Every week, there’s a new report on an instance of black people being excluded, overlooked, or discriminated in some shape or form. This week it was Acura and “The Bachelor,” a few weeks ago it was Vanity Fair and Kerry Washington, always its fashion magazines and runways and beauty campaigns. The thought that comes up most consistently after the outrage is why are we looking for white people’s approval, why are we seeking their validation, why don’t we spend time nurturing our own? And while I don’t agree that by pointing out these instances of discrimination we are seeking white people’s approval (I think it’s holding them accountable and demonstrating evidence to the contrary of their melting pot, post-racial society, we love diversity claims), I do think that more time would be better spent not seeking or needing to be a part of what white people have going on—and have obviously shown through their actions they want to keep to themselves. But I’m curious if we really know what that would mean or how to even achieve it.
When I think of a time when black people had their “own” on a large scale in entertainment, I think of the Robert Johnson 1980 BET days, even Don Cornelius’ Soul Train days come to mind. These men had a vision to give black people something they could be proud of on TV and they made it happen. But the reality is Bob Johnson had to get John C. Malone to invest $500,000 in the project to get it off the ground, and once the network became a raving success, it no longer remained a black-owned network because he sold it to Viacom for $3 billion in 2003, and ever since we’ve been left with the version of “black entertainment” we see now. When I thought about the wealthy rappers that were acknowledged by Forbes yesterday, I noticed a common thread. A lot of the men’s wealth came from selling companies and brands they’d built. Jay-Z sold Rocawear, 50 Cent sold his stake in Vitamin Water, and Dr. Dre gave up his majority ownership in Beats Electronics for a hefty price. It’s a common—and smart—business practice, but not one that allows us to have the ultimate say in the decisions that upset us, like who appears in which advertisements and how we’re portrayed on TV. That wealth also doesn’t trickle down into the community because we’re not selling these businesses off to other African Americans, they’re going to large corporations headed by white men mostly who could care less about our representation, and the money remains in the hands of the black 1%.
[Applause image via Shutterstock]