We are Not a Monolithic People But…

Ebony’s EIC Kierna Mayo is fierce and ringing the alarm in every way she knows to wake us! Are you woke?

EIC@kiernamayo (via FB) on the November issue: “Here’s what I’ll say: this was not an easy decision. But I believe with everything that our collective healing (from this and all traumas) is tied to baring truths, confronting selves, and dismantling crutches. We aim to uplift. However, sometimes before you rise up, you break down. I invite each of you, mixed feelings and all, to truly READ this issue. Listen,@ebonymag has a 70-year-old history and you’d be surprised to know how tame this cover is in many respects–especially when compared with some of what the magazine has addressed in the past. We won’t stop being maverick because it makes some uncomfortable. The times are calling. Too much is at stake. Thank you to everyone with an opinion. Informed debate is healthy and we need more of it. We/I have very thick skin, so say what you must. But know this: I love you, Black people. And Ebony does too.”

Much is being written about Ebony’s decision to address the Bill Cosby allegations, the impact it has had on his legacy and our feelings about The Cosby Show. What strikes me is that many of the conversations come back to one truth. Like any group we are not monolithic. We don’t all think, act or speak in unison, so why do we have to support a brother or sister simply because we are a member of the same race. We are not a monolithic people, but there are some truths we must confront.

First, let’s stop conflating the person and the product. This is difficult because we live in a branding culture where these things are often purposely conflated. It is called The Cosby Show not The Huxtable Show. We like that singer because she is nice and sexy, we like that athlete because he is strong and philanthropic, we like that writer because she supports black causes, we like that comedian because he is from our city… These celebrities work hard to create and maintain an image that may or may not be who they truly are, so we should enjoy their products but don’t confuse the person with the product or image. AND Stop thinking we know these celebrities. We DON’T and that is alright. We can still enjoy their products.

Second, it is important that we understand the messages delivered to us via TV/movies, marketing and branding because it is as important as how we are policed and campaigned to during voting season. I wish every middle and high schooler had to do an age appropriate project on what covert and overt messages the tv shows (where we top in viewership but remain underrepresented), games, clothes and music they like are sending. We need our children to be awake!

This is trending on black twitter because it is at the epicenter of issues that are difficult for many black folk to contend: black men being incarcerated, mental illness, rape, sexuality and black success. The black community has blindly supported black men through almost anything, even alleged murder. But how do we support our ‘tv father’ through this? Should we?

Third, for far too long we have bought into thinking and messaging that hasn’t served our best interests: respectability politics, blind racial support and following leaders simply because they are tied to the church.  For me this timely cover is a return to a time when brave and thoughtful writers spoke truth to power and to the people. I am not ashamed to say that I have not subscribed to Ebony or Essence in many, many years because they were not voicing messages that spoke to my conscious life. So thank you Ebony for reclaiming the powerful mantle magazines held in our community. I look forward to looking into the mirror you are holding-up for us and the much-needed push you are providing for us to examine the issues.

Maybe the conversation Ebony began will eradicate the respectability politics of our parents’ generation. Black Lives Matter activists and others are dismantling it because it has not worked! Too many dead black bodies, have shown us this truth. So let’s not lose the comfort and laughs The Cosby Show brought us, but don’t let it avert our eyes from the truth about the man and the show. A smile, a nice suit and hard work won’t get you what you deserve and we don’t have to support alleged pedophiles, rapists or addicts to enjoy their talents and gifts. To go even further, if their acts are intolerable, we have every right to disregard their music, shows and games without giving-up our black or humanity card!

Too much of our history has been erased, fabricated or told through revisionists’ eyes, so I do hope The Cosby Show (1984) survives because it is an important part of our television history. Together with the Diahann Carroll show Julia (1968), The Jeffersons (1975), Good Times (1979), The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990) and Blackish (2014), it represents many tv firsts and an important touchstone for generations of viewers. The Cosby Show is part of a legacy, that has given birth to Shonda Rhimes, Lee Daniels, Ava Duvernay  and countless others who are writing stories about us and for us.

Now, I have got to run so I can purchase this issue of Ebony which is my first in many years, and I hope not my last.

Originally Posted October 17, 2015

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