Sunday, June 22, 2008

Black Money, Black People: Blinded by the Black Bling

by Dr. Boyce Watkins

When it comes to diversity and integration, I have some critics. I created a website called, a website for African-Americans. The site was created in response to my experience dealing with mainstream media, which typically provided a 1 or 0 dimensional perspective to black points of view. Although I have a PhD in Finance, I was never called by CNN, FOX or CBS to discuss money or financial issues. I was usually called whenever they had a conversation on “black stuff”.

The fact that they saw me as a black man before they could see anything else was no fault of my publicist. A wonderful and energetic woman, my publicist called all the major networks to introduce me as a person well-qualified to discuss the economy, money management, stock markets or global finance. I have trained literally thousands of Suzie Ormans and Wall Street experts through the years, so it was only logical that this be an area that I speak on as a public scholar.

The problem was that many Americans do not see a black man when they envision a financial expert. A black man is more likely to be seen as a rapper, athlete or criminal. At best, they see a black scholar willing to discuss black rappers, athletes and criminals. That became my role with CNN.

I don’t mind discussing black people, for I have a very strong black identity. However, the limitations of my role bothered me a great deal, and what bothered me most was that it didn’t bother anyone else. If anyone else was bothered, it was for all the wrong reasons. I remember having a debate with a black conservative on CNN about why African-Americans have such a negative image in the world. The conservative, buying into some of the basic tenants of white supremacy, truly believed that the reason black Americans have such a negative image throughout the world is because black people simply choose to behave like criminals. He argued that if black people would simply mind their manners and stop getting arrested so much, the media would have nothing to report.

Apparently, this man had forgotten that there are over 30 million black people in America. So, even if 95% of these individuals were to choose to become perfect angels (or engage in what I call “The Good Negro Behavior Protocol”), there will, by simple statistical fact, be at least 1 million individuals doing things that could embarrass the rest of the community. By virtue of the fact that the media’s lens focuses most on those individuals in the black community who engage in embarrassing behavior, it would be these 1 million individuals who receive the most airtime.
I strongly believe in the idea of freedom. I believe that the black community has a right to be as diverse as any other group of people in America. Rappers have as much a right to exist as professors do. The idea that we can get angry at rappers because CNN and other networks focus on rappers more than anyone else is not the fault of the artists, but rather, due to the one dimensional perspectives of the networks themselves. It’s not who is in front of the camera, it’s where the camera chooses to focus itself.

Another problematic dimension to the “good negro behavior protocol” is this idea that all of us should be “embarrassed” when there is a black person on TV behaving in a comical or criminal fashion. I hear educated African-Americans speak of how embarrassed they are by the behavior of Flavor Flav, the ex-rapper turned reality TV star. I personally find Flavor Flav to be funny and I feel that he has as much of a right to be himself as the white guys on the great MTV show “Jackass”. I have never once heard a white man express that he is embarrassed for the white population because of what the guys on Jackass do on television. I have never once heard a white female say that she is embarrassed for the white race when Paris Hilton is arrested for drunk driving for the 1,000th time. The reality is that they know clearly that Paris Hilton and Jackass do not represent the white experience or dominant white expression.

For some reason, black people are the opposite. Rather than questioning why the media gives us an either-or reality for how we express ourselves in media, we get angry at one another for choosing to express ourselves in a unique fashion. The truth is that Flavor Flav has a right to be a comedian, he has a right to be a jack ass. If anyone in the world watches Vh-1 and thinks that all African-Americans behave like Flavor Flav, then their ignorance is their problem, not mine.

This was an excerpt from the book "Blinded by the Bling: The Plight of the Black Middle Class" by Dr. Boyce Watkins, set to be released August 15, 2008. For more information, please visit

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