Blackfamous proved we were right about BET and other Black owned spaces.
On December 13th, 2019, Michael Harriot of theroot.com sent out a tweet stating:
Then Black Twitter, as usual, did its thing and weighed in heavily with some of the greatest names in Black cinema, music, and culture. Movie stars like Nia long and Leon sprang up, then musicians like The Gap Band and Frankie Beverly (the most Blackfamous person of all, apparently) alongside Tom Joyner, El Debarge and even (in the most ironic twist but still appropriate) Teena Marie. John Legend even pulled a subtle flex by stating that while Stevie Wonder was playing at his wedding he realized that “Ribbon In The Sky” isn’t a well-known song to white people. As a Black person who’s been around for quite a few years, it was hard to fathom some of these answers being true until I saw white people chiming in and stating they had NO idea who most of these people being named were. Friends and strangers alike seemed to have been baffled by the trend because a few decided to step up and name people who, of course, EVERYONE already knew, proving they weren’t Blackfamous and others just sat in awe not realizing that there’s a whole segment of pop culture they’re missing out on due to the purveyors of this craft having dark skin.
And of course, there were racists as Black people aren’t allowed to have a good time amongst ourselves without being told to hush by white people who still think we’re out singing hymns on a cotton field. People accused those following the discussion of reverse racism (which isn’t a thing) or just flat out racism for having the audacity to cherish our own people and not have to cater to those that have ignored our accomplishments...forever. I even had to pull out the old STFU on some dude who felt the need to speak up because he was excluded.
Black Twitter had a great time with the discussion but it led me to realize something after all was said and done: BET, Ebony, Jet, Soul Train, and many other Black institutions were absolutely correct in creating spaces for Black people early and should be celebrated.
Fun fact: I wasn’t as fond of the concept of BET when I was growing up. I didn’t have a problem with Ebony or Jet but as a kid who grew up in a lot of multicultural areas due to having a parent in the military, I just saw it as self-segregation. Schools and people around me were beating into my young mind that racism was wrong and we should all live in this harmonious world where we don’t see color and Dr. King probably wouldn’t have been a fan of keeping us apart with a channel like that...and then my dumb ass grew up. While I may not be a fan of some of their most controversial decisions (getting rid of Donnie Simpson, Tavis Smiley, Teen Summit and playing some terrible videos) they were at least trying for the most part and that effort led to other networks like TV One and OWN. Every journey starts with baby steps.
Blackfamous showed that unless we carve out spaces for ourselves, we WILL NOT be invited to theirs. There’s no reason that the wider world shouldn’t know about the movie The Five Heartbeats or get why Before I Let Go is a cookout staple because extremely talented people were behind the creation of these things. Tom Joyner has raised tens of millions of dollars for HBCU’s over the course of his radio career, money that wasn’t about to be raised by Casey Kasem. My personal feelings aside, Tyler Perry has carved out his own space and catered to his audience like no other. He not only bypassed Hollywood by getting Blackfamous from his stage plays, but he literally bypassed the actual location of Hollywood by creating his own studio in Atlanta with portions of said studio that will help displaced LGBTQIA youth and was even used to film parts of Black Panther. And our TV channels, magazines, mixtapes, and award shows are our way of celebrating those who are alive now with talent to spare and give a platform to. Go look back at Blackfamous and you’ll see people who have many awards in OUR spaces but none in the mainstream (white) ones. And it’s not because these are not talented people, it’s because the people in charge of the mainstream spaces don’t want to come around and take the time to find out what’s really going on in our world.
This also lends credence to the importance of telling our own stories and history. The mainstream has always done a great job of making people think that the thing that’s popular was first and the true innovator when in actuality the thing that gets popular is the thing that’s been gestating for years before they paid attention. Rappers’ Delight is known as the first rap song but that’s not the case at all. It’s not even the first recorded rap song and rap was being done in the streets for years before that song came to the surface. But let the history books by those on the outside tell it and we’ve got a clear case of whitewashing, negating the efforts of those who came before. Hell, some writer even had the unmitigated GALL recently to write a whole (without) think(ing) piece about how Drake made the sing/rap hybrid popular not even realizing that Phonte of Little Brother, Lauryn Hill, Cee-Lo, Wyclef, and MANY others were popular with that style literal decades before Drake was in a wheelchair on Degrassi. This is why we don’t respect their award shows for saying who’s the best because Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Nas, and Brian McKnight still don’t have Grammy awards; Angela Bassett, Don Cheadle and Samuel L. Jackson still don’t have Oscars and…..
And instead of asking for entry into their circles, we created our own. No longer relegated to the unknown, WE know exactly who we are and we’re not ashamed of that at all. We’re not racist for celebrating ourselves, we’re just not going to go unappreciated waiting for accolades from those that don’t know we’re here until they want a new thing to appropriate. We’re here being famous amongst ourselves and not really caring if you invite us to the party. We didn’t decide to sit at our own table, you pushed us out of your schools so we made our own and now there are LOTS of tables for us to sit at, not just the leftovers. A toast to the Blackfamous as you’ll always be famous to the ones that care for you the most.