Jesse Williams’ masterly acceptance speech at the BET awards ceremony on June 26, 2016, has generated a long overdue focus on the exploitative relationship that our Black artists have with their Hollywood profiteers. White pseudo-rapper Justin Timberlake backed himself into a chainsaw of Black resentment when he simply thumbs-upped Williams for “inspiring” language like this:
“We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, and we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying Black people out of sight and out of mind, while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil, black gold. Ghettoizing and demeaning our creations, then stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit. The thing is, just because we’re magic, doesn’t mean we’re not real.”
The clueless Timberlake had no idea that he is seen as one of those culture bandits that troll the edges of Black genius looking for a way to pilfer and then profit. Timberlake’s untimely outing of his gentrifying self put his $230 million net worth in the spotlight. How much of that is owed to the inimitably BLACK bass players, back-up singers, arrangers, producers, and pianists, guitarists and consumers? How about Justin Bieber’s $200 million, Adele’s $125 million, Brittney Spears’ $185 million, Madonna’s $800 million?
It is ironic that just 24 hours before Williams’ speech The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan was at a Boston museum encouraging Black artists to use their exalted positions to speak for their people. He said,
“The politicians have ruined the world, and the spiritual teachers, in the name of religion, have done more to destroy human beings over God, and so today, the cultural community is the community that can speak the loudest to change the human condition. So art and culture is the future.”
Jesse Williams’ commitment to Farrakhan’s call signals a great future for the Black entertainment community, which roared its approval with repeated standing ovations. Williams called on his industry to reverse a century-old entertainment industry racism:
“Now, the thing is though, all of us in here getting money—that alone isn’t going to stop this…dedicating our lives to get money just to give it right back for someone’s brand on our body, when we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies and now we pray to get paid for brands on our bodies.”
As Williams points out, an entire white business infrastructure has been established on the basis of the talent of Black athletes, musicians, dancers, singers, comedians, and artists of every kind who have set the standard in every field. Whites, whose only discernible talent is their access to a whites-only money supply, sit firmly and immovably over a massive wealth-generating business conglomerate that is no different from the old sharecropping model, while deriving incredible profits entirely from Black cultural genius.
Unmistakably, Black culture rules the entire world of entertainment, and Black physical prowess and athleticism are the core attraction of all spectator sports. All noteworthy sports records are now in the hands of Blacks, or soon will be. Rap music has totally engulfed the youth of every nation that hears it, just as with blues, jazz, and rock & roll before it. Hip Hop in every nation and language fuels everything from the nation’s dance parties, to its commercial advertising, to its political revolutions. The standard for white singers is Black singers; it’s the same with musicians, dancers, and athletes.
Originally, whites like Al Jolson made careers by actually painting their faces pitch black, affecting a mock Black dialect, and dancing and singing like Blacks for the white audiences that thronged to see them. They called themselves “coon singers” and “black minstrels,” and the very first Hollywood movies all featured them. European composer Gunther Schuller said, “The blacks have always invented the music. The whites take it over. Then the blacks invent something new.”
There are the culture bandits—the Gershwins, the Elvises, the Timberlakes, the Madonnas, the Britneys, the Amy Winehouses. But those who sit behind the scenes counting the cash have always maintained an exclusive hold over the incredible riches and talent. The business agents, managers, producers, technicians, music publishers and distributors, tour managers, copywriters; the team owners, coaches, lawyers, vendors, franchisers, media, advertisers, studio heads, etc.—a colossal financial enterprise—are almost entirely white, and overwhelmingly Jewish.
For every talented Black athlete and entertainer, there are thousands of whites siphoning a living for their families from the consumers paying huge amounts to see and hear that Black individual or his/her pale imitators. The names of the stars are well known, but in America there are at least 403,000 people making—off the backs of these Black individuals—on average $45,000 a year in the fields of performing arts, spectator sports, and related industries.
Possibly the most glaring and widespread exploitation of Black talent is found in college sports, where Black athletes fill stadiums with paying consumers but receive not a single penny for their marketable talent. The only similar business model is slavery itself. If the Black athlete accepts a sandwich or a stick of gum from another person, he is subject to severe penalties—even while his white coaches and athletic departments may—and do—enter into multi-million-dollar private contracts with merchandisers, advertisers, and media corporations.
The professional circuit is hardly any better. The individual Black performer who becomes a “star” sometimes realizes a measure of personal financial gain, but s(he) generates a behind-the-scenes business operation that is exclusively white-controlled and highly lucrative.
As the Olympics approaches, let us keep one eye on the Black talent and one eye on the white sponsors. Who are they? What are they making on the backs of these athletes? When will we recognize that THE WEALTH WE GENERATE is ours? As the Hollywood season of blockbusters is upon us, which whites end up with the gold blocks, and which Blacks end up busted? Jesse Williams has heard The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and in his own words sounded a very Justice-Or-Else call:
“So what’s going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.”
“A Special Visit to Boston: A Special Message for Artists,” http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/National_News_2/article_103189.shtml
“Peace, peace. Thank you. …. Before we get into it, I just want to say…I brought my parents out tonight. I just want to thank them for being here, for teaching me to focus on comprehension over career that they make sure I learn what the schools were afraid to teach us, and also to thank my amazing wife for changing my life. Now, this award, this is not for me. This is for the real organizers all over the country: the activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students, that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. Alright?
It’s kind of basic mathematics: the more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize. Now, this is also in particular for the Black women, in particular, who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can and will do better for you.
Now, what we’ve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm, and not kill white people every day. So what’s going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours. ….
Yesterday would’ve been young Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday, so I don’t want to hear anymore about how far we’ve come when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on a 12-year-old playing alone in a park in broad daylight, killing him on television and then going home to make a sandwich. Tell Rekia Boyd how it’s so much better to live in 2012 than it is to live in 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner. Tell that to Sandra Bland. Tell that to Darrien Hunt.
Now, the thing is though, all of us in here getting money—that alone isn’t going to stop this. Alright, now dedicating our lives to getting money just to give it right back for someone’s brand on our body, when we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies and now we pray to get paid for brands on our bodies. There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There has been no job we haven’t done; there’s no tax they haven’t levied against us; and we’ve paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here: ‘You’re free,’ they keep telling us. ‘But she would’ve been alive if she hadn’t acted so… free.’
Now, freedom is always coming in the hereafter, but, you know what though, the hereafter is a hustle. We want it now. And let’s get a couple of things straight, just a little side note: the burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job—stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest in equal rights for Black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.
We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, and we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying Black people out of sight and out of mind, while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil, black gold. Ghettoizing and demeaning our creations, then stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit. The thing is though, the thing is that just because we’re magic, doesn’t mean we’re not real. Thank you.”