The Black List

Filed in Everwhatever

I’m watching Lee Daniels on HBO’s The Black List 3, and I’m struck by one thing he said:

“There’s an African American President, there’s Oprah, and then there’s…Us. I tell stories about Us.”

See, this is my major beef with a whole lotta the Black folks who don’t necessarily speak for us, but will sometimes talk like they do. There seems to be some sort of disconnect between what “regular” Black people do and what happens to the outliers. What puzzles me most is the threshold between “regular” and “outlier.” To use television families, I think many of us believe that Black people writ large are closer to the Evanses than we are to the Huxtables. And while it’s not quite in style to act like there aren’t any Huxtable families any more, it’s still okay to act like they’re Halley’s Comet.

While I can understand the “whatever you do to the least of these” philosophy that tends to accompany these types of projections, I don’t like to see what seems like self-negation. If a person has to act like he doesn’t exist in order to call attention to someone else’s plight, or to perhaps restate it more generously, take the focus off the possibilities he has enjoyed in order to highlight the “real” Us, is disingenuous. It’s someone who has done well but believes himself to be an outlier claiming that someone who is an outlier in the opposite direction is a more authentic representation.

I call false. The Black middle class is a lot more robust than many of us give it credit for being. I think a big part of my shift to the ideological center happened when I realized that I wasn’t as much an aberration as I had previously believed.

On The Black List 1, I saw something else that’s not as much an aberration as some folks would have us believe. Among some populations, there is the mistaken notion that Al Sharpton, to name a name, does not critique the excesses of Black popular culture. False. Even without making a big production of speaking about any specific artist, he actually went at the whole justification for certain genres of rap. But then, he always has.

I am kinda waitin to see if they’re gonna put a name-brand Black centrist or conservative on there, though.



11 Responses to “The Black List”
  1. DarkStar says:

    I haven’t seen the show, but your comments stand by themselves. Again, eye 2 eye.

  2. brotherbrown says:

    It’s an interesting point. I went to a black college, where most of the myths of the black community are dispelled, and some are confirmed. ;o) What I mean is that in terms of academic preparation, while there may not be an Ivy League-caliber black college, students who graduate tend to have the academic discipline to earn post graduate degrees at a high rate. But more importantly, black college graduates know a hell of a lot of other black college graduates just as smart, cunning and capable as they are, so it’s easy to imagine a robust black middle class. In 2009, I reconnected with a lot of friends due to facebook, and surely enough, all these people are stable and steady.

    I should acknowledge there are some famous black conservatives from black colleges, namely Armstrong Williams and La Shawn Barber, both from SCSC, so maybe all I just said was crap. :D But really, I need to check out the show, too.

  3. DarkStar says:

    Wait, are you watching television again, Avery?

  4. DarkStar says:

    BB, for me the eye opening moments were Usenet (soc.culture.african.american). It was a “community” at one point so we had a “face 2 face” meeting. Getting all of the different perspectives forever altered my world view and made me accelerate my critical look at the media and Blacks as well as our own attitudes. Especially when I spent the weekend at Martha’s Vineyard at ONE of the homes on the island of someone I met on Usenet.

    It also brought shame to me, because in my own extended family I have doctors, nurses, educators, engineers, business owners…

    • Avery says:

      yeah, the snowstorm and my old lady tag teamed me. i still don’t watch too much new stuff, but i been re-viewing my sanford & son collection, tryina find the first appearance of Aunt Esther and see if there’s a correlation between Richard Pryor and Paul Mooney writing that episode and the appearance of the word “nigger.”

      well, she got it so i do kinda pay attention during This Modern Family or whatever it’s called.

  5. Ron Miller says:

    Got turned on to your blog by the Booker Rising website. Keep up the good work!


    Huntingtown, MD

  6. MIB says:

    I understand perfectly what Daniels said. American culture’s narrators tend to define The Black Experience around individual anomalies, e.g.; Obama, Michael Vick, Whitney Houston, Condi Rice, rather than acknowledge we’re just like ‘White’ people in terms of our diversity. Two, Black people — in our persistent neurosis — spend our time alternating between love and hate of a Black ideal. Look at how often we get caught up in conversations about whether so-and-so is truly representing. Av’s doing it with his reaction to Daniels and The Black List.

    Come to think of it, The Black List seems trivial to me. Who is its target audience? It’s not like I didn’t know Black individuals excel in all sorts of endeavors. I suspect most viewers feel the same as me.

    As I get older, I’m becoming more and more disappointed with the failure of Black Folks Who Ought to Know Better to self-actualize Blackness; to define (or, redefine) ‘Black’ identity in terms consistent with a free and productive people. Daniels is correct in suggesting we begin letting go of the notion of Black as a novelty.

    • Avery says:

      to me, the limitation on what daniels said wouldn’t be so problematic if the ‘Us’ he tells stories about weren’t primarily ones with extreme problems. for all the melodrama, tyler perry tells stories about fairly regular Black people — and i’m not even a tyler perry fan. thing is, i don’t think he would even attempt to differentiate between “them-Us’ and ‘Us-Us.’ (and his pictures are problematic, too.) daniels, on the other hand, tends to tell stories about Black folks in extreme conditions. and that’s all well and good. that’s his right. but don’t try to sell it like that’s ‘Us.’ It may be some of Us, but it ain’t Us, any more than it would be valid to point at Oprah or Obama and say they’re us.

  7. MIB says:

    Well, Av, the main difference between an exceptional dramatic piece — as with Daniels’ ‘Precious’ — and your random Tyler Perry film is the former features a protagonist who confronts extreme circumstances. That’s a defining feature of a well-crafted drama, regardless of its writer/director’s identity.

    But to be real, there’s room for both movies off the ‘hero mill’ and authentic tales of heroic struggle. As Daniels implies, there are too few of the latter from Af-Am artists with genuine Af-Am perspectives. I find that ironic because it’s the stories of the Preciouses that are far more commonplace than conventional wisdom suggests. And I’m not speaking of the actual story line in ‘Precious’, but of the moral the film represents.

    Maybe we shouldn’t look at every Black film, comedy, song, work of art as an all-encompassing commentary on Blackness.

  8. blackink says:

    “Maybe we shouldn’t look at every Black film, comedy, song, work of art as an all-encompassing commentary on Blackness.”

    Yeah, I think that’s absolutely the key. I don’t really know what Daniels meant when he was referring to “us.” It could have been black folks, in general. It could have been the range of people that fall somewhere from Obama to Precious.

    I guess I’d have to hear Daniels clarify that point. Hell, I’d need to watch “The Black List” period. But Daniels has a flair for hyperbole, so that comment really could have been a throwaway or he really thinks that his stories encompass the breadth of the so-called black experience.

    Nice post, regardless.

  9. Cobb says:

    Funny I was just coming at it from a different perspective after a hefty blatherfest over at Respectable Negroes about how many ‘black conservatives’ are another ‘them-us’. I cop to having been that for a minute primarily because at first it was something of a provocative novelty (to most of the people I interacted with). Now it’s so boring I don’t often even bother. I’m ambivalent about my ambivalence – but even I have to admit that Cobb is a character. We all wear the mask but how long will it last?

    So I basically wrote out what I’ve been thinking for a long time but never really articulated – that the whole black conservative thing gets outsized recognition just like the whole ‘youre so articulate’ thing and the ‘specialness’ of those who ‘do for the community’. There’s nothing so special about the thing being done – it is what it is, but there’s this whole contra-racist narrative that hypes everything that doesn’t hew to the stereotype, and that’s just as tired as the stereotype itself. At least it is for me, because really, if you actually did believe that blacks can do X, why would you call somebody black who does it a role-model?

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