Monday, January 5, 2009

CAN'T TOUCH THIS: We're Too Bougie For BET

So I’m celebrating the New Year (read: recovering from my sister-in-law’s smokin’ hot/spirt-filled/sweat-your-hair-out New Year’s Eve party) by lazing around and flipping through channels when I come across BET’s Notarized: Top 100 Videos of 2008. I hesitate to watch it, seeing as my Mari, who is sick, is lying up under me—I’m a firm believer that 9-year-olds shouldn’t be watching anything on BET, especially 12 hours-worth of videos featuring half-naked girls, misogynistic lyrics, and just plain, bad music. But like a mythical vampire hypnotizing me before he sucks the life out of my naked flesh, the half-naked girls, misogynistic lyrics, and just plain bad music mesmerize me, and I am quickly sucked into the horror show that is the modern day rap video. The 9-year-old, who's made clear that her restorative powers can be found only in the crook of her mommy's right armpit, refuses to leave the room; rather than to turn to yet another episode of SpongeBob, I decide to use Notarized as a teaching opportunity for the kid. I start the lesson with a few caveats, including that watching BET is:

A) about as healthy for her as a month of carb-filled soul food Sunday dinners.
B) about as appropriate as 100 adult-themed movie trailers.
C) the most stereotypically revelatory piece of black theater she’ll ever watch again before age 17.

And then we watch.

“Why,” I ask her during Akon’s “I’m So Paid,” is every girl sitting around in a bathing suit while the men walk around acting important? Do you think they care about how smart she is? Or that maybe she has something to contribute other than her looks?”

“No,” she says simply. “They need more clothes.”

Smart girl. We watch some more.

“Why do you suppose,” I ask her during Ace Hood’s “Ride,” “that the girl in this video is acting like she hit the lottery just because her boyfriend bought her some clothes? Do you think maybe she’ll get in trouble for accepting his gifts knowing that he bought them with money he got from doing bad things to other people?”

“Yeah,” she says, nodding. “She should get her own job so she won’t get into trouble.”

True. Such a smart girl. We watch another video.

“Why in the world,” I opine, “would someone make a song called, ‘Please excuse my hands,’ and more importantly, why in the world would someone play it?”

“Uh, I don’t know,” she says. “It’s kind of a dumb song.”

“You think?” I say?


See? Real talk. This is why I love me some Mari.

Baby girl was stumped, though, by my reaction to BET host Aleesha Renee, who, between videos, was planning a catered New Year’s Eve soiree. No, she wasn’t scantily clad. No, she wasn’t laying up under some man or shaking what her mama gave her in front of the cameras for the world to see, or warbling through an incomprehensive rap. What she was doing was just as bad, if not worse, than that. “What,” she sniffed at a chef charged with serving up treats for her party, “is that?”

“It’s a canapé,” he said.

“Hmm,” she said, wrinkling her nose and eyeing the bite-sized cracker creation like it was a spoonful of rat poison. “A canapé, huh?”

Now, never mind that she and the chef wrongly pronounced the French word for a bite-sized appetizer cah-NAP, or that it took her two—TWO!—commercial breaks before she dared put the doggone thing in her mouth. It’s what she said after she tasted the chef’s creation that made me want to reach into the television and touch her: “Oh,” she said after finally trying one. “I feel bougie.”

The hell? What—if it’s not fried or boiled to within an inch of its life, it’s white people food? Did she just signal to all the black people watching that the “fancy” food the chef whipped up wasn’t for “us”—that any African-American who dares sample foods beyond the scope of what’s considered “black” food is trying to be something other than black?

Come on, now. It’s exactly that kind of thinking that would have all too many of us rejecting any food that’s not a burger or Popeyes—turning our noses up at all of the wonderful cuisines found around the world. I guess she’s that chick that would travel to Brazil or Egypt, Nigeria or Kenya or South Africa or Ghana, or Haiti or St. Lucia or Jamaica, and sustain herself on Big Macs and Kentucky Fried—despite that every morsel of food to be found in those countries can be considered “black” food. Would eating Tripe cooked in red wine (considered a South African delicacy) be bougie? Maybe Griot (fried pork, a Haitian favorite) would be too much of a stretch for black folks to try? Ditto acaraje—the Afro-Brazilian delicacy of kidney bean paste fried in oil from the dende palm?

I’m sorry, but even my 6-year-old knows that you have to try a food at least twice—with a smile—before you reject it, because it’s just perfectly ridiculous to confine ourselves to such a limited number of food options when the world is full of wonderful, flavorful, thoughtful, delicious food.

This, indeed, is just one way in which Nick and I try to get our daughters and son to look at our place in this global universe. The world is so much bigger than our little corner of Georgia, and there is so very much for them to learn about other cultures, the way people live—the way they think. We enroll them in art classes so they can learn about the great artists of our time—the Picassos AND the Beardens. We let them take Mandarin lessons not because white people have their kids enrolled in those classes, but because we want our children to learn the beauty of a language and a culture they have little contact with. And we let them eat foods like sushi and falafel and curry goat and peanut soup and yes, canapés, because we don’t want them to grow up and embarrass themselves on international television talking about “ewa—what’s a cah-NAP?” and then pronounce themselves “bougie” just because they tried something different.

You know what? I think that if Aleesha Renee were invited to the homes of Jay-Z, 50 Cent, LL Cool J, Mos Def or any other prototypically black performing artist who also happens to be a multimillionaire, everybody up in their mansions would know what a canapé is, and if Ms. Aleesha were to sneak into their kitchens to see what their private chefs are preparing, she’d probably find some “bougie” food on the stoves, too. Indeed, a friend of mine traveled to the south of France and stumbled into a party where she saw 50 Cent wearing a $3,000 suit, looking quite comfortable eating the food and drinking the drink of the rich and global white folks surrounding him. There were no Tims there. No baggy jeans.

And not a piece of fried chicken in sight.

And no one would fix their mouths to call 50 “bougie.”

This is what I tell the 9-year-old when she sees me grimacing and sucking my teeth at Aleesha Renee’s ridiculous antics.

“She sure is making a big stink about trying that canapé, isn’t she?” I cluck.

“Yeah,” Mari says. “I don’t know what’s wrong with her—that cah-NAP looks good.”

See? That’s why I love me some Mari.

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  1. I can't stand BET...roll out the red kool-aid, watermelon, and fried chicken. I hope Aleesha's producer pulled her aside and let her know that she was in no way acting bougie--maybe boughetto, but not bougie. I also hope he/she explained to Aleesha that she is continuing to set us back as a people with her behavior. BET had the nerve to be on c.p. time on New Year's Eve...they were in mid conversation and I guess accidentally realized it was about to be midnight and caught the countdown at 4...3..2..1. How tacky is that? Great post!

  2. YOur little chick rocks. And, I've decided you've been a wonderful, wonderful mommy.

    screw the BETA channel. (although it WAS educational.....)

  3. Brilliant post yet again. I refuse to watch BET for all the same reasons and my children don't even know the channel exists. I just don't like seeing our people trapped by their own self-reinforcing stereotypes.

  4. oh my goodness...i love the popeye's comment. you rock my face off...crack me up! i hate when i see things like that and i fear for my kids that they will put themselves into those stupid holes that so many people have created. grrrr

  5. Great post!! I too think that BET never had anything worth watching. After it was bought by Viacom, I thought the programming would improve, but...
    Violá! Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose (the more things change, the more they stay the same)

    LOL @ KGW's c.p. time comment!!!

    And when it comes to sucking teeth when the need arises, I challenge you to a contest!! LOL

    Good for Mari! And mum, kudos again to you.

  6. LMAO. Im from the hood. and IM TOO BOUGIE FOR BET!!! Man you think thats bad, please block MTV too.

  7. yet another wonderful post!! ooowee, that mari is one smart cookie, i must say.

    bet totally sucks and has been sucking for years. and kgw, you can best believe that aleesha's producer didn't pull her aside. she/he probably thought what aleesha said was cute and/or was too busy laughing.

    and ughhhh!!! that song "please excuse my hands" burns me up every time i hear it. the lyrics sound like borderline rape to me.

  8. I don't watch BET anymore either. Too much Plies, not enough Alicia Keys. I can't listen to the radio either. It makes me feel like I am throwing my daughters to the wolves.

  9. I see what you are saying. I don't even think my kids know what BET is because we really don't watch it in our home either. I don't, however think that Aleesha when saying the word "bougie" that she was saying that she was feeling WHITE. Bougie to me is about class not color and we do have blacks that are high class.

    I love the fact that you expose your children to all kinds of cultures because many of us stick to our own and don't broaden the minds of our children with cultures outside our own. Many of us allow our children to be influenced by the BET's and MTV's point of views as to how we are "supposed" to act, what we are "suppose" to eat and how we are "supposed" to dress. Love the fact that Mari will grow up knowing not to become a stereotype! Way to go mom!

  10. This is why I love you lady. Because you say what I am thinking so well! We happened to click past the Notarized countdown right at the end when Lil Wayne's Lollipop was on, and my 3-year-old walked in the room. And of course, she caught it just as the chorus came on and proceeded to sing about licking it like a Lollipop. I had to restrain myself from knocking her into next week and remember she's just a three year old who doesn't know better. So I calmly told her that wasn't a song for her to be singing and took her back in her room to listen to the iCarly song over and over again -- until she forgot all about licking anything like a lollipop.

  11. Uh, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Aleesha Renee's response is just the tip of the iceberg. Why do you think I don't -- scratch that-- why do you think I CAN'T listen to the radio in my truck? Because my "bougie" ears can't stand the parade of crap disguised as music that blasts through my speakers. The artists that get prime real estate on BET could've saved money on studio time and just all gotten together, written one lame song, and just recycled it amongst themselves. They all say the same ish, wear the same ish, rent the same ish for the video, and then have the NERVE to call themselves unique and original! Helllooo, am I in the freakin twilight zone?! Uh, hit a nerve with this one, Denene. **Descending from my soapbox, wiping my forehead a little too hard with my kerchief, and trying to calm myself down**

  12. Your daughter is one smart cookie Denene...I loved hearing the words of wisdom right from her mouth! And kudos to you for turning a bad TV situation into a learning situation instead.

  13. Great blog! I was home to catch some of the Notarized videos. It was my first time subjecting myself to "music" videos during 2008. Aside from not knowing many of the artists and their songs, I commented to my wife, "Whatever happened to having a storyline for a video?” Everyone utilizes the green screen. I know record companies are cutting back but their has to be more creative directors out there. I guess you can't really have a storyline if you are not saying anything but “smoke this, I drive this, I want to do you.” Great job introducing your kids to different cultures. We should all realize you cannot define "Black", "White", or whatever the shade of your skin hue. We are all unique no matter the race, b/c God made us that way.

  14. KGW--well said! And ha' mercy... NOT the New Year's Even on c.p. time! ROFL!!!!!!!!!

    And Diva Ma, I hear you, though when black folks call other black folks "bougie," generally they do mean that the black folks they're directing the comment toward are "acting white," whatever in the world THAT means. But I hear you on the class thing, though, for sure.

    Execumama: You can stand on your soapbox on MBB ANYTIME!

    And Sal: You KNOW you too funny!

    Thanks, everyone, for the great comments... keep 'em coming!

  15. Hehehe, AMEN! I didn't sit down to watch the whole Notarized show, but I can definitely see Aleesha saying something like that. That is so true, we limit ourselves in so many ways. Its crazy. My thing is, if you are not willing to learn how to be a part of multiple worlds how are you gonna take the time to knock those worlds? You are very right when you say its just ridiculous.

    Mari is a gem =). I feel like screaming everytime anything by Plies or Soulja Boi or Rick Ross or Acon or "fill in the blank" comes on... a complete waste of space!!!!!!!

  16. Mari is great because (at least in part) shes got a great momma. “bougie” I hate that word.

  17. Wow, Ms. Millner - your Mari has more common sense than girls twice (thrice?) her age! Pat yourself on the back for a "Job well done, Mommy!"

    Yes, I can't watch BET. I did admit to watching the second season of Keyshia Cole's show, just because I liked seeing where the girl came from. She seemed geniune and happy to make it in the music business.

    Now I know her mom has all types of problems in her past and present, but I just can't watch it if all they do is yell. I got sucked into one of the screaming matches they had, looked down and saw my two-year-old daughter mesmerized.

    I quickly turned to Winnie the Pooh and pulled her on the couch to read a story.


  18. Also, have you ever heard Plies talk? (When he's not in his persona?) These guys are very intelligent. I hate that they feel like have to act like a "goon" (what does that even mean?) to be successful....

  19. Tara:

    I just assumed that "goon" meant a really bad person... I just googled it, and a few entries down, it says it means "a professional gangster." But the very first definition that comes up? "An awkward, stupid person."

    Just sayin'.

    It IS sad that they have to act the fool to make a dollar. Plus, all that stuff in his mouth makes me think his breath smells like doo doo.

    Just sayin'.

  20. Perfectly put! I was determined to secretly "catch up" on all the tasteless videos that I didn't watch throughout the year on BET's Notarized: Top 100 videos and... just couldn't do it. BET has gone from wrong to disgraceful!

    Thank you for always expressing my thoughts so well in this blog. And, Mari can teach that Aleesha a thing or twenty!

  21. Um...I'm sorry, "Please Excuse My Hands?" They must not play that on NPR, because I'm not hip. Oh. My bad. Was that bougie? Loved your post and struggling to keep my little one from being impressed by nonsense, too. :-)

  22. Lol. You gave me a good laugh just before I go to bed. Thank you :) I'm glad to see another success, educated, intelligent sista speaking it like it is. BET is not a good representation of quality black television. Ugh!

  23. Mari is sharp! Job well done Denene. BET is a big disappointment as is many artists. Bring back shows like Teen Summit.

  24. That's exactly why I avoid BET. I don't think my kids have ever watched this channel. BET had to opportunity to be a bright spot in the media for African American. Instead, the management chose to propogate stereotypes. BTW, who's serving some canapés. I'd sure like to have some. This post has made me hungry.

  25. I also do not allow my children to watch BET or even MTV. I'm convinced that their programming destroys brain cells.

    Denene you are doing a great job raising your children to experience different cultures, foods, etc. I do the same with my own children. I'd rather my children be "bougie" than ignorant.

  26. Great post. I have had this whole revelation since Barack was campaigning for the Democratic nomination and people were saying he wasn't Black enough. It made me look at myself and my judgments of what was or wasn't black.

    I had to readjust and evolve! It's not like I've never been exposed to these things or haven't been college educated. I just always hidden that side of me because I didn't think it was cool either. I realize that I probably held myself back from things I could and should have been doing.

  27. Melissa: Thank you for being so honest about your feelings. You're not alone in wanting to "hide" that part of you--the part that is open to new ideas and comfortable just being, without letting people preconceived notions and stereotypes dictate what you can and can't like. This is just one of the things that makes me so happy that there is a Barack and Michelle Obama. Perhaps we can start redefining what, exactly "being black" means.

  28. you are my parenting child's only 2...and she'll never see BET if I have anything to say about it...thanks for staying on fire!


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