The black collective is under attack. This is nothing new, but the role of television is a fairly new approach, about fifty years in the making. Television, well American entertainment in general has always been geared towards whites. Exclusion functioned with a cruel duality, it raised the chin of whites while stooping the black spine upward in a default inferior stance. When whites discovered that inclusion could also function to produce the same results, then came controlling images like mammy, uncle tom, Jemima, sapphire, jezebel, tragic mullato and Welfare mother. The contemporary world, implements these images, but affords these contemporary manifestations a fancy wardrobe, extensive vocabulary and occasional aha moments to mask their poisonous presence.
Yet, one of the comments that frequents much of contemporary colloquialism is “this would not have happened ten years ago.” This comment most often accompanies the seemingly abundant but still marginal representation of black bodies on television. From Kerry Washington on Scandal to Taraji P. Henson on Empire—the black body is a common occupant of prime time television. The resurfaced popularity and demand for black bodies proves a gateway for exploitation. Namely, white screen writers have channeled their inner Otto Preminger and sought to capitalize on the fevor offset by Scandal in 2012, alongside black protest and the continued fight for civil rights, and authored series which exploit black visibility, culminate their careers and accrue white male wealth.
Similarly, Preminger premiered Carmen, a motion picture with an all black cast, just as the fervor for black civil rights began to gain traction with the Brown v. Board of Education. Preminger’s treatment of beautiful and talented black bodies as puppets in Carmen, illustrates a shared formula implemented by contemporary screenwriters who attempt to author the black experience— a formula designed to dominate black esteem and program the black psyche for self-destruction.
- The Hyper Sexual Whore
Preminger resurrected what Nina Mae Mckinney’s role Chick in Hallelujah initiated in terms of black female portrayal. Chick, the two-timing, hyper sexual beauty is undoubtedly influential to Carmen, a striking beauty who loves and leaves men for entertainment.
The hyper sexual black female is a persistent figure in the white supremacist narrative, because she is essential in justifying white male supremacy. Illustrating the black woman as a dangerous is humanity of her intractable sexuality.
This controlling image remains central in the contemporary world in black and white scripted dramas depicting the whore, or black female body that oozes sexuality as an internalized component of a Western psyche. This image reflects the lust white males bear towards the black female body despite their sexual orientation. The heterosexual white male bears a sexual lust and the white gay males lust to be or live vicariously through the black woman. Furthermore, the white curator presents black female sexuality through a conflicted and partial gaze.
Namely, Greenleaf— a student of Tyler Perry’s abundant but predictable productions, is a product of white male creator Craig Wright. This series portrays series protagonist Grace Greanleaf (Merle Dandridge) and her mother Mae Greenleaf (Lynn Whitfield) as hyper sexual women of the cloth both of whom engage in sexual relations with married men. This image is particularly problematic as it focuses on the black church. Whether one individually believes in the teachings of the bible or not, the church remains a central figure of black collective. The series does not function to challenge the doctrine handed to enslaved Africans centuries ago, but to challenge the conviction of black people in the church.
Thus, the series functions to deflect from tools that could aid to free blacks from the white male control masked in religion, instead planting the seed to provoke the b lack psyche to doubt themselves and their people.
Similarly, How to Get Away with Murder, a student of predecessor Scandal (2012), is a product of white male creator Peter Nowalk. which stars Viola Davis portrays their black female protagonist as bearing no sexual restraint. Annalise Keating differs from predecessor Olivia Pope because while both are hyper sexual bodies, Keating sleeps with men, women, blacks and whites–suggesting that the blacker the berry. By western standards, Keating is a hyper-sexual whore who discounts conventional womanhood like Chick (Hallelujah; 1929) and Carmen (1954), by engaging in sexual conduct without feeling.
Chick, Carmen and Keating a function to illustrate the black female body as a callous sexual agent that operates with masculinity and should not only be excluded from “woman” concept but the human concept as well.
The images function to induce black female objectification from the oppressors and oppressed alike, making America a cage in which the black female resides by self and societal designation.
- The Emasculated Black Man
Another common trope of white created series starring black bodies is the emasculated black man. This black male is commonly heterosexual but emasculated by the pseudo masculinity of white supremacist curated black femininity.
Perhaps the prime example of this controlling image is Luscious Lyon from Empire. A man whose love for money places his wife in jail cell for nearly two centuries, and whose ruthless devotion to money compromised genuine relationships with everyone, epitomizes the black male emasculated by the western love of money. This love this money, illustrates a black man coveting the ultimate symbol of white masculinity— wealth.
Luscious is also a sexual deviant who engages in shallow affairs with multiple women . This sexual deviancy is mirrored on Greanleaf where Uncle Mac rapes his niece, Faith Greanleaf and several other girls in a small Memphis town. Mac performs these deeds despite his affiliation and prominence within the church, and even bribes elected officials to secure his freedom when multiple allegations surface. The series displays the black male body as a dangerous sexual being who induces self destructive behavior onto the black female collective. Namely, Faith Greanleaf kills her self in the aftermath of Mac’s violation, and other victims attempt to harm themselves although unable to achieve Faith’s outcome. This depiction not only demonizes the black male body, but paints black male lust as inducing genocide onto black bodies, a dynamic resulting from black imitation of their white slave masters.
Similarly, Nate from How to Get Away With Murder, like Joe (Harry Belafonte) from Carmen illustrates the dangerous emasculated man. This danger is a product of Nate and a man emasculated by a masculinized black female body. Annalise Keating, a woman’s whose alcoholism and insatiable sexual appetite drains Nate, a black male body who helplessly demands emotion from a hollowed hyper sexual being. While Nate does not physically harm Keating, a woman who frames him for her crimes, his immediate response is explosive and cold. He eventually warms and falls back into bed with her, suggesting that his inability to hold a grudge stems from a weakness, or feminized demeanor provoked by Keating conventional masculinity. Namely, Keating’s ability to have sexual relations without feeling, arguably confines Nate to an emasculated state that makes him act with emotion and not reason.
In Carmen, viewers watch as Joe’s emasculation takes the form of a man unwilling to accept that his lover has moved on. So, he suffocates Carmen and looks into her beautiful brown eyes as they become lifeless. This scene functions in two ways:
1. to display the black male as an incalculable emotional brute bound to murder accidentally in a lusty rage
2. to illustrate the black collective as capable of performing self genocide, or ridding the world of a fictive enemy while the actual enemy walks freely.
The black body as a self-destructive tool operating to stealthily induce their own erasure brings me to the most recent contemporary portrayal.
- The Gay Black Man
The gay black man is a contemporary fixture of white created black dramas that exists to demonize blacks simultaneously allowing a symbol of black erasure visibility. Before I render my analysis, let me say that I am in no way invested in spewing hate toward anyone in the black collective who is gay, bi, trans or questioning. Baynard Rustin and James Baldwin were pivotal figures in the strive towards civil rights and black artistic expression. These men were remarkable because they lived a life where blackness was central. We all have other signifying attributes, be it gender, education level, occupation/profession, hobby, orientation, etc— but those who place black first possess an elevated consciousness not possessed by most. Factions like feminism and LGBT exist to thwart a black collective conscious, to employ the black body as an solider in the white man’s war.
The white created series starring black bodies, functions to recruit black bodies for the white war against black unity. Namely, white created depictions of gay black men are not in the image of Rustin and Baldwin. Instead, they function to paint blacks as antagonistic for reasons that merely scratch the surface of a justified anxiety. For example, on Empire, viewers meet and fall in love with Jamal Lyon (Jussie Smullet), the middle, quaire son of Luscious and Cookie Lyon. Viewers watch as Luscious tosses his son in the trash after seeing him dressed in female clothing. The war is continuous as Luscious refuses to accept his son’s orientation. Similarly, Greenleaf introduces viewers to Kevin, Charity Greenleaf’s husband who severs their marriage by compulsively gazing at male pictures on an internet dating site. Despite bearing the couple’s first child in this uproar, Charity divorces Kevin for looking—as he never acts on his urges. Furthermore, the series depicts the black family as severed by black female anxiety, rather than delving into how the western world drives the black man away from masculinity, a factor that ultimately dissolves the black familial unit. Dissolving the black familial unit and black male masculinity are central components in maintaining white supremacy.
In the Isis Papers, Dr. Francis Cress Wesling delineates black male inferiority as a necessity for white supremacy in the following:
The more the Black male strives to stand, the weaker the white male feels by comparison, and the greater the white male’s thrust to effeminize the Black male to weaken the Black male’s psychological potential for aggressive and assertive challenge, forcing him to remain submissive to “The Man.”
Whites fear homosexuality because they know that it a poses a threat to the reproduction needed to advance their group– a group already hindered by inferior fertility. Blacks possess the same anxiety intertwined with the apprehensions of an intersectional identity. This is not to validate homophobia, but to state that this phobia is a general Western anxiety not limited to the black community.
From the Aids virus which seemed conveniently targeted at every “other,” to the subject of medical experimentation, impoverished conditions and economic slavery the black body is well acquainted with acts of genocide. The white male author casts this image as a central component to interpretation of the black narrative to appear more humanistic than the oppressed—masking his desire for the black body to opt for same sex unions as a means of selected genocide.
Shows like Scandal, created and written by Shonda Rhimes is far from a pinnacle of black excellence. However, the series bears a saving grace in Rowan “Papa” Pope. Pope, father to series protagonist Olivia Pope portrays the flawed yet powerful symbol of unapologetic black masculinity, who protects and maintains a place for white washed daughter Olivia in his home and heart.
In series authored by white men, the black female body and gay male body are illustrated in disfunctionality to suggest that blackness cannot fully contain their essence in its entirety. Thus, the white man’s depiction purposely lures the black body into groups like feminism and LGBT, as a tool in building his white supremacist house. A house the black body will help build in separating from their collective but will never be granted access.
Dr. Francis Cress Wesling analyzes the function of white dominance:
Non-white people are genetically dominant to whites, and, thus, are potential genetic annihilators of the minority white collective. Due to this fear of white genetic annihilation, the global white collective has evolved, during the last 2,000 years, the global white supremacy system and culture that dominates all black, brown, red and yellow peoples in the world, determining their behavior in all areas of people activity.
In order to ensure white survival and maintain white supremacy, the western world must control the fruits of the more fruitful. Television is one of the most prominent means to control the masses, a control which results from creating a fictive characterization that the western world treats as fact. The same ways the series portray members of the black collective, is the same way blacks are treated throughout the Western terrain. Perhaps television is much more wrathful in the contemporary world, as it reflects blacks as a studied specimen—our desires implemented as a means to further a fictive inferiority. Furthermore, the contemporary feature of the black body on white authored sitcoms, illustrates blacks as studied specimens controlled by fictive representation that ultimately becomes reality.