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Blackface TV

I originally posted this  (see below) almost two years ago. And not a lot has changed in that time. I was prompted to revisit this because of a post I read on the blog Shadow & Act about TV-One showing strong ratings declaring, "its best May delivery ever in Primetime and Total Day, among its key demos."

I wrote these comments in response to the post:

"Most of TV-One's programming on their schedule on a regular basis is former broadcast network sitcoms. They still have a long way to go in providing opportunities for fresh, innovative, "non-white" voices and perspectives in what is billed as THE NETWORK "where Black life unfolds." That maybe, but if you look at what they're programming that life is very, very limited."

The post's author Tambay A. Obenson at the end of the piece writes this, speaking directly to the reader: "The competition for YOUR eyeballs should only intensify in the coming years, especially as BET, and even upstart Bounce TV, as well as all the other non-black TV networks (broadcast and cable) work even harder to give you what you want." 

This prompted another comment from yours truly: 

Tambay, Black nets shouldn't just be meeting its audience "wants," most audiences don't know what they want until something is put in front of them to say yea or nay. Black nets, if anyone, ought to be in the business of providing "black" audiences what they need. As ad man Tom Burrell opined: "Black people are not dark skinned white people. We came to this nation in a totally different way in a totally different context than any other people. That shaped our experiences, that shaped our attitudes. That shaped our aspirations and our needs."

Original Post from 2 years ago.

"Look man, you can listen to Jimi but you can't hear him. There's a difference man. Just because you're listening to him doesn't mean you're hearing him." -Sidney Deane, White Men Can't Jump

I myself never listened to Hendrix. Hard Rock was never my scene. And I didn't know many black folks in my age group who listened to Hendrix or any Rock acts for that matter. As a teenager we were into dancing, fast, cool, easy, and slow. And nobody can dance to Rock. Nobody that is with any sense of rhythm. 

A friend of mine once said that the difference between the way white folks and black folks dance? Black folks dance to the music. White folks dance to the words. For black teens back in the day dancing was foreplay. Dancing was both exhibition and a lack of inhibition. The way you dance always said something, directly or indirectly about how you would, could, or should make love. Rarely did folks of the same sex dance together, nor did you dance in groups. And whether it was "bopping," or "hand dancing," or a "strand," or a "slow drag," it was all about boys and girls, teens and young adults, making connections through touch. A lot of emphasis was placed on being "in step" with your partner, communicating, having a conversation through dance.

There are entire eras as the one described above which are never seen on TV. There is so much material that can be mined from black culture and the black experience not just in the Americas, but throughout the Diaspora that never sees the light of day on TV. This is as one might expect from white-controlled, oriented TV networks, but from a network like TV One, which bills itself as "Where Black Life Unfolds," one might expect something a bit more diverse. But looking at the network's schedule today, which is probably typical one will find 12 episodes of former "white" network shows "Living Single," 2 episodes of "A Different World," 2 episodes of "Martin," a "reality docu-show called "Deceived," "True Hollywood" and "Celebrity Crime Files." From what I can tell only Deceived and Celebrity Crime Files are "original" programs. And everything else over the course of that time period is "comedy." So I guess for TV One "black life" is just one big barrel of laughs. Are they in reality just offering their audience a more insidious form of modern "Minstrelsy?" 

If you purport to be a network "where black life unfolds," then where is the history, sports, news & information, drama, music, children's, arts, programming that is reflective of the black experience?  If you purport to be a "black" network then where is your commitment to providing opportunities to "black" producers, creators and artists whose work and point of view is reflective of non-white tastes and aesthetic?

I think the more appropriate term for these networks like TV One, Centric and of course the granddaddy of them all BET, is nothing more than "white" TV in Blackface.  Unlike Hendrix appropriating the "white Rock" form there is a certain falseness to the claim "black" TV that these networks purport to exhibit. As Fanon might have put it they're just "Black Skin with White Masks."