Debra Lee and Reginald Hudlin could learn a lot from George Wallace. Right about now, they ought to be considering whether they could possibly be on the wrong side of history.
George Wallace was very successful. He was elected Governor of Alabama four times. He ran for president four times. However, like George Wallace, BET is about to end up on the wrong side of history.
Some folks would like to trace the ruckus back to one person on one blog, but you know good and well there has been a widespread quiet rage at what BET had become. Most folks who didn't like the channel just ignored it and turned away and that is what BET counted on, folks sleeping while they aired shows like BET Uncut for six years. Yes, Mr. Hudlin, I keep mentioning Uncut even though it is no longer on the air because airing that show for as long as you did was an for some people an unpardonable sin. One for which your network refuses to atone. BET never apologized, never said they were wrong for intentionally going around broadcasting standards to air Uncut, even when Debra Lee pulled Uncut, she praised it as taking videos to a new level as if it was groundbreaking. I realize Mr. Hudlin was not on board at the time of Uncut, but there has never been any recognition of the wounds it inflicted on so many people. The young women at Spelman tried to tell Debra Lee this, but she wouldn't listen to them. She told them BET was doing better than ever because BET was making more money than ever.
Now you can continue to dismiss your critics as crazy or detached from reality, but whose reality? In your mind BET has done nothing wrong, but in the eyes of hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, you have. This is not about a few people on the Internet or 500 hundred upset folks marching around Debra Lee's house and it ought to become clearer with each passing day that whatever this is that is happening is something BET and Viacom have probably never seen before. This may very well be the “Montgomery” of my generation. So the old “BET is doing better than ever because BET is making more money than ever” delusion you have been operating under sounds increasingly like George Wallace's “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever ”
So keep saying “BET's making money now, BET's making money tomorrow, BET's making money forever!” If this stubborn refusal to even consider people's legitimate and strong feelings about your network's programming decisions continues, you an I both know that BET may very well not be making money forever. You call yourself BLACK Entertainment Television so we have a stake in what you do whether we fall into your “target audience” or not. If you don't want that burden, consider changing your name and stop associating yourself with an entire race of people. You've managed to skate by while building up a storehouse of ill will within the African American community and that is not going to go away by trotting out new programming and trying to “teach” the African American community to “Read a m@#*&#^ing Book!”
The first step MIGHT be to say “We're Sorry” even if you don't really mean it. Here is some proposed draft language:
“We're sorry we aired Uncut, it was inappropriate and degrading to all Black people. We're sorry we gutted all of our public affairs programming to feature booty shaking. We're sorry we thought so little of our audience that we didn't invest in original programming FOR YEARS and are now having to play catch up. We're sorry we paid performers slave wages. We sorry we called ourselves BLACK entertainment television and didn't consider the conclusions some folks might reach about ALL Black Americans based on the narrow set of images we elected to transmit to the world. We're sorry that despite the fact that we are well aware that BET is one of the top networks viewed by children of all races, we elected to air soft porn in the afternoon in the form of music videos while we knew their parents were hard at work to pay the cable bill so that BET could enter their homes. Most of all, we're sorry that when you tried to come to us and express your genuinely heart-felt concerns, we didn't always listen, and sometimes we were too cavalier in our dismissals of your complaints. We've been defensive when perhaps we could have been initiating a dialogue ”
I don't think most Black folks want BET to become PBS. What I think they want is BALANCE. Even if you are making huge changes in the future, you still haven't atoned for what your network did in the past. Until you do, you can roll out 160 new programs a year, BET will still be known as Black Exploitation Television because you can pour as much clean water as you want into a dirty jug. All you are doing is contaminating more water.
You don't need to consider offering an apology for our sake. We don't need one. You need to considering offering an apology for your sake. Just because BET is making a ton of money now, does not mean it will be doing so forever, especially if African Americans begin to either A) cancel their cable subscriptions in large numbers just to avoid giving Viacom their money or B) start jumping on the bandwagon to support cable choice.
For too long BET treated goodwill within the African American community as if it was a luxury item that BET didn't need to be successful. After all, BET was doing just fine without it because you were making money without it. You are about to be shown that you were wrong. Instead of rolling out 16 new shows, consider rolling out a new attitude from your executive suite and you can consider starting with an apology.