As with any pop-culture-mega-phenomenon, the aftermath of Beyonce’s Lemonade has shed light on the never-ending fight of non-white journalists, commentators, and writers (and authors, and researchers, screen and script writers, and producers, and, historians, and…) to participate equally- and compensated as such, in their respective field.
Instead we have the constant barrage of images, sounds and stories filtered through (generally speaking) misogynistic, homophobic, racist, colonialist, and xenophobic mouths and key strokes.
Piers Morgan (again) unleashed the collective rage of social media when he dared criticize the aforementioned Yonce for being too black, and by damnit, get over it already, black people, and Beyonce for god’s sake, do not encourage them! *as he clutches the Queen’s pearls, no doubt*
Morgan is a highly respected (I guess…?) news and social commentator with an international platform on which to express his views, the problem is, when the message is coming from a white person, particularly a cis-white man, it’s not an opinion, it’s suddenly the truth.
Beyonce is just another angry black woman. Get over it.
Slavery ended a long time ago. Get over it.
Racism is in your head. Get over it. You’re too sensitive. Get over it.
You people keep playing the race card. Get over it.
If you really cared about black lives, then you would start with black on black crime. Get over it.
Morgan is paid, the networks get paid, advertisers are happy, and all while successfully soothing the nerves of white people the globe over who have only recently discovered Beyonce is if fact, black as fuck. They want racially ambiguous Beyonce to come back, smoothed out weave, ass shaking, Bootylicious Bey, with her beauty pageant stature and carefully measured smile. And there stood Piers Morgan, reassuring the people that yes, Beyonce has lost her black woman mind, the #BlackLivesMatter movement way of life is dangerous and poses a threat to white people everywhere- and this entire Lemonade fiasco is socially irresponsible.
Under-representation of non, cis-white voices and narratives is nothing new. #OscarsSoWhite became a thing this award season, and it seems we are always hearing about a movie project whose casting has been whitewashed, and whose stories have been changed to conform to the dominant culture’s idea of itself in contrast to everyone else in the past, present, and future. Hollywood writers are notorious for rewriting history, creating fictitious white people (or rewriting to true actions of white people to be more socially acceptable) to epitomize the savior whose more compass won’t be swayed.
Popular literature is another medium lacking diverse voices, history and perspective, as I learned when I became a parent in search of books (my kids love to read, STILL!) that reflected who my children are. Can I find stories about black boys who don’t play basketball, who aren’t “struggling to stay away from the kids who steal candy from the corner store” or whose father is in prison and whose mom is the heroic, single black mom who is probably a nurse, or a maid, and they live with his grandparents- or no, his grandmother, and…yeah I could write it in my sleep. And can we please have books that tell our children the truth of how black people came to this country without pretending slaves were happy to be slaves?
Like the example of Piers Morgan and Lemonade, the issue isn’t just about who controls or contributes to the narrative, it’s about who benefits economically, and who doesn’t. With the constant appropriation of non-white storytelling and reporting comes the inevitable reality of dollars and cents. Who is making money from these stories, and who isn’t?
There are plenty (*waves hello*) of capable- hell, exceptional- journalists, writers, and storytellers out there, but the fact is, they are not valued in their fields. As an example, blacks make up a pathetic 4.7 percent of professional journalists in the US, compared to nearly 70 percent of whites. Neither reflect the population.
With social media (and the loss of print media) the issue is trickier- the internet is a DIY of news and commentary blogs and websites their consumers don’t have to pay for, so why should publishers pay for content creation when they can just re-blog or offer the truly insulting $35-$50 per individual publication? Staff writing job? Ha! Featured columnist? You might be high.
Yours truly produced commentary for print, pixel, and radio for five years, culminating in one million unique readers worldwide and zero advertising dollars- ohhhhhhhh the Sable Verity was controversial, hated, beloved, (and necessary for Seattle) but what was produced also made people extremely uncomfortable; peeling the layers away and exposing twenty-first century, politically-correct, subversive, systemic bigotry, oppression, and racism. Paying to advertise in a large publication where such opinions are published is very different than advertising on a website designated for it alone (as one friend put it, “a quintessential example of ‘I’m not racist!’ vs ‘I’m anti-racist.’”).
Pop media gives the impression of something close to equal representation; Larry Wilmore has his own show, Tracee Ellis-Ross kills it on Black-ish. Jerrod Carmichael has his own show. Trevor Noah hosts The Daily Show and *drops voice to whisper* he’s from Africa, and Franchesca Ramsey slapped down Piers Morgan like a triple word score for all the world to see. Well. Played.
I was recently contacted by a Seattle publication all too excited to hear I was again writing for public consumption- would I be interested in a weekly article with a real paycheck? The meeting was short, and went something like, ‘can you be like that black girl on comedy central, cuz we already have a black guy who writes about the serious black stuff, but we think our readers would get a kick out of that fierce, sassy black woman thing.’
No. No, sorry, I cannot do that. First, you probably should not
refer to black women as ‘fierce’ or ‘sassy,’ neither which I would use to describe myself, nor Ms.Ramsey (who they confused with Akilah Hughes). Second- and this cannot be stressed enough- black people/women are not monolith, nor are we a caricature. Having ‘one of something’ does not equal diverse representation of social narratives. Hard pass.
The issues of our time demand representation reflected in popular media, even if controversial. Realistically, the struggle for equal space, validation and compensation for non-white journalists, writers, producers, and artists, doesn’t have an end in sight. We will need many more allies and much more momentum to transform that struggle into sustainable progress.