After The Applause: The Danger Of Convenient Consciousness
I don’t watch BET.
Armed with a real concern about the programming of the network (and, in particular, how that programming promotes a marginalized perspective of my people), I presently find myself in a boycott of the longstanding television outlet. I realize my lone television not being dialed in to their frequency will not miraculously prompt them to change what they show, but I personally struggle with feeling like I am supporting the stereotypes that are perpetuated of our people (especially our women). Word around the campfire is that they are trying to do better, but even if that were the case, I wouldn’t know it because…I don’t watch BET.
Despite my non-existent viewership, my very real connection to social media allows me to be kept abreast as to what goes on as different shows and events are put on the air. So while I do not watch BET, my Twitter feed & Facebook timeline allow me to have blow by blow details of awards shows, premieres, and the like.
This past Sunday, while on Facebook, a “friend” posted a video that had made its way to my newsfeed (I’m sure you haven’t heard it or seen it). The video was of actor and activist Jesse Williams giving his acceptance speech after being awarded the Humanitarian Award at the 2016 BET Awards. Williams’ speech was a beautifully worded disquisition raising awareness to the realities of the African American struggle. His words were not only a clarion call for consciousness and activism from persons of color, but it was also a call to accountability for how we manage ourselves in the name of liberation.
From an apology to how we treat our women (and a promise on behalf of our brothers to do better) to warning abusive law enforcement to change their behaviors to expressing the need for urgency in our efforts to obtain justice to emploring Africans Americans to better control their dollars, the speech was both poignant and powerful.
As he concluded his speech, Jesse Williams’ words were met with a standing ovation. Celebrities, dignitaries, and persons of influence throughout the auditorium showed their support for his statement by raising to their feet and applauding. History teaches us that Williams joins a long list of entertainers who have used their fame and influence as a platform to speak to social issues regarding African Americans. It was an extremely compelling moment to witness.
I watched this video and was overtaken by two distinct emotions. On one end, I was extremely proud; overjoyed by the vision of unity among our people. The other feeling that took hold of me was an overriding feeling of concern. As I watched our people applaud the call to cognizance, given on this stage for the nation and world to see, I found myself wondering what would happen after this moment. By my thinking, milestones occur when moments are married to memories. Mountaintops are attained when motivation is translated in movement. As I watched this, I began to question whether or not we have we allowed the comforts of our culture to confuse us as to what the difference between milestones and mountaintops is?
Have the ideas of fighting for freedom, sacrificing in solidarity, and protesting for progress been relegated to notions that simply sound good? Concepts that we celebrate because our celebration makes us feel better about the work we are unwilling to do.
To affirm Jesse Williams’ remarks with applause is not a bad thing. In fact, it is the right thing (dare I say, the ‘Godly’ thing) to do. But I wonder what happens after the applause? It has been 48 hours since the ceremony, and the wheels on the commercial machine (wheels that often crush the consciousness of our people) are still rolling. The applause means nothing if the same rappers who clap make the same minstrel music that maligns us. The praise is purposeless if the actors who offer it still play characters that calumniate our culture. Our laudation is lessened if we offer it only to go back to business as usual after the occasion has passed. This convenient consciousness is dangerous as it is crippling to any breakthrough and betterment our people aspire toward. Convenient consciousness tells one that it perfectly acceptable to know what needs to be done but equally acceptable (even commendable) to fail in doing it.
The issues we face are real & the solutions to them are far from easy. The place we profess to desire for our community cannot be reached solely by our plans or our plauditing; they also require our participation.
Those who would look to oppress us, those who benefit from our inactivity, are banking on it. And while need to celebrate and support this who demonstrate the incredible courage to live past their own comforts to speak truth, we must not only affirm their truth with applause, but also be willing to act after the applause.