t developed in
      Africa, they came from Europe, along with the concepts of melody,
      harmony, modes and scales, and the written form of the bass clef,
      treble clef, time signatures and key signatures. The only thing
      negroes brought to America was an instinct for rhythm, the ability to
      make simple percussive instruments, and rudimentary “field hollers.”
      They did not bring music, only the crude and bizarre chanting and
      rhythms that characterize today’s (c)rap music.

    • Fleur

      Are you serious?

    • Laylah Lauree

      Bwahahaha your falsified history books have lied to you. ALL life comes from African life, try again buddy!

    • JP

      That’s true. If you truly understand white culture, it is one based on extreme negativity.

    • Jack

      You really need to get your head out of your ass. Black people have influenced very little. 90 percent of what you own was invented by a white man from the car you drive, to the game of basketball, to the telephone to this computer you’re using to spew nonsense.

    • JP

      Sadly most of my fellow whites are lying, thieving, two-faced, self-obsessed, unreasonable, double-standard practicing, ungrateful, unappreciative, dishonest, narcissistic, plagiarizing, sc*mbags.

      Take Mark Dean as an example. Without him the modern computer would not exists.

      Therein is the problem whites will never accept. Better to out compete us and give us a taste of our own medicine.

      Your freedom starts first with knowing your enemy.

  • The author is right, you can own your image. We (@flystockmedia) struggled with this until we couldn’t take it anymore. When something as simple as turning to Google for “images of black people” results in black and white images of everyone else, we knew something had to give. And since talking about it wasn’t going to change anything, we created FlyStock Media to help protect the legacy, range and promise of Black culture. We’ve created a marketplace to offer media that’s Super Fly, not superficial. Having learned that if you let someone else define you, the content of your character can very easily get lost in their perceptions, Consequently, we’re curating images that more than anything else, simply tell better stories.

  • mike c

    rofl, at the blacks think they invented all the stuff they are told during black history month. they were lying to you to make you feel better about the fact that you have no culture and haven’t invented anything and are pretty much just an anchor on human progress.

    • ghanderman

      sounds like the typical white racist projecting his inferiority complex….AGAIN.

      *sigh* why do i even bother when i know you are beyond redemption? when i know for a fact that you are so consumed with a deluded sense of self and reality that nothing ANYONE will say, no proof, no facts, no hard empirical data will sway you from your irrational perspective….

      why will nothing help your illogical perspective? because racism like yours is a mental illness producing a specific kind of delusion unlike many other mental disorders. and sane people cannot rationalize with the deluded; they are, by definition, sick. something is broken inside and no longer working as it was meant to.

      this is why white folks like you can make such statements and consider yourselves somehow right despite the well documented evidence to the contrary….evidence that is just as damning of how atavistic, brutal, savage, ruthlessly vicious european societies were to THEIR OWN PEOPLE (no wonder your people were so inhuman to everyone—you have been socialized for generation upon generation to be that way starting with your own kind), as it is edifying for its testament to Africa being the origin of all human beings and subsequent societies.

      so why am i bothering? well, this isnt really for you….its for me and all the other sane people who are sick of your kind of illness, but more, sick of your denial of your own illness.

      take care of your $h!t dont spread it around like that. all you do is prove to the world how utterly inhuman and diseased you really are.

      and its not even outrageous anymore…its just….pathetic.

    • Jack

      Beginning with Gregorian chants through the Classical forms and folk
      idioms (Celtic, Scotch-Irish, French, Germanic, Spanish etc.), all
      American music can be traced to Europe. Even the rock-and-roll backbeat
      had origins in Celtic music. The only original music of a non-Western
      origin involves the microtones (intervals smaller than a half-step) of
      Eastern music. What one refers to as “blues music” is simply
      flat-thirds, flat sevenths, and the passing tones of diminished fifths
      and sixths, all of which came from modes of natural, melodic and
      harmonic minor scales, WHICH WERE CONCEPTS OF THE WHITE MAN long before
      America had been discovered. There is no historical evidence that
      Africa had any concept of the octave or twelve-tone scales.

      I’ll give negroes credit for one thing, they are master mimics… monkey see, monkey do.

    • Jack

      Name me 10 things black people invented

    • JP

      Go f*cking Google small prick. You wouldn’t even be using a computer were it not for Mark Dean.

    • Jack

      go and google nigger lover

    • JP

      Well stop listening to either Rock, POP or Hip-Hop you idiot.

  • Sharon

    @Dols87 you are so right in your statement. We black Americans are too concerned with GETTING things but not OWNING. You have to understand also that the black community can’t accomplish economic equality until we combat our own demons which is low self esteem. Self esteem drives confidence which develops into ambition which in turn builds empires. The Black community has a long way to go because we have so much negative history to overcome but I do believe we will get there one day. Black women may have to be the group that leads this effort because black men are totally lost and distracted by white women, sports, and sex.