“What I’m saying is that there are known knowns and that there are known unknowns. But there are also unknown unknowns; things we don’t know that we don’t know.” –Gin Rummy, Boondocks, 2005
Does that quote make any sense? Maybe, maybe not, but the larger point is it makes you think. It makes you re-read the sentence a few times, think about it, analyze it, either criticize or laud it, and probably even think about it some more. The sentence could mean so many things – its all about what you take from it and how you apply it to your daily life. That’s the beauty of statements like this, which for 2+ seasons now have been inserted into episodes of The Boondocks. Its been a thought provoking series that has produced its share of critics and pundits, culturally conscious critiques and scholarly soliloquies, as well hood ni**a theories and rants. The Boondocks has been a polarizing staple in black America, because we often cling to mainstream media such as this – we’re not privy to much of it. We either love it or hate it, but the point is that we talk about and discuss it. My question is – why don’t we talk about and discuss things that are thrown at us in our daily lives, the same way we discuss this satirical series?
At this point, people expect greatness from Aaron McGruder, or at least some standard of excellence or due diligence that he owes the black community. He’s a voice of reason, dark comedy, and hard social commentary. He’s provoked us to discuss everything from politics and hip-hop, to Uncle Toms (Ruckuses) and pimps (named Slickback). And when he delivers something we deem as sub-par, or even crossing the imaginary boundary we’ve given him to keep his outside the box commentary and critiques confined within, we hold him to the fire. Sunday’s (May 23rd) episode of the Boondocks was not the best of the series by far, but it garnered such emotional and passionate reactions that I was both pleasantly surprised and unfortunately disappointed. Some people got the satirical message that the Boondocks and McGruder try to convey, others missed the boat completely. If they did get the satirical message and didn’t respect or appreciate it, the sentiment seemed to be that it was overboard, not focused, went too far, was flat out ignorant, and the like. Everyone became a cultural critic in 140 words or less, and I loved that. We need more critical thinking on serious issues in our community (and in turn on Twitter – we use it more than any other demographic… we should put it to good use). But people were calling for it to be everything from banned to censored. There was a major uproar and concern that McGruder’s message was just lazy and ignorant, and there was a huge thought bubble over my head that said… “GUCCI?”
I’m all for social commentary and holding our messengers to a high standard. Aaron Mcgruder has a powerful platform and needs to always keep that in mind, as well as the standard we have for him. At the same time, we need to keep something in mind…
Hold Boondocks and similar vehicles to the fire, but while we’re doing that we need to hold all of our mainstream messengers of and to the black community to the fire as well.
Black folk love to talk about what our elite voices are or are not talking about. I personally took Rev. Jesse Jackson and other older leaders in the black community to task (with all due deference and respect) due to what I perceived as being out of touch with what the young black community needs and wants. Hell was raised when Bill Cosby criticized black parenting practices and lower class black folk back in 2004 and again in a book in 2007. We tend to get riled up when our thought leaders and scholars aren’t meeting our standards. But we’re usually disagreeing with the substance of the message, not the intent. We know they have our best interests at heart, even if personal gain and opportunity (Rev. Al Sharpton) may be perceived as more important than societal progress.
We should be questioning the intent of other messengers to and of our community as well though. Why don’t we criticize and analyze the actual messages in hip-hop and r&b songs? Why don’t we argue that substance, and why doesn’t it rile us up? Why don’t we analyze and critique the quality and substance of our black television and movie messages more? It seems as if the standard has dropped so low for the messages that are conveyed via our music and reality shows, that we don’t even think to call it to task anymore. Its just what we expect, and it doesn’t even cause debate. The closest we’ve gotten as of late was questioning the substance of Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3 lyrics, but that was mainly because of an intense infatuation with the Illuminati and Jay-Z’s possible connections to that and devil-worshiping. When Frankie and Neffe are given an even more ghetto spinoff of an already ghetto reality show, we don’t even bat an eye. It seems like Flavor Flav and Ray-J have gotten a combined 27 shows from VH1, and that ladies and gentlemen is a lot of coonin’, shuckin’, and jiving (not to mention begging, crying, and casual sex). Combine those
representations of black males on television with the black female representations of Nicki Minaj, the Real Housewives of Atlanta, and The Basketball Wives, and we find it necessary to call for The Boondocks to cut it out and get off the air? Seems like The Boondocks is the only thing that gets us talking about more than sex, dating, athletes, music, and black men and women pursuing all of those things. If we’re going to knock Aaron McGruder’s hustle, lets knock everybody’s hustle. Call them all to task – we need to direct our criticism and lack of support in the right direction.
And don’t get it twisted… I enjoy a Jeezy verse (and mixtape, and album, and entire catalog) just like the next man, but I also recognize his (and other trap rappers alike) negative influence on urban youth (and the forever young). I think we need to understand that on a support scale of Flavor Flav to Barack Obama, we need to have McGruder and The Boondocks closer to the latter, and Lil Wayne closer to the former. We get so caught up in the celebrity, and the allure, and the beats and the rhymes and the image, that we blindly accept the message and in turn, make it cool for black youth to accept those messages as well. And while I can distinguish between trappin’ and rappin’, my little brother can’t.
Because Aaron McGruder has given us a superb body of work with his first two seasons of his groundbreaking series, we expect him to be above ignorance. Even though his show is satirical, many people don’t understand the concept of satire and its intended effects. It is indeed on him to keep that in mind when he’s delivering episodes to black (and white) America. But we expect great things from him, and we need to start expecting great things from all of our messengers, not just the ones we think should be doing them. Lets make them all do better. Nicki Minaj has clearly stated that her persona is nothing more than a character. More (young) black people will be affected by her than Uncle Ruckus… so where are our calls to ban her music videos? BET made a misguided attempt to ban a recent Teairra Mari video, but with all of their other videos I’m not even sure where to go with that one. The point is though, that we do have the power to control what gets put out there, and its OK to knock the hustle of people we deem to hold a social responsibility to our community. You don’t want Uncle Ruckus to say “nigga” 10x over and spit racist rhetoric? I don’t want my little sister repeating raps about putting her private area on people’s sideburns. That’s whats on the radio as of late… they don’t even respect us, because we don’t respect ourselves. If we’re not going to critique and protest about it, then the standard will continue to drop to the point where we have no threshold by which to say “look… this is bull.” Hell, I bet Cathy Hughes even used the beat to Bedrock in one of her Radio One rants about social and political accountability. It seems we’re all confused about what we want to protest and what we want to support. She’s complaining about the way politicians are treating black radio… but clearly she must not hear enough complaints about how she’s treating black radio herself.
And I know some people do call these folks to fire, some people do critique and analyze, some people do have a higher standard of expectations for our messengers. But not enough people do. The reality is that the “conscious” among us are aware. Its the walking unconscious though, the unknown unknowns, that I’d love to see do more critical thinking on the messages they’re receiving. And I’d love to see the conscious do more connecting and conveying their consciousness. Mainstream messages in the black community are what they are, because we let them be. We let other people control our messages, with no regard for the outcome. My fear is that while its all cool now, we’ll end up paying it backward years from now.
I just hope that we keep in mind that despite what Jay-Z said, you CAN knock the hustle. We just have to make sure we’re knocking the right (meaning wrong) hustles.
Catch the FRESH debate here.