There’s a trend I’ve noticed amongst educated black people (EBPs) like myself regarding the network Black Entertainment Television (BET). It seems to be cool and chic to express disregard or even disdain for the network and its programming because it “makes black people look bad” allegedly. Aaron McGruder and his team felt so strongly about it they devoted an entire second season episode of The Boondocks to bashing BET and its network head, Debra Lee.
I’ll admit there was a real low point in BET history and it was somewhere around the mid-2000’s when there was literally nothing good on the network. It was post-AJ and Free on 106 & Park and College Hill was raging in full force. That was indeed a dark time yet even then the BET Awards were still a glimmer of hope.
Nowadays, it seems that people take the BET Awards as a time to express how above the network they are. Granted, I don’t believe the hosts have been extremely funny and some of the material could have been better written in recent years, but I honestly feel that way about most award shows.
Have you watched a Grammy or an Academy Award ceremony recently? Those things are painstakingly long, boring and awkward and most times I’m just there for the 3 black people they have present (oh wait 12 Years a Slave happened this year so bump that up to 10).
It seems to be the hip thing to say on social media that you’re watching the BET Awards just to laugh because you never take it seriously or to let everyone know you’re boycotting the network. I’m all for a great boycott. I have several going on myself (here’s looking at you Hobby Lobby). If you’re going to boycott BET for its portrayal of Black people make sure you’re boycotting MTV and Vh1 too.
Vh1 is responsible for ALL seasons of Flava of Love and its spin-offs (I Love New-York, Real Chance of Love and all the other terrible dating shows I watched religiously once). The network is also responsible for Basketball Wives and Love and Hip Hop. Now I know that the majority of the ten videos on 106 & Park consist of some variation of a black man telling other black men how to “move that dough” or “keep their hoes in check.” We truly do need to fix that, but there is no way you’re telling me BET’s programming has ever brought black people as low as Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta. Ever.
Another point in BET’s defense, you have to acknowledge the upswing in content quality these past couple of years. Debra Lee has been doing her best to give the EBPs what they want. With shows Being Mary Jane, Let’s Stay Together, Just Keke, and soon enough Twenties and the mini-series The Book of Negroes, the network is doing its best to upgrade its content and present diverse representations of Black people.
I know we, as a people, are fighting so many flawed and narrow depictions of ourselves by white networks, writers and producers (and yes I know the higher ups in control of BET are, like everything else, white men) so we want the images on our own network to be perfect. I get it, I really do. The only problem with being so stringent on our own network in hopes of perfection is that we’re setting ourselves up for a let down.
We are not perfect. No one is perfect. Therefore depictions of ourselves by ourselves will not be perfect. At the very least they will be well-rounded and multi-dimensional. Mary Jane Paul was a well-written and dynamic character, and at the end of the day I could love her. That’s the most I can ask of any content featuring people of color, make them human.
I’m not saying to support every effort BET makes because of course there are going to be some missteps. Be patient with the network. Applaud its victories and criticize the screw-ups but don’t automatically dismiss something because it’s presented on BET. When you do that, you’re no different than the non-Blacks who write us off because it’s supposedly impossible for us to produce good content when we all know that’s not true.
I’m excited to see where Black Entertainment Television is headed, and I’m intentional about extending the same graces to it as I do to every network or show that features people of color. If I can sit through three seasons of Olivia and Fitz breathing heavily and pining after each other with frowny faces I can support BET as they continue to rebrand their channel.