Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Message to Black Hollywood

By Charles Patton, Graduate Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

After the election of Barack Obama, Will Smith responded on The Oprah Winfrey Show by stating that “The history of African-Americans is such that you want to be a part of America, but we've been rejected so much it's hard to take the ownership and take responsibility for ourselves and this country. It was like, at that second, at that moment, all of our excuses were gone.” Cartoonist Kevin Moore depicted this moment of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Moore then shows Smith telling a baby born into poverty, a wrongfully convicted victim of police violence, victims of job, wage, and lending discrimination, as well as students at failing schools and residents of neglected neighborhoods that they have “NO EXCUSES!” According to Moore, Smith’s suggestion for success is to think positively. The comic strip can be viewed using the following link (http://incontemptcomics.com/2008/11/11/no-excuses/).

Smith is not the only entertainer to share these sentiments. Other entertainers have helped shape the collective consciousness and racial attitude of this country by sharing their belief that we have achieved racial equity and minorities simply need to put forth the right amount of effort and act responsibly to be successful. However, by not sufficiently acknowledging the role of structural barriers to racial equity, these entertainers are ignoring a significant portion of the problem and consequently are stifling efforts for possible solutions. Their suggestions to do away with excuses and try harder are inadequate and would not significantly decrease racial disparities even if they were realized. I am not denying the importance of making an effort for success and acting responsibly. However, structural barriers are an equally, if not more, important source of the problem in minority communities. Research has shown that when young people are removed from impoverished communities with poorly performing schools and relocated to safe neighborhoods with strong schools, their chance of success increases tremendously.

Very few, if any, of these entertainers are authorities on race relations in America. However, their opinions are very influential on the American public. So, I have a suggestion for them. Black Hollywood please listen carefully. It is very easy to anticipate what questions you will be asked on January 20th, 2009: What role do you play in your upcoming movie? Did you make any New Years Resolutions? If so, what were they? And what does the election of Barack Obama mean for black America? In anticipation of the latter question I have one assignment for you. Between now and the inauguration, read a couple of articles on racial disparities in educational spending, residential segregation, discrimination in the labor market, etc. I know you’re busy so I won’t even require you to read the whole article. Maybe just read the abstract and the conclusion. After this assignment I guarantee you will have something more insightful and interesting to say than “all our excuses are gone”. And this may encourage our country to actually strive to reach the point where racial disparities, residential segregation and discrimination, or as Will Smith likes to call them “our excuses”, are indeed simply memories of a time before Obama.

1 comment:

  1. But they have a capital base of over a ten billion dollars, what could we do with that?