Remember when your mother was about to administer a whipping and
told you, “This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you”?
You didn’t believe it. Nor should you believe it when a successful
African-American firm sells out to a White one while pledging that
after the sale, Black consumers will not get hurt.
If we needed a
reminder, we got a harsh one last week when Black Entertainment
Television announced that it will eliminate “Lead Story,” “BET Tonight
with Ed Gordon” and “Teen Summit.” With one public announcement, BET
became ET—empty television.
Even though I never cared for all the
rump-shaking – and I recognized that BET programming was never aimed at
my generation – I defended the network because even with all of its
shortcomings, BET had a few programs that were unique.
Tonight,” whether hosted by Ed Gordon or Tavis Smiley, was an excellent
outlet for newsmakers and entertainers. “Lead Story,” where I served as
a regular panelist for more than seven years, gave newsmakers—Black and
White—an opportunity to be questioned by top-flight African-American
At least up until moderator Cheryl Martin and
panelist DeWayne Wickham of “USA Today”/Gannett News Service left the
show earlier this year and the regular panelists began appearing
irregularly, it was the only program where Black newsmakers and Black
journalists could regularly, sometimes heatedly, exchange views in an
incisive and substantive manner on what was best for Black America.
Summit” was the only program where the views and insights of Black
teenagers, not those who proclaim to speak for them, were not only
heard, but welcomed.
BET’s weekday news show has been spared, at
least for now. However, there are no guarantees that once the network’s
contract with CBS expires, it won’t go the way of the other three
Unless they are replaced by similar shows—and that’s a
big if—BET will be little more than a Black MTV. There’s nothing wrong
with a Black MTV if we had a Black CBS, as Whites do. Not only do they
have CBS, they have ABC, NBC, CNN, Fox, C-SPAN and much more.
fairness to BET founder Bob Johnson, it’s too much to expect that one
Black network could fill all of the needs of Black America. But I know
how proud Bob was of “Lead Story”—he says it was his favorite
program—“BET Tonight with Ed Gordon” and “Teen Summit.” And when they
were securely on the air—even as the “The Boondocks” comic strip took
regular jabs at the network—African-Americans had a reason to tune in
At least we could tune in to serious programs that
provided perspectives on issues of importance to our community. Now,
there are fewer reasons to let our remotes stop on BET. In fact, if the
news show is removed, there is nothing on the network that would
attract my attention. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this
Some people see it as progress when an African-American firm
is sold to a conglomerate such as Viacom. For Bob Johnson, the
businessman, that is progress, the American Dream. But for most Black
Americans, it’s the American Nightmare. When the few programs on TV
that require us to use what we have from the neck up are taken off the
air, what’s left is indistinguishable from what we see on the White
Sadly, we’re seeing a trend. In addition to BET,
we’ve lost Motown, Johnson Products and even some of our Black funeral
homes. AOL Time Warner has purchased 49 percent of “Essence” magazine
(some have noticed changes there, too) and 100 percent of
Africanna.com. The “Chicago Tribune” owns Blackvoices.com.
Whites becoming a minority in the U.S. in the next 50 years, just as
they already are in the world, they will continue to buy Black-owned
companies. And each time, as we’ve seen with BET, the pattern will be
First, there will be a major announcement proclaiming
how the influx of cash will strengthen the Black company without
changing its basic character. The head of the company will be retained
to run the unit for a specified period, supposedly offering further
assurance that things will not change that much. And after the sale is
completed and Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson don’t show up at the door,
the White-owned “Black” company is viewed in the same light as any
other division—to provide mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money.
Black seller of the firm makes out like a bandit and the Black
community is left dazed, wondering why we were so easily duped.
Poor Substitute for Affirmative Action
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