In (Semi) Defense of Sheila Johnson: The Real Culprit Behind BET is US!
For those who may reside under a rock, Sheila Johnson is one of the wealthiest women in the country, the first Africa -American woman to be an owner or partner in three professional sports franchises (the Washington Capitals, theWashington Wizards and the Washington Mystics), a humanitarian and the former wife of BET founder Bob Johnson.
Johnson recently remarked that she is ashamed of BET and doesn’t want her own kids watching it. She stated that BET may be contributing to the spread of AIDS in the black community by promoting raunchy, unprotected sex in rap videos. She told The Daily Beast that the channel was originally started to be “the Ebony magazine on television.” She mentions that the channel started out with a variety of public affairs programming, including Teen Summit. She felt the video revolution changed the game, saying she felt pressured by recording artists to show their videos even though she didn’t like the way women were being portrayed. OK, whatever. Regardless of her feelings about what was being shown, BET showed it and made about a kajillion dollars doing it. And, personally, I have no problem with that. Last I checked, this was America.
What I do have a problem with is this notion that BET is responsible for the black communities social ills, that BET owners “sold out.”
Dr. Boyce Watkins states in response to Johnson:
“…in order to fully convince me that you are seriously remorseful of your work with BET, you’d have to give back the fortune you earned by trading in the futures of our children.” Are you f*cking kidding me? So BET is responsible for the futures of our children now?
Articles like Watkins’ perpetuate this notion that we all are mindless zombies with no responsibility for our own actions and our own children. We can be led by the nose by any company to do anything, and it’s all their fault for negatively influencing us. It’s the eternal victimhood argument. Has anyone ever stopped to think of the African American consumer’s role in this? Quick lesson: In order for BET to make money, WE HAVE TO WATCH. If we are not to be considered by the world as crybaby victims forever and always, we must stand up and take responsibility for our actions.
Is it BET’s fault if you let your kid’s watch inappropriate imagery? Is it BET’s fault that hip-hop has become nothing but a hotbed of thuggery and misogyny? Is it BET’s fault that you are not involved in your child’s education and career goals? And, most importantly, is it BET’s fault if our black asses won’t turn it off? As a community, we have refused to stand up and demand better, so we deserve what we get.
You’re going to tell me that a race that survived slavery, Jim Crow and degregation has been totally felled by a bullshit cable channel? The argument is embarrassing. BET is like the low-hanging fruit of the black-people-blame-game. If we can’t construct an intelligent argument regarding social factors affecting our neighborhoods, just blame it on BET. Personally, I think Ray J’s show, ‘For the Love of Ray J,’ has some of the worst depictions of African American men and women I’ve seen in years, yet we sit quietly by and the ratings soar. So I guess that’s VH1’s fault? Would we dare ask Viacom to give all their fortune to the black community in order to make amends for us watching their shows? Lunacy.
In the past, BET has had to eliminate public affairs programming, not because they hate Negroes, but because, WE DON’T WATCH THEM. If we don’t watch, ratings are low and no money is made. Look at movies like ‘Akeelah and the Bee’ or ‘The Great Debaters,’ both were excellent films that promoted positive images of African Americans. But they made no money, because we didn’t run out and see them like we did Madea (who we also complain about). Yes, it is about money, and until the African American community demonstrates that we are willing to spend our money on something other than negative imagery or caricatures, then that’s what we’ll get.
BET contributes to the spread of AIDS because it promotes promiscuity? Isn’t it faaaaaar more likely that the destruction of the family unit, the lack of adequate parental supervision, lack of adequate health education for our young people, and lack of parental involvement in our schools have a larger impact than some damn BET? Watkins stated they “traded in the collective consciousness of our children in exchange for a billion-dollar war chest.” Last I checked, our communities and families were responsible for forming the collective consciousness of our children. And if one channel (a cable one at that) can achieve such a feat, than we should be collectively ashamed of ourselves.
Sheila Johnson and Bob Johnson and BET are no more guilty for our community’s ills than every one of us. We seem content to sit and talk about how terrible BET is, how terrible this is, how terrible that is. But when was the last time you called your cable company and asked them to block it from your television? When was the last time you boycotted a record label because of the images in an artist’s video? When was the last time you told your children they did not have permission to watch it. I don’t like Tiny and Toya. I don’t watch it. I don’t like Ray-J’s Whorefest, so I don’t watch it. I don’t like that dumb ass Ghost Whisperer, so I dont watch it. Why is it so complicated?
We live in a capitalist society. If we stop watching, they will stop making money and change the formula to something that will. If we act like positive TV programming is important, and support it, the sponsors will come. If we act like positive music is important and refuse to support music with negative messages or destructive images, they won’t make it. Acting like positive behavior is important in our own lives and communities are the key to changing this framework of media trash. But we can’t continue to give Ray-J sky-high ratings and then call Viacom the devil. It just doesn’t work that way.
The Johnsons owe us nothing. In fact, I think we do ourselves a disservice by condemning someone for promulgating negative images when we were the ones too stupid to reject them and turn them off. We got to do better.