*I can’t imagine life without music and entertainment. For African Americans, music and entertainment has always served as the creative outlets for expressing, interpreting, understanding and surviving struggles that are unique to the black experience. And when given the opportunity, I believe it’s important that we support our artistic endeavors.
But unlike many of us, I’ve had my challenges with embracing modes of expressions and portrayals of us that betray black consciousness for the sake of making a profit and getting rich.
For me, black consciousness simply means to be fully committed to: challenging stereotypes, debunking racial and cultural myths, confronting injustices and exposing inequality, embracing an honest account of black history, identifying and addressing the issues that plague our communities, fostering self-love, self-worth and self-respect, honoring our ancestors’ journey, and appreciating the beauty and richness of our heritage, our culture and our racial identity.
In my opinion, this is non-negotiable. It’s a level of consciousness that we don’t have to downplay, be ashamed about nor compromise.
Consequently, I’ve been thinking about the power of mammon and its negative impact upon black consciousness, and how a lot of music and entertainment personalities directly under its influence get used as instruments of exploitation. And for clarity, it’s important to understand that mammon is not money. Mammon is money that has a debasing influence upon us. Some would even consider it to be an idol or the “god of money.” It’s the lust for it, the worship of it and the greed that drives the excessive pursuit of it. It often elicits a brand of behavior that double-crosses black consciousness and the human conscience.
Unfortunately, I have to say that hip hop and black reality TV are genres that lead the way in commercializing degrading, disrespectful and disdainful images of us for a monetary payout presumed to exceed the value of racial pride and responsibility. Simply stated, the quest to get rich and gain notoriety is a higher priority than exemplifying respect for self and for others. The idea that money can buy respect that we haven’t earned is simply a myth.
But people have always pursued riches and fame, and becoming rich as a result of a particular talent or skill is not wrong. However, for many black reality TV and hip hop personalities, they are either detached from black consciousness or don’t realize how important it is not to allow themselves to be characterized as negative stereotypes and superficial individuals preoccupied with getting rich by perpetuating black rage and drama in order to “make a name” for themselves.
It saddens me that we can turn on or tune in to radio stations and television channels that cater to predominantly black urban audiences and partake in some of the most debased characterizations and depictions of African Americans. It gets branded, packaged and promoted as art and entertainment, but oftentimes it’s just a way to mass produce and reinforce racial stereotypes that take us backward instead of forward.
However, I do believe that if we don’t like something, then we don’t have to listen to it or watch it. But I also believe that it’s not “just” music and it’s not “just” entertainment. If images and messages are not building us up, then they’re tearing us down, consciously or subconsciously.
But I’m not naïve enough to think that the majority of these personalities are racially and socially conscious, so it would be unfair to expect them to use their creative outlets for social activism. I have to be fair and realistic. We have a public educational system that favors a more skewed and revisionist view of history, so we don’t get a true account of African or African American history—one that fosters pride, self-respect and empowerment. Most of us don’t know because we were never taught in our homes and in our schools. And they say, “When you know better, then you do better.” And if an individual was never taught to respect and value themselves, then it’s unlikely that they will know how to respect and value others in a recording booth, a music video, onstage or in front of a camera.
I can’t seem to fathom how anyone could have any knowledge about such a brutal and dehumanizing history (slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, lynchings, white supremacy, the violent protests and riots during the Civil Rights Movement), being fine with producing music and entertainment that celebrates and endorses the treatment of each other as less than human beings for public consumption.
Knowing the degree to which our ancestors struggled to survive all manners of humiliation and degradation, it just feels like an act of treason to say this is who we are and this is how we behave, now how can we package it, commercialize it and flaunt the riches we accumulate from it.
History bears witness that the price that was paid was far too high. The lives that were lost were far too many. The sacrifices that were made were far too valuable for us to sit idly by and watch black identity and black culture be hijacked by those who don’t know enough or care enough about it to honor it.
At some point we have to find the strength of character, consciousness and conviction to simply leave the money on the table. We were bought and sold for nearly 300 years. When will we stop selling and auctioning ourselves out to entertainment executives and producers so they can capitalize upon the worst representations of us in order to yield greater ratings and higher earnings?
Dana Stringer is a writer, playwright, poet and activist based in Southern California. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Facebook and Twitter: @danalstringer.