Who Cleans Oprah’s House(s)?
With a nod to Michael Jackson
“And I told about equality and it’s true
Either you’re wrong or you’re right
But, if you’re thinkin’ about my baby
It don’t matter if you’re black or white”
Wading into the waters of the octopus-armed dynamics of racism in today’s culture is as fraught with danger as splashing around in a pool of stinging nettles; even the briefest and most innocuous brush with what would seem a feathery touch of a comment may result in a stinging back-lash, loss of career and friends, and a public shunning akin to the Scarlett Letter of Shame that Nathaniel Hawthorne envisioned in 1850.
We all know the overt and horrific origins of racism in America; slavery, the Klan, Jim Crow, segregated restrooms, busses, counters, ad infinitum. Many of us remember them vividly still today. We also remember that we took to the streets, protested, marched, demanded change, and finally, in 1964, we achieved a measure of what we hoped would be a brighter, more equitable future for all of us.
We did see signs of some progress; television in particular opened the door a crack for the coming diversity; the Jefferson’s, Good Times, black characters (some notable guest appearances by the likes of Sammy Davis, Jr., an icon of what it was like to endure overt racism in the 40’ and 50’s), but still these “gains” were really an economic cheat using thinly disguised stereotypes of black culture as laugh-a-minute ratings grabbers aimed at the sniggering masses of mostly white television consumers of that age. In 1950 9% of American’s owned a television set. In 1970 90% did. And today, as printed newspaper media readership crashes, black communities get 90% of their news from local TV news programming. With the extreme consolidation of media ownership today, only a minuscule proportion of which is black-owned, titans like the uber-conservative Sinclair Media Group are grabbing our minds and our money in a robber baron-like rush to the riches.
According to an article in VOX magazine, “Sinclair announced its plan to buy Tribune Media Company and its 42 television stations for $3.9 billion — a merger made possible by the Trump administration relaxing regulations on broadcast ownership. If the acquisition goes through, Sinclair would become the nation’s largest broadcast group “by a country mile,” as Sinclair CEO Christopher Ripley put it to investors.” An estimated 72 percent of American households would live in a place where Sinclair controls at least one of the broadcast television stations.
So how we get our news, where we live, and definitively our cultural and economic social demographics has a profound effect on what comes into our sphere as “news”. Discounting the MSNBC/FOX debate and even removing CNN and the “fake news” idiocy, I refer back to the fact that 90% of black households rely on LOCAL TV newscast. If those “fair and balanced” news outlets are pre-loaded for profits by wealthy, extremist, and politically and economically motivated owners then rest assured, what we see on our sets is aimed to please.
Please them, solely, and by please I mean enrich. Period.
On the positive side of the scale, we have many more networks that are not beholden to news media group influence and money. AMC, FX, HBO, etc. are all, while profit driven, producing a huge amount of diversity-heavy programming that America is rallying around thanks to the likes of Shonda Rhimes and her compatriots. We are seeing diversity in action if not in fact.
The news is now being weighted like a con in cement boots with the inundation of ____ on ____ crime stories; you fill in the particular race components. The internet seethes with the vitriol of thousands of videoed, race-related, horrific crimes, many of which are unresolved and even uninvestigated, that spur on a pool of resentment and anger and injustice that is growing towards an inevitable boiling over.
As the title song in “All That Jazz” intoned; Everything Old is New, Again.
It would be bad enough if this New Millennium Culture War was confined to our countries’ borders, but thanks to our lack of an administration and the presence of the shit-disturbing idiot at the top, our racial hysteria is blowing up cultures around the globe. While there is an argument to made that this is, in fact, his plan for bringing down culture as we know it, I am forced to wonder what role we have to play in this unfolding global catastrophe.
What power do we have to Resist? We hear the word a lot, we see the Movement on placards at demonstrations but somehow, the mood everywhere that I observe and feel is one of a terminal ennui; a bone-breaking weariness of the soul that makes resistance and change concepts of an era, somewhere in the long-ago-lived 60’s when we were young and full of vigor.
The screen-adept and addicted youth of today’s core seem, as connected as they are, to be disconnected when it comes to how the actions taking place around the world and in their home political gardens are, RIGHT NOW, determining their very futures. How they will live, who they may love, what they may actually DO, depends on their engagement in the process from an even earlier age than when we first rose up. It is incumbent on them to stand, now, and make themselves heard.
But first they need teachers, schools, mentors, parenting and a whole host of related systems to physically force them to think, reason, and find their own opinions. I believe that, given these tools, the youth of today COULD make a huge difference but we need to impress and instill in them the hardened need to disengage from social “media” and really commit to social causes.
Feet on the ground not Fingers into the ether.
Yes, Whoopie Goldberg kicks Janine Pirro off the air. We all know that “judge” Pirro is the water-carrying, race-bating, lackey for the president anyway. Nice optics, good click-bait.
But where are the real conversations about what race looks like in this century? What can we talk about and what is the third rail of a social contract that none of us signed? Can white people use the word “black” or must we, to be perfectly pc, say African American every time when referring to a person or a class of people? Can we even ask the question without being looked at with a jaundiced eye? We have long recognized the slur in using oriental to describe people of Asian heritage but does the word black contain the same ugly baggage or is it merely a descriptor like white? Must we now refer to white folk as Anglo Americans?
Where are the boundaries and how do we know where they are if we cannot have the discussion without ceding our lives, careers, and personalities to a group-think that we don’t understand.
And so, we are back to:
Who Cleans Oprah’s Houses?
Wow. This question, to me, is emblematic of the “talk that shall not be spoken”. But I, for one, am curious. Does she employ Blacks? Latinos? Whites? Others? And just who would an “others” be??? The nebulous but stunningly beautifuls we call mixed-race?
Let’s talk about it….if we can.