Wall St. and Business Wednesdays: BET - Is It Blaxploitation? by Howard University's Newspaper, The Hilltop
BET has long served as the sole representative network of African Americans. Since Viacom bought the network in 2000, there were vast changes made to the weekly lineup. However, these changes were not sources of improvement. Not only does BET lack educational or informative programming, but it perpetuates many of the age-old stereotypes held about the black community.
How do we feel about the fact that the premier link between black culture and those who know nothing of it is BET? Like it or not, this network is a key factor in shaping people's perspectives of our race. We should care about the accuracy of how we are being portrayed on TV.
We understand that BET is a source of entertainment, but it also has the inherent obligation to represent our race in the media. The network could be so much more than what it is today.
Shows like "Comic View," "106 and Park," and "How I'm Living" are the archetypes of BET programming. They may be entertaining, but there is so much more to our people than twenty-four inch rims, the chicken head dance, and mastering the art of bling-blingin'.
We resent the stereotypes that put us in boxes not labeled "Educated" or "Professional," but "Entertainer" and "Athlete." Yet, we as a people continue to accept these images perpetuated by a network that could be such a powerful pathway of change - that is, if there was a collective desire for it to be. Yes, many of us are athletes and entertainers, but many of us are educated professionals just the same. The fact that the only major black network pigeonholes blacks as entertainers and nothing more is disheartening.
We are not out to bash BET. We only want to see it improve. There are certainly some good shows on the network such as "BET Nightly News" and the annual "BET Walk of Fame" that recently aired, honoring outstanding black performers. We only want to see more programming geared toward the positive representation of black people all around. More importantly, we want to see programming that reflects the multi-faceted culture of African-Americans. Hip -Hop is a part of us, but it is far from being all of us.
When BET's founder Bob Johnson tried to go public and expand the network, he received little to no support. So, while people complain about BET being "sold out," it is because options were sparse. Sad as it may be, it is no wonder this network wound up in the hands of people who have little to no interest in the positive representation of African Americans on television.
It is our responsibility to become better venture capitalists. Then we can keep our networks, our record labels, and our businesses in our hands. When this happens, we can begin to combat the problem of black exploitation and misrepresentation in the media.
Copyright 2002 The Hilltop
Note: This article appeared as an editorial in the October 31, 2003 issue of The Hilltop
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Wednesday, November 19, 2003