Asking the Wrong Question

Yesterday I watched an episode of the sitcom “The Hughley’s” on the Aspire Network, Channel 381. The “situation” context of the Hughleys involves a black family living in Southern California that has “moved on up” financially to allow them to live in a mostly white suburban neighborhood. The Hughleys are a young married couple with two children. The father runs his own successful business. All of the storylines involves interaction with white neighbors, especially the white couple across the street. Yesterday’s episode addressed the Hughley’s 10 year-old black daughter’s puppy love with a white boy. Upon learning of the “little romance” the daughter’s father expressed his “O Lord” reservations about all the complications of interracial couples. The mother seemed less concerned, or panicked, because of the age of the children. The black godfather told the child’s parents that interracial dating was inevitable because the daughter was only one of a handful of black children in a mostly white school.

In order to try to “blackenize” his daughter, the father first gave her a few history lessons on black inventions and other black accomplishments. When that went nowhere over the daughter continued starry-eyed “crush,” the father decided to throw a party and invite people from his former, mostly black, neighborhood. At the party the young daughter and the white boy walked through the crowd holding hands–to the raised eyebrows of a couple of black men. As the two children were sitting together on a swing the white boy’s father stormed into the scene, approached the girl’s father and told him that he was not comfortable with his son being with his daughter. He then told his son that it was time for him to leave the party—refusing to explain to the clearly upset son why he had to leave so soon. The daughter, feeling rejected left the party and ran to her room—followed by her father who vowed to explain it all.

The father found his daughter sitting on her bed clearly upset over her white friend being snatched away. After stumbling over a few words of explanations, the daughter then said this: “It’s because I’m black isn’t it?” The father did his best to try to sidestep the issue by saying that maybe in time things will get better.

When I watched television shows and movies I looked beyond the acting to the dialogue. I can tell by the dialogue who wrote the script—the words that the actors have to speak. And so when I heard the young black girl say, “It’s because I’m black isn’t it?” I knew exactly who wrote that script. Why wasn’t the same scene scripted to say this: “It’s because he’s white isn’t it?” There is a world of difference between the two sentences within the context of the scenario described. And the truth is that this is precisely the question that should have been asked. It is the question that should have been asked because there was nothing wrong with the black girl having a “puppy love” romance. The problem was that the romance was with someone, a little white boy” for whom there are clear expectation about who he should date and marry. When the white father stormed out with his son, he was sending a clear message that his white son was either too good, too privileged, or too superior to date a black girl. On the black side, there was no similar message that she would be dating beneath her station in life. And this is where the racism and bigotry of screen writers comes front and center and why there is such an urgent need for diversity in Hollywood.

Let me cut to the chase. The problem with the question asked by the black child was that it reinforced white privilege and white superiority. Embedded in the black girl’s words was a screenwriter’s value system that devalued the black girl and elevated the worth of the white child. What if the script had been flipped so that the black father had told his daughter that he was disappointed that she had a puppy love crush on a white boy because they are an evil bunch of people who enslaved your ancestors, lynched thousands of black people, raped black women at will, and otherwise have instituted and maintained a system of racial oppression to deny black people every aspect of racial equality. What if the question had been asked of her—“Why would you want to date anyone with such an evil and ugly history?” What if she had been made to feel that she was too good to lay down with a white man instead of the other way around? What the episode did not show was the conversation that the white father had with his white son. What was not shown was the explanations he gave to his white son as to why he could not date a black girl. This is the scene that should have been shown. In fact, scenes of both parents talking to their children about interracial dating would have given us a better understanding of the continued and entrenched nature of race relations in America. I blame white writers in Hollywood for shallow, narrow minded, script to screen bigoted thinking. What if Hollywood writers would start to ask the right questions as part of diversity retraining so that screenplays are thoughtfully balanced? What if questions had been posed by the screenwriters that imparted value and worth to the young black girl instead of ending the show with her feeling worthless? Is this by design as a form racial oppression through negative imagery of black people? When will Hollywood start asking the right questions about race in America? Better still, when will America start asking the right questions about race in America?

Copyright 2018 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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