The Black List

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:12

    While recently browsing the video clips on Comedy Central’s site, I came across an oldie but a goodie: Chappelle’s Show. Feeling nostalgic, I clicked on “Reparations 2003,” a sketch where Dave Chappelle imagines what would happen if black people actually received the trillion-dollar compensation advocated by some as an apology for slavery. Having seen the clip before, I prepared myself for some surefire laugh-out-loud laughs. But they never came.

    Jokes about black folks buying truck loads of menthol cigarettes, driving the price of chicken up to $600 a bucket and starting 8,000 record labels in one hour elicited barely a chuckle. And it wasn’t because I had seen the skit about a million times before either. Funny enough, watching the scenes actually made me feel a touch uncomfortable. After a few minutes it hit me why: My blackness wouldn’t let me laugh.

    Damn you, Barack Obama!

    Back in the day, Dave Chappelle was the favorite black person of white liberals everywhere. His comedy was infused with enough social commentary to offer an insight into the souls of black folks. However, in the space of four years, the improbable and spectacular rise of our new President-elect, Barack Obama, has made the once-relevant Chappelle seem about as appropriate to the times as Sarah Palin teaching a geography class. Now I know I’m not the only black person who watched Chappelle’s Show alongside his non-black friends, snickering at a cast of characters whose diversity ranged from a loveable crackhead to an angry black woman who ends up in prison because she was keeping it “too real.” I’m also pretty certain I’m not the only one who listened to his white friends nervously repeat Chris Rock’s famous routine about the difference between black people and niggers, eagerly waiting for them to slip and actually say the word “nigger” out loud.

    But after a lifetime of giggling and guffawing at the antics of black comedians, am I the only one who is scared that Frederick Douglass might roll up out the grave and backhand them if they were to even glance at a DVD of Soul Plane?

    The presence of Obama on the national stage has led the mainstream media, long distrusted by black America, to fill its programming with a more diverse array of black voices—CNN, PBS and Fox News regularly feature anchors and opinion-makers like Donna Brazile, Juan Williams, Suzanne Malveaux and Tavis Smiley. Spike Lee has been on MSNBC’s Morning Joe so many times I’m starting to think that he and conservative co-host Joe Scarborough might have a hot lil’ interracial bromance going on.

    Even D.L. Hughley, one of the original Kings of Comedy and former host of that bamboozlement that was BET’s Comic View, has taken a page out of Jon Stewart’s handbook and now hosts his own news-oriented show on CNN. Both Oprah Winfrey and Chris Rock campaigned for Bammers in South Carolina, a state where blacks make up 40 percent of registered Democrats. And when he walked away from a multi-million dollar contract with Comedy Central, Dave Chappelle said he did it because he didn’t want to continue making a product that exploited racial stereotypes for corporate profit.

    I guess the revolution has been televised after all.  

    It’s not hyperbole to say the election of this one man, this black man represents our most audacious hope that we as a nation have of ridding ourselves of the many tried-and-true stereotypes of my people—performed by my people. There are words, concepts, actions, even people that are no longer acceptable in this new world order and unless you wanna miss out on the ‘Bama Bandwagon, you better plug in, turn on and get right.  

    To help you out, I have highlighted just a few of these pre-Obama endangered species. It won’t be easy saying good-bye to these cultural touchstones that have brought us so many laughs over the years, but I say let us begin the mourning process now. So without further delay, I give you…The Black List.


    The Tragic Mulatto: The Halle Berry Syndrome In literature, the tragic mulatto is an archetypal character of both black and white ancestry who, because of his/her mixed race, is constantly buffeted by the demands of two warring cultures and after a sad, sad life comes to a dramatic end. In popular society, the tragic mulatto is often played out in our fascination with the trials of famous mixed babies like Halle Berry and Tiger Woods—trapped between worlds, constantly searching for identity.

    In reality, you would be hard-pressed to find a black person in America who wasn’t also partially white. That’s mostly due to slave owners forcing themselves upon black women (but also due to some good old-fashioned consensual Jungle Fever). Henry Louis Gates Jr., the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University, once told me that by his estimates more than 90 percent of black Americans carry European DNA. Being mixed doesn’t make a black person any more special or any more tragic than the next black person. It just makes them…well, black.  And with the approaching inauguration of a biracial president, that mulatto figure looks to be more transcendent than tragic.


    Nigger: The Ridiculousness of Jay-Z Fee! Fie! Fo! Figga! If I hear one more person use the word nigger, I might have to whoop that nigga’s—and here I intend the word to mean “a person of any race regarded as ignorant”—ass! White people have long known not to use this one, but too many black people must not have gotten that memo. Forget the history of the word; black comics and rappers use it so casually that Jay-Z thought it cute to combine his name with it and produce the ridiculous moniker “Jigga.” Well, guess what brotha, it ain’t so cute when you factor in that the largest consumers of your music are young white boys who think that just because they buzz their hair real low and rock a couple gold chains and a flat-brimmed baseball cap they can use the word as casually as you do. If white America can adjust to calling a black man Commander-in-Chief, I think we can start addressing ourselves a bit differently, too.


    African-American vs. Black: The Confusion Is Barack Obama the nation’s first African-American president, or is he the first black president? Depends on whom you ask. The question wasn’t settled election night, with reporting our first black president-elect and the New York Times reporting that we had the first African American to be named the 44th President of the United States. (It gets even more confusing since the term is hyphenated when used as an adjective and not when used as a noun.)

    A 2008 study released by Radio One Inc., the study’s sponsor, and Yankelovich, the Chapel Hill-based research firm, sampled the views of 30 million of the nation’s black people, the largest-ever study of black America, and the results were surprising when it comes to how black folks want to be labeled. While 44 percent prefer to be called black, 42 percent opt for African American and the remaining percent claimed to have no preference. So, rejoice white people! No need to be confused as to which is the more polite term to use in public, because they both appropriately describe the same people.


    That’s so Gay: The Betrayal of our Civil Rights Legacy California just passed Proposition 8, overturning the landmark ruling of that state’s Supreme Court, which granted marriage-equality to same-sex couples. Somehow, black voters seem to have managed to emerge as one of the villains of this setback for the right of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. I say somehow, because no matter how you slice it, it’s not the fault of the black community—African Americans made up only 8 percent of the California electorate and while their votes definitely contributed, it took a whole lotta white folks voting with H8 in their hearts for this to happen. But even though I will never subscribe to the fallacy that black folk are more homophobic than other racial groups, I will say that it does make my stomach ill to know that as we witness the realization of the civil rights struggles of Martin, we were also part of the reason that deferred the civil rights dreams of Milk. We owe ourselves better than this convenient bigotry.


    Al and Jesse: The TV Years As author and Manhattan Institute senior fellow, John McWhorter recently pointed out in Forbes magazine that the “illusion that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are black America’s leaders is now officially dispelled.” I’ll take it a step further—their prolific careers in television are now officially over. It is no longer acceptable for major media outlets to interview the good Reverends every time something pertaining to the black community arises. So no more CNN, no more ABC, no more MSNBC. There’s just one exception: If FOX News wanted to sponsor the O’Reilly-Sharpton Hour, I’d definitely watch.


    CPT: The Excuse For those of you who don’t know, CPT stands for Colored People’s Time, or the tendency of people of color to show up late to work and important engagements. The joke has always been that black folk had to show up on time to those cotton fields for 300 years, so we’ve earned the right to be a few minutes late here and there. But just to let you know…when President George Bush hosted Michelle and Barack at the White House last week, the Obamas arrived 14 minutes ahead of schedule.

    No more excuses, black people. None. 


    Soul Food: The Movie… the Cautionary Tale In case you haven’t seen this gem of a film (starring Vanessa Williams and Vivica A. Fox), let me give you a quick synopsis: A black family is led by an aging matriarch named Big Mama who keeps the family close by gathering them every Sunday for a huge dinner of fried chicken, smothered pork chops, black eyed peas, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, sweet potato pie, ham hocks, chitterlings, cornbread and other staples of Southern cuisine. Big Mama eventually—surprise, surprise—develops diabetes, lapses into a coma and dies. Then the family almost runs out of money and is on the verge of selling the family home until they magically find thousands and thousands of dollars stashed away in the crazy uncle’s television. The next week, the family eats the same food that just killed Big Mama. The End.

    No one buys organic. No one eats whole grains and avoids high-fructose corn syrup. No one hires a financial planner and invests the crazy uncle’s money. Nope, just being black and soulful is enough to solve our community’s problems. Ugh. I’m not a fan of government censorship, but if Bammers could find a way to ban this 1997 movie, I’d be all for it. And while he’s at it, he should push for a special excise tax, similar to the levied against cigarettes and booze, on all future Tyler Perry movie ticket purchases.


    Crack Head II: The Rise and Fall of Ghetto Fabulousity Black literature has fallen on hard times (unless Oprah deems a Toni Morrison novel worthy of purchase), and has been replaced by hip-hop lit—trashy romance novels with thugs saving sistahs from the projects with steamy sexcapades. But now it’s not going to be so easy to celebrate ghetto culture in the printed word. Street Lit books like Crack Head II, The Hood Rats and Stained Cotton (all actual titles) have seen a rise in growth while serious fiction written by black authors has been in steady decline. Somehow, the South Bronx Bitches and their infamous drug rings won’t feel so sexy to women when they can see a man of color wearing a suit and making speeches to world leaders.


     The Black List isn’t about being politically correct but about being on the right side of history. It’s about a nerdy lil’ black boy listening to Beethoven and Beyoncé. It’s about a black woman not being afraid to be an aggressive in business lest she be categorized as an angry black girl. It’s about black people taking responsibility for the actions and inactions of our community. It’s about my people, my revolutionary people, carrying ourselves once again with a degree of dignity equal to the momentous events to which all Americans are witness. After all…who needs reparations when we have each other?