BET’s Annual Awards Show, Corporate Media & The Subliminal Mental Containment of Black Youth
By: Solomon Comissiong
On Sunday June 26, 2011 BET (Black Entertainment Television—owned by Viacom) unveiled its annual “BET Awards Show”. This year’s program was, predictably, the same as it has been each preceding year—a celebration of racially stereotypical imagery that has been popularized. BET’s awards show, like the station itself, was a racist’s dream come true. BET is a station that goes out of its way to cognitively, and culturally, neuter youth of color. This would make any white supremacist feel good about the future. The three-hour awards show featured a virtual cavalcade of black “entertainers” (rappers, R&B singers, etc) that make many white Americans feel very comfortable. Why one may ask—simple; their corporate approved music and images, reinforce almost every stereotype America has worked so hard to create, and perpetuate about African-Americans. Flooding mainstream airwaves with a disproportionate array of negative and virulently racist images of black people is one thing that Hollywood and the corporate music industry do exceptionally well. Whether it is the black male rapper degrading black women, rappers cheerleading for an exploitative capitalist system, or black rappers with misdirected and commercially manufactured anger; BET’s Award’s show has it all. The Viacom owned station uses anything it can as a means to distract young African-Americans from issues they should be focused on.
Those familiar with the legacy of institutional racism in America should not be surprised by Viacom’s tactics. Keeping those most oppressed from critically thinking about their current conditions, is exactly part of the long term plan. After all, if you don’t know you are oppressed—why fight and how would you know who to fight?
America does not want to wake the sleeping political giant of black youth to realize the real reasons their communities are stuck in a virtual quagmire of poverty and social injustices stemming from institutional racism. Black youth are never to truly figure out why most of their schools are disproportionately underfunded. The US wants to continue to conceal from these youth the fact that most of their parents have, on average, 10 cents to every dollar of net worth that white kids’ parents have. They are never to know that they are routinely being used like pawns by the US government to fight in illegal and racist wars. Black youth are never supposed to comprehend why (and how) they are being groomed by America’s ruling class to become a perpetual underclass, barely subsisting on unlivable wages. Black boys are supposed to be blinded to the fact that America wishes to funnel them through the rapidly growing prison industrial complex. And black youth are certainly never to realize the greatness that is anchored to their ancestry and culture. In essence, they are to subconsciously believe the lie that they are, intrinsically, less than the white man.
If even a significant portion of America’s youth of color woke of from their American-society induced coma, they would surely be a political and social force to be reckoned with. Thought provoking music has a reputation of functioning like psychological smelling salts— waking up and inspiring masses to resist and fight against their oppressors. This is why during BET’s three hour “awards show” there was no sign of any one of the scores of more talented, and politically charged, rappers that exist throughout America. The likes of Uno the Prophet, Brother Ali, Dead Prez, Mr. Lif, and Immortal Technique, were nowhere to be found on the rigged awards program. The messages of these rappers have systematically been suppressed to a virtual world known as “Underground Hip Hop”. Their music is laden with revolutionary thought provoking messages that would undoubtedly inspire masses of black and brown youth. The author, a child of Hip Hop’s Golden Era, is a prime example.
Music has long played an important role within social revolutions. Music has the ability to inspire, mentally invigorate, and educate masses of people within relatively short songs. However, when there is a procession of similarly focused songs they multiply the effects. Unfortunately, the impact of music can be the polar opposite when it is anti-thought provoking, senselessly violent, materialistic, and misogynistic. Target this kind of music at youth of color and the impact can be disastrous. This was a major reason why large white corporations began to take over a music industry they previously had no interest in. When white corporations saw that they could make billions of dollars off Hip Hop Music, all the while negatively mass programming youth, they quickly began buying out radio stations and record labels as if they were their European ancestors usurping land throughout the globe. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 had a catastrophic impact on black radio. The deregulation of media ownership rules, and subsequent co-opting of yet another black musical genre, provided ample space and opportunity for white corporations to reconfigure rap music to fit their nefarious motives. This reconfiguration continues to allow corporate backed rap to function like the “Christian” missionaries that were imposed upon African populations.
White missionaries did not have the best interest of African people at heart anymore than the forked tongued white corporate executives have for black youth in 2011. Their end game is to make as much money as they possibly can while mollifying and co-opting the minds of youth of color. This is why the likes of Viacom and Clear Channel make psychologically deleterious images readily available to tens of millions of youth of color, within mainstream rap music. They are no different than big time drug dealers; their only difference is that they peddle psychological narcotics, by way of music, to youth. Like American society, these corporate media executives are pillagers of the futures of black youth. Debra Lee, BET’s CEO, is among the worst. She is nothing more than a black face for hire, willing to play a vital role in poisoning the minds of black youth if there is money to be made.
BET, like its parent company (Viacom), have no principles therefore they will stoop to any level to ensure their bottom line continues to grow exponentially. They have absolutely no regard to the negative impact of their messages on youth. It is too simplistic to merely blame many of the Hip Hop patsies they have recruited, and hired, to perform socially destructive songs on their station—the blame must begin at the top. BET, like other corporate media giants, has long made the well thought out decision to primarily push socially destructive music on masses of youth. When Viacom bought BET things began to go south much more quickly as the amoral station amputated any and all newsworthy programs from their menu, including an issue based talk show geared at teen viewers simply called Teen Summit. Viacom is not about empowering youth of color, it is a corporation hell bent on their gradual societal demise.
Viacom, like the rest of US corporate media, serves as an unofficial fourth branch of the US government. When the corporate media provides little context to critical issues, or distracts masses from even knowing about critical issues, they are making the ruling elite very happy. The US corporate media consciously misleads the American public; however they aim to pacify those most oppressed. Black and brown youth are most vulnerable within historically oppressed populations. Youth of color also happen to be a significant threat to a white male dominated power structure. They are a most potent weapon within a needed social revolution. The ruling elite very well know the ramifications if masses of black and brown youth all of the sudden realized how this white supremacist system really worked. They understand that it could lead to a complete repudiation of America’s Eurocentric value system, white supremacy, social injustice, and a political system that has never had their best interest in mind. Youth are not entrenched in decades and decades of ignorance and social programming, as are many adults. Youth have the ability to learn quickly, and most importantly, unlearn information that has been designed to keep them in the same disadvantaged place the rest of their lives.
Investing in the future of youth of color is the investment in a better and more humane future. Investing in their future does not mean mere rhetoric; it means progressive actions and advocacy from a critical mass of adults throughout the US. Demanding, not requesting, better funded schools systems with a much more comprehensive and balanced curriculum, will be imperative. Ending regressive schemes like “No Child Left Behind”, the corporatizing of public schools, and “Race to the Top” is essential. And destroying the school to prison pipeline is mandatory.
These things must be done; there simply is no other way. If we are a village then we must be not only our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper; we must advocate for the entire community’s children, even those not biologically ours. When all of this happens youth of color will begin to transform their lives beyond the low expectations America has always had for them. And as they transform themselves they will innately transform our communities, for the better. There will be regressive attacks from the ruling class just as there was from the devils that destroyed so many black youth in Soweto during the 1976 uprising. Masses of African Youth were gunned down by white cowards who invaded Azania (South Africa). The crime of those African Youth was that they rejected the Afrikaans language that was being imposed upon them. The Black Conscious Movement was at the core of those youths’ critical resistance. In the 21st Century the attacks will, most likely, take the form of regressive social, public, and educational policies. We have already seen this take place in states like Arizona and Texas. This is why our organization must be collective, well planned, and consistent—anything less is unacceptable. The future of our youth depends upon it just as the future of a more humane world depends upon the youth. Resistance through solidarity is the only way.