At the store we stopped by on our way to my Mama-in-law’s, I saw a diverse snapshot of people. An inter-racial gay couple who were both very tall, an Italian mother and her daughter, a few white employees, a mixture of humans milling about the aisles selecting last minute purchases for their Thanksgiving feasts. Every person I saw greeted me with smiles and warm wishes which I firmly returned to them. I felt so alive with happiness that I wished I could hug everyone I saw. I even commented this to Ben (my husband) as we got into our car and finished our journey. I felt amazing.
My beautiful in-laws are avid fans of local station news/sports/weather and keep the litany in the background all day long. The same newscast at noon gets a tad of refresher before being the 6 o’clock news and then the 11PM news. In between these news segments/shows were, what felt like hours of commercials. This is where I noticed something keenly off.
There was not a single local ad played on the station that had any people of color. The homogenized version of society was played out with white families, white men, white children dancing around with extra money in their hands to go pay homage to the golden calf shopping centers. Occasionally there would be a non-threatening black woman with VERY natural hair to demonstrate how very black she was (it felt this way…cartoonish in appearance to make her feel safer?) but not a single black man appeared in any of the local commercials. In fairness, the national ads (Straight-talk phones, for example) showed a knowledgeable black man with no sense of humor, but not any of the local ads had many black people at all.
Every show that was on the station had all white characters, many without even a “token”. I said out loud, “That can’t be right.” As the evening progressed I heard comments referring to the “needy black folk” as only those, “Who probably didn’t want to work anyway,” followed by the subsequent “Amen corner” rolling with the praise Jesus commentary.
Before you think I’m judging, please understand where I get this visual. My Uncle was a bit…shall we say…passionate about his faith for quite a while. He would attend church 7 days a week, sometimes twice a day. As kids, my brothers and I found it completely reasonable to want to tag along. We witnessed some incredible things while traveling to the back hills churches in Lake of the Ozarks. Speaking in tongues, rolling in the aisles, snot blisters the size of basketballs, and afterwards, the best food brought out by the church ladies (Nobody to this day has ever surpassed Myetta Baptist Church’s gooseberry cobbler).
But what always amazed me about those churches were the amen corners. They said Amen to everything the preacher said. If the preacher said they were all sinners, the amen corner agreed. If the preacher proclaimed they were all beating their kids and that was okay, the amen corner nodded their assent to their transgressions. If the preacher said that the fires of hell would make the pews burn off clothes, the amen corner would start stripping. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but they just simply agreed, sometimes without thought.
That’s what sitting in this living room felt like. Another comment flies past, “Always with their hands out. They should work.” A nod and a grunt of assent follows. Every local channel I surfed through and edited was whitewashed to the point where the diversity I saw in the grocery and at the theatre and at the gas station was absent.
It felt like the local channels were purposefully and methodically pointing fingers at those “needy blacks” that take and don’t give. It felt alarmingly wrong.
Another story that was shown on the news that involved “those people” was about a little boy whose mom and dad had been drug addicts at one time. Ready? The dad was black and the mom was white. The little boy had pale skin like his mom. Comment: “He must have a different daddy because he don’t look black.” “Amen. Amen.” The story talked about how this family used to be takers but now they were saved and serving others, isn’t that nice?
The only mention of Ferguson was a short 30 second blurb that talked about the march from Ferguson to Missouri’s state capitol. Then it was back to local sports.
How can anything change when people are not shown the “real world?” How can people realize that their behaviors are not out of bigotry (in the case that I am sharing) but of ignorance. It’s perpetuated by their everyday lives being reflected to them in whitewashed versions of reality. It creates such an obvious wedge that I believe, as an outsider, it’s no longer even noticed.
I get that change is a personal thing, but when there is such an obvious spin on the negativity of change being perpetuated by the ridiculous “reality” of shows, you may as well just be listening to one song over and over until your ears bleed. No matter how much you enjoy listening to “Peace on Earth”, until the tune changes, the song becomes as tired of a litany as the obvious erasure of any other race on Southern televisions.
If I can see this in just one living room in the Deep South, how many other people are doing their own “Amen corner’s” affirming that they are doing the right thing? Reaffirming that their belief in the stereotypes is justified because they once knew a person who knew a person and we all know how that ended. (No, actually I don’t. That isn’t the world I live in).
How many other families are camped around their tribal fire (aka the television) learning that to be anything other than white is an unforgivable sin? How many children of any skin tone other than “white” are learning their “place” (that sounds so bitter and cynical) by watching their own race, their own skin be erased until they are…less than’s? This is not acceptable.
Please remove this ignorance from your vocabulary and transform it into the education of your mind to the people you live around each day. Plug into your community instead of the media whom lies to you each day. Remember that the further we are from uniting as one people, the easier we are to divide and to be conquered. The farther divided we remain, the more ignorance is allowed to breed and the longer the cycle continues.
Please, for the love of humanity, do not let the ignorance continue. Let’s not repeat the murderous rampages of the 1960’s of peaceable men doing noble things. Let’s regard the possibility of peace among humans with reverence, not complacency. Let’s learn from our outrage that change is necessary. Change can only happen when we stand united as the people we are in our divine glory of humanity. Change is possible. We ARE that change, together; me and you.