The Negro Digest(s)

By 20 Aug ’12Colored Commentary

This is, undoubtedly, the worst photograph of Eartha Kitt that has ever been.

“While you wretched, ratchet plebes are watching Basketball Wives, I’m in here reading vintage Jet Magazines on Google Books.” – me, before Love and Hip Hop Atlanta existed.

Every time I get discouraged applying for jobs, I visualize my yet-nonexistent apartmentplace. The furniture is all-teak everything. Midcentury boheme modern. A couch I made myself out of shipping pallets that converts into a daybed. Maybe a daybed instead of a couch. A console stereo. An actual bar cart with highball glasses.

No matter what changes in this home in my head, even when it turns into a split-level rambler filled with kids and pot roasts and steel Kenmore appliances, my walls are postered with 36 x 48 blowups of vintage Jet/Tan/Hue/etc covers. Old school, one b&w photo, 1 spot color. I don’t know what it is about the aesthetic, the headlines, the fact that there were so many different black weeklies in the 1940s-60s. It’s just fascinating.

Immersing oneself in negro pop culture from the times when we were colored really helps put things into perspective. I mean, most people under the age of 40 see the black world pre-1970 as all civil rights, struggle, and Conkalene. Men were men, women were women, and above all else, Negroes were noble. But that isn’t really true. It’s never been true.

See, Negro Weeklies were like the BET/VH1 of the Jim Crow era. Not to minimize Johnson Publications’ contribution to society at all, but it’s true. For all their importance, they were also filled with fluff, celebrity gossip, and every so often a touch of well-oiled ratchetness. It was all lumped in there together… and I doubt anyone complained. Because people needed to know “What Happens to Negro Child Geniuses” just as much as they needed to know that Nat King Cole’s wife was getting drunk at his Paris shows every night.  The Miami Negroes who sued a racetrack over segregated seats had every right to share page space with the ex-shake dancer who came into an inheritance but wouldn’t quit her job as a diner waitress. It was all right there. Where else was it going to be? That’s what I like most about old magazines. They gave you the good, the bad and the crazy without trying to shuttle the latter two under the rug.

So here we are in 2012 and Basketball Wives is the scourge of the earth. Now, I don’t watch a lot of reality TV myself, but I have to say that LHHATL has become my light. Maybe that’s why I can’t hop on the “destructive black images on TV” bandwagon. We ain’t all noble. We should stop holding ourselves to an impossible standard, like those heiffers on Mob Wives don’t scrap, and like Real World hasn’t been a rest haven for hoes since the 90s. “There’s gotta be an end to all these negative portrayals of whites on TV,” said no one ever. Because they aren’t held to that standard. They don’t hold themselves to that standard. Our own diminished self-worth as a people keeps us trapped and looking over our shoulders, afraid that someone will see — see one of us fight and think we’re all violent. See one of us gold dig and think we’re all gold diggers. See one of us cripwalk at the Olympics and think we all… white people don’t know what the hell a cripwalk is, y’all. Let it go.

We’ve grown so accustomed to viewing ourselves through an external lens that we can’t define ourselves. So we pick up the definition that’s placed conveniently in front of us: you are only as good as the worst of you. And we’ve internalized it until the best of us just cancel out. It’s so brilliantly insidious that we do it to ourselves without prompting. On the surface it seems well-intentioned but it’s stifling. It’s limiting. Above all else it’s unrealistic.

It’s like… pardon my language, but the day that niggas are free to be niggas is the day we will truly be free. I really mean that. There’s a space in the world for Steebie J and  the Yin Yang Twins like there’s space for Stevie Wonder and Iyanla Vanzant. We’re just people. I’m all about making the community the best it can be and not accepting the unacceptable, but if they can have Honey Boo Boo, we can keep Waka Flocka Flame. It’s only fair. We have range and we should allow ourselves that range. I think the problems are twofold:

  1. there aren’t enough positive images to offset the negative and create a balance
  2. 
many secretly want what the  “worst” have, so that’s ultimately what we become.

The first is pretty simple, and I’ll give that much. There really aren’t enough positive black images in popular mainstream media. We need to do a better job of creating and supporting them. However, that leads to the second issue: what we choose to emulate and propagate (and therefore support, even subconsciously) are the negative images. Going back to my earlier comparison, no white girl with scruples is trying to dress like Snooki. Why would she? That’s a figure for entertainment, not emulation. Yet 89% of black women own at least one pair of those giant hoop earrings with the spikes like Evelyn. I mean, if you don’t want to be identified with the behavior, why take on the trappings and persona? I don’t see too many people checking for Kerry Washington’s Scandal wardrobe though. Or Oprah’s. And if Michelle Obama can’t even get y’all into Chico’s, I don’t think anyone can.

So yeah… I don’t have any idea what to do about it. There’s nothing to be done. I’ma just keep reading my Jets and wondering if science really can cure the third sex.

And watching Joseline to get my answer.

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