Saturday, April 23, 2016

My second Spotify playlist: Prince and the divas

The untimely passing of Prince this past week has inspired countless countdowns and ruminations on the iconic artist's most unforgettable hits. My personal Prince playlist has been on repeat in my head since I learned of his death on April 21 at his home in Minneapolis at age 57. It includes some of the usual suspects ("1999," "Raspberry Beret," "Kiss," Sign o' the Times," and "Cream"), as well as some less obvious purple fare. Among them: "4 The Tears in Your Eyes," "Mountains," "I Wish U Heaven."

But if I'm being completely honest, the Prince songs that have been popping into my head most are the ones by other artists that he wrote, produced, performed on and/or financed...particularly the ones sung by fierce ruling divas. Those are the oldies but goodies that make up my second Spotify playlist.

Sadly, some of them are as elusive as the man was himself. You won't find them on Spotify, so I've left them off my second Spotify playlist and included them at the bottom of this post. Enjoy!

https://open.spotify.com/user/22lx2wfkekdhp2mtixdvc36oq/playlist/2fa6gLdvkePOg2tu7oMW1T


"101" Sheena Easton



"Time Waits for No One" Mavis Staples



"Nothing Compares 2 U" Sinead O'Connor



"On the Way Up" Elisa Fiorello




"Elephant Box" Ingrid Chavez



"I Hear Your Voice" Patti LaBelle



Sunday, April 17, 2016

My first Spotify playlist: Great underrated songs from the 1970s




https://open.spotify.com/user/22lx2wfkekdhp2mtixdvc36oq/playlist/5B5grKx4EanFuUi2UiyoQr

Things people say when they really don't care if they never see you again

If decades of living have taught me anything, it's this: People find a way to do what they really want to do, come hell, high water, or jam-packed schedules. I've known this for sure since my friend Nancy flew thousands of miles from Los Angeles to Buenos Aires in 2009 just to see me for a few days.

I'm not saying I require that level of devotion from all my friends - or any of them. What I am saying is if you can't see me, or don't want to, fine. You don't have to. Just hold the lame excuses. I'd almost always rather be alone than be in the company of someone who's not truly psyched to be there.

But if we both want to be in the same room (preferably one that's empty to underpopulated), and distance isn't keeping us apart, more than a few days certainly won't.

Maybe I'm alone in this, but I doubt it. It's OK if you don't really care whether you ever see me again, so there's no need to drop hackneyed excuses. My bullshit detector has become infallible over years of lame excuses, partly because I've been guilty of going there myself.

But I've learned to say "Hello/ Goodbye" and move on without phony, platitudinous commentary, and I'm working on how to graciously and firmly decline invitations without falling back on any of the old excuses of which I've grown so weary.

Yes, I know non-committal when I hear or read it. Here are 8 of the more egregious, obvious, and annoying examples...


1. "When am I going to see you?" I feel the same about this as I do about "Can I kiss you?" - a question, by the way, that someone actually placed to me several weeks ago, as if we were in a 1960s black and white movie, or he was "Sash" propositioning Sam Frost on The Bachelorette Australia.

If, you have to ask, well, you've already got your answer...and it's not "Yes," or anytime in the immediate future. A real man (or woman) just makes these things happen.

My friend Zena recently sent me a surprise email proposing some dates when she can fly from Chicago to Australia to hang out with me (the weekend after I return form holiday in Croatia - i.e., more good times ahead!). And that, folks, is how you show someone you really care.

2. "Where have you been hiding?" In these days of social media, everyone knows exactly where everyone has been hiding and what they've been doing there. If you're truly interested, you wouldn't have to ask.

3. "I hope I see you soon." Because that's the sort of thing over which we have absolutely no control. "Soon" - as in "Talk soon!" - is the kiss of death for hopes of any future engagement.

4. "Things are crazy right now."/ "I'm really busy over the next few days/weeks/months/years." This hasn't been a valid excuse since the time Phil Collins played two Live Aid concerts on two different continents in one day. People make time to do the things they're dying to do.

5. "Let's keep in touch." So quaint, so pre-Facebook. Nowadays, you don't even have to try... hard. So if you still have to suggest it, you probably know neither one of you will likely make the effort.

6. "Text/ Message me." The millennial version of "Give me a call." And in 2016, the implication remains the same as it was in 1996: When someone leaves the ball in your court, it's there for a reason. Game over.

7. "I have a birthday dinner." Right up there with "The dog ate my homework" in the pantheon of lame excuses. It's so Buenos Aires, and, sadly, so Sydney. Yes, these things happen. But if they happen all the time, then how deep and meaningful are these friendships? Will your absence really be missed by one of a million mates? I have a theory: The more birthday dinners you "have to" go to, the fewer you're likely required, or even expected, to attend.

8. "Take care" - or as they say in Buenos Aires, "Cuidate!" "Have a good life"... without the animosity.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Twinkle, twinkle lucky star: Merle Haggard, 1937-2016

Today I found out Merle Haggard died, and 12 hours later, I'm probably more devastated than I was at the moment of impact. I haven’t been so affected by a country music passing since Tammy Wynette’s death nearly 20 years ago (and incidentally, Merle’s tribute to Tammy remains, for me, one of the most memorable parts of her televised funeral).

Why am I especially blue when we've already lost so many greats in the first three months of 2016? I’m not entirely sure. I can’t say Merle’s songs saved me (as everyone crawls out of the woodwork claiming whenever any iconic figure dies), nor would I even count him among my Top 10 all-time favorite country music singers.

I’m well aware of the man’s musical genius. I recently listened to countdown of the 40 biggest country music artists of the 20th century, and Merle was right up there at No. 3, behind Conway Twitty (No. 2) and Eddy Arnold (No. 1). I wouldn’t have expected anything less from the man who, along with Buck Owens (No. 10), defined country music’s Bakersfield sound in the 1960s.

But that was before my time. I arrived at the altar of Merle Haggard a decade later. He may not have saved my life, but what an impact he had on it. His music was a vital part of some of my most musically formative years, from 1979 to 1982, when country music dominated my personal playlist. I can’t imagine my pre-teens without him.

So I suppose in a sense, the passing of Merle Haggard represents yet another brick removed from my musical foundation, from my life’s foundation. It’s a reminder of my mortality, as I inch closer to my own finale, which feels like an element of a running Merle Haggard theme: the end of innocence.

This morning as I walked to work, when I was listening to “Mama Tried,” I had no idea that I was a half hour away from finding out that Merle had passed away on his 79th birthday. The tribute from his son on People.com that broke the news of his death for me probably shouldn't have come as such a shock. I knew he wasn’t in the best of health, but I always thought that he, like so many icons who have recently left us, would live forever.

Maybe I’m mourning not only the loss of Merle but also the fact that others will follow. It’s like a dark cloud following us through life. But there’s also an ever-present rainbow, a silver lining in the art they leave behind.

And Merle left a lot, but for me, his work in the late '70s and early '80s will be what I keep going back to for the rest of my life. To commemorate his life and my love of his music, here are 7 of my favorite Merle musical moments:

“Mama Tried”

“If We’re Not Back in Love by Monday”


“The Way I Am”


“Big City”


“Yesterday’s Wine”


“Going Where the Lonely Go”


“Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star”

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Notes from a bored gay black man

From my Scruff profile:

What I'm looking for…

The one.

Until I stumble upon him, sentences over monosyllabic responses, answers over questions, words over acronyms, face-to-face dates over instant hook-ups and pointless, endless chit chat. I'm not lonely or bored, so I'm not desperately seeking online pen pals. Why are guys so afraid of dates nowadays?

Let's just meet with no agenda and let the sparks fly…or not.

If you wouldn't ask it when meeting me for the first time, say, in a bar - *cough cough* "Top or bottom?" "Hung?" - then please don't ask me here. I reserve the right to be immediately turned off. If you've read this far, you don't have to ask "What are you looking for?", which, by the way, ranks among the Top 5 lamest gay-app questions. ("What's doing?" and "Horny?" round out the list, alongside the aforementioned.) Good conversation/banter is not a Q&A. I'm a journalist, so I get enough of that at work. In real life, they bore me easily, and I tune out.

Racial references are kind of icky. If you're talking to me, I assume you like black guys…or just me. .It's OK if it's just about me…better even. Can we move past "I love black guys/cocks" please? It's boring, and I never know how to respond. Have you complimented ME? If I said, "I love white guys," have I complimented every white guy?

Gay men who go to Asia and write "no Asians" in their profiles are the worst. Would you go to America and say "no Americans" or Sydney and say "no Australians"? Come on, guys. Preference is not a blockade. Racism doesn't always twirl its moustache. At least be man enough to own it. Thank you.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The one thing I never knew about straight men and women..until last night

What a difference two years and a few beers can make. In May of 2014, I wrote an essay for The Huffington Post called "5 Simple Rules for Straight Women in Gay Bars." I continue to stand by every word I wrote in that piece, but I'm finally ready to ease up a little on girls' nights out in gay bars.

Who said you can't learn crucial life lessons over beers on a Friday night?

Yesterday I was out with my friend Jose and three of his female colleagues, when what had started out as an ordinary evening at Darlo Bar unexpectedly morphed into Sexual Harassment 101.

Our party of five gained a new member when a good-looking guy who'd later introduce himself as Liam singled out one of the women in our group, clearly unaware she wasn't single. He made perfunctory small talk with the rest of us, but it was obvious where his interest lay. All hands were above the large table between them, though, so no harm done.

But the newcomer got one of the other ladies in our group thinking and then talking about boys in bars. She started complaining about men who approach uninterested women and can't get the hint…or take no for an answer.

I came in mid-monologue, so I assumed she was talking about Liam, who hardly seemed like a pushy predator. And from where I was sitting, it looked like he might have had a shot with the object of his attention, who appeared receptive to his considerable charms.

As it turned out, the monologue wasn't about Liam. He'd only inspired it. Watching him work our table, his eye on a specific prize, had gotten her thinking and talking about men and women and how difficult it can be for them to coexist in nightlife.

She described to me how hard women sometimes have it when they go out - or when they're simply in public. As she explained it, when men approach them and they're not interested, women generally react in one of two ways. They either engage him against their will (which is what she implied her co-worker was doing), or they politely inform the unwanted suitor that he's interrupted a girlfriends-only conversation (her preferred approach).

The former, I learned, is what women sometimes do to keep the peace because if they jump to the second response, guys might not take it well and resort to name-calling, slut-shaming or worse. Her words immediately made me think of my own experiences as a gay black man in gay scenes dominated by white men. Guys sometimes hit on me in the most aggressive and racially charged ways, and if I don't respond positively, they've been known to angrily hurl the N-word at me.

"I get it. I know exactly what you're talking about," I said, relieved to be on the right side of the men-can-be-such-dicks conversation.

I told her about the time I spent hours detained by the Buenos Aires police after my rejection of a man who had been harassing me in a nightclub ended in a physical altercation. (Read all about it in "The Kick Inside," a chapter from my first book, Is It True What They Say About Black Men?: Tales of Love, Lust and Language Barriers on the Other Side of the World .)

Not so fast.

Although surprised by my story (which included a few choice words from the angry suitor, including the N one) and appreciative of my empathy, she told me there's one big difference between my gay expat encounters and women's experiences with pushy men who can't take "not interested" for an answer.

I can respond with a swift kick in the shins, confident that if the violence escalates, I'll probably come out on the winning side. Most women, however, don't have the luxury of letting out their inner fist-fighter.

And for many women, she pointed out, the episodes aren't nearly as isolated as the ones I described. To say it happens all the time for some women wouldn't necessarily be an exercise in hyperbole.

I felt like I'd just woken up from a lengthy coma. How did I not know this? How could I miss it? I knew encounters with tacky men came with the territory of being a woman, but I wasn't aware of how regularly they had to be fended off, sometimes in the most strategic ways. I had no idea how confronting and exhausting alcohol-fueled social situations can be for women.

In my book, I wrote about being routinely touched against my will in Cambodia. I concluded that my experiences there gave me a greater understanding of what women go through, but I had a lot more to learn. There's so much that goes through a woman's mind during an encounter with a strange man that I'll never truly understand.

Considering how many close female friends I've had over the years, I couldn't believe I'd never been privy to this information. As I listened and learned last night, I realized this sort of thing must happen to them more often than I realize.

How could I not have known? Is it because when I'm out with my female friends I provide a buffer between them and would-be predators? Maybe it's the sort of thing women typically discuss amongst themselves but not with men, not even a gay one?

Don't get me wrong. I know what jerks men can be. I've heard the cat calls and witnessed the unwanted advances. I've also seen stranger-danger scenarios with sexual-assault potential, though to be completely truthful, my experience with them has been mostly from TV, movies and Amber Rose anecdotes, not from everyday civilian life.

I'd always assumed casual social encounters between women and men they didn't know were more a nuisance for women than anything else. I'd never really considered the psychological element, the fear factor.

I looked at Liam again. He was still cute and charming as ever, but I couldn't get the P word (predator) out of my mind. I'm not sure I'll ever look at men and women interacting in a straight bar the same way again.

I'm not saying I'll love it when women crowd gay bars looking for a safe space where they can dance without fear of harassment, but from now on, I'll certainly be more understanding. Lesson learned.

Friday, March 25, 2016

What would you ask for if you knew the answer was yes?

I came across this blog post's titular question on Instagram recently, and it stopped me dead in my scrolling. It was a welcome respite from all those narcissistic selfies and show-off holiday snaps that make Instagram my least-favorite social media forum. Plus, it got me thinking.

I'm such a difficult guy to shop for, and not because I have everything. I'm a minimalist, so I'm not into collecting. That only leads to clutter, to which I'm violently allergic. As material possessions go, I have pretty much all I want/need. I'd never turn down a nice hoodie, but I'm more into the intangible.

So while I'm borderline-impossible to shop for, if someone were handing out wishes, it wouldn't be so difficult to please me. What would I ask for if I knew the answer was yes? Well, that one's easy.

1. The one Have we met? Did I already love and lose him? I've been waiting decades (yes, literally). Come on now. Get here... if you dare.

2. Home Last week I gave a presentation at work about my professional story, which I separated into three distinct chapters: 1) The magazine era in New York City. 2) The book era in Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Bangkok, and Cape Town. 3) The online era in Sydney.

"So where do you consider to be home then?" someone asked when I was finished.

I have no idea, but I'm more than ready to find out. As the golden soul oldie so eloquently put it, a house is not a home. Nor is a home necessarily home. And as much as I love my home in Sydney, this isn't home.

How will I know I'm finally home? When I feel secure and happy enough somewhere to take a major leap of faith and sign up for a long-term Internet plan.

3. An idea for a groundbreaking app Yeah, like Marnie's boyfriend on the first season or two of Girls. Whatever happened to him? I lost interest in all of the show's male characters after he disappeared.

4. My own private bathroom at work Maybe it has something to do with Sydney's obsession with coffee, but the washroom at work sometimes feels like a loo at Grand Central Station -- only stinkier. And what a wonderful work week it would be if I no longer had to hold in my own number-twos until I can get to some remote location where nobody recognizes me.

5. My own private gym Yes, sometimes the presence of so many attractive hardbodies (and I haven't seen so many on the gym floor since the month I spent in Berlin in 2013) can provide motivation, but I'd give it up if it meant I'd never again have to wait on someone who's hogging the bench-press area.

6. A digital copy of House of Bondage (photos by Ernest Cole, words by Thomas Flaherty) It's a rare book, published and banned in South Africa during the apartheid era, making it virtually impossible to buy there even today. I first learned about it via an exhibit at The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, the one that made me break down in tears in 2013 and inspired my in-the-works second book, Storms in Africa: Notes from the Motherland.

I haven't cried since, and I haven't been able to find a new copy in any bookstore, or online for less than $100, much less in eBook form. When I finally decide to throw my $100-plus to the wind and order a hard copy for $50 international delivery, I'll probably read it and weep...again.

7. A job where I don't have to go to an office or deal with anyone face-to-face Sadly, unless Tyler Perry or Lee Daniels buy the rights to one of my books, I'll likely never be able to earn a living writing them.

8. A stash of benzos without a prescription Doctors in Australia are pretty much banned from prescribing them, which is hardly surprising, given the nanny state I'm in. I kicked my Klonopin addiction years ago, but my panic disorder persists, and if I'm being totally honest, I occasionally crave half a Valium to curb my latest anxiety attack... or at least having the option to do so.

9. Donald Trump's immediate exit from public life Like many of my fellow Americans (and human beings), I'm tired of seeing his puffy, hideous orange face.

10. World peace Of course. Because we don't need another Brussels or Istanbul or Paris or 9/11, Because I don't want to read about yet another black, another gay, another refugee, another Muslim, or another woman being harassed, bashed or murdered. Because both guns and people kill.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

I'm proudly and unapologetically American...but it will never define me

Here we are again.

Every time I think I've moved on to the higher road, I always end up back down in the depths, in that very same spot - on the receiving end of yet another lecture about why Sydney is so awesome and I'm an idiot for daring to think otherwise. It seems like once a week, I find myself arguing with one more Sydneysider because I've failed to give his city (and it seems to always be a him) the expected rave review.

Most recently, I defended my lukewarm Sydney stance to the friend of friends on Friday night. He responded with some valid points that were totally undermined by a recurring one that was anything but sound.

"That's so American."

That's so American? Wow. How insightful. How eloquent. How original. I've never heard that one before.

It's a hackneyed statement that reflects something I've known since my first trip to Australia five and a half years ago. Many Australians regard Americans as being generally inferior, good only for entertainment, which is why they have no problem consuming U.S. pop culture while not-so-secretly looking down on everything it represents.

I find anti-American sentiment among Aussies frustrating for a number of reasons. For one thing, it completely disregards the overlapping qualities of the Australian way and the American way: blind nationalism accompanied by a healthy dose of racism, provincialism and boganism (i.e., white-trash tendencies).

Of course, while I recognize these recurring themes in both American and Australian culture, I would never automatically assign any of them to someone I'd just met strictly because they were from one country or the other. That would be tantamount to a white person crying "That's so black" every time a black person did anything disagreeable.

And that brings us to my biggest problem with "That's so American." At its most pejorative (which, I suspect, is precisely what it's intended to be), it slants toward xenophobia and prejudgment, troubling qualities that live right next door to racism. I'm not putting "That's so American" on the same level as "No Asians" or "All black people are lazy/stupid/criminals," but there's a common thread of collectivism there.

The great irony of "That's so American" as a dismissive conversation device is that one can probably argue that it's so American to love Australians. Those negative feelings that some-to-many Australians seem to harbor about Americans are hardly mutual. Australian culture (like the Aussie accent and kangaroos) is practically mythologized in the United States. Furthermore, I've yet to meet an American who visited Sydney and didn't love it.

So how, then, can my own less-than-enthusiastic feelings about Sydney be construed as "so American"? Most or my fellow countrymen would probably disagree with me. Is it my reasons for coming to that conclusion, or my unwillingness not to accept that I will someday grow to love Sydney as much as everyone else does, despite the fact that one year and four months after moving here, I remain as lukewarm about the place as I was at the end of my first trip here in 2010?

The slavish devotion to this city by so many locals might actually be part of the reason why it's been so hard for me to fall for it. People make loving Sydney seem like a manifest destiny, an inalienable obligation. I've lived all over the world, on every continent except Antarctica, and I've never seen such systemic loyalty to one place.

It might actually be touching, if it didn't feel so borderline oppressive. Several acquaintances have suggested that it's human nature to be protective of the city in which you live. It's like the way we react when someone doesn't like our favorite song, or our favorite movie. We rush to defend the things that we think define us.

That's perfectly understandable. I get it. But that doesn't make it any less frustrating, especially when the reaction to my reaction is as insulting as "That's so American." To say such a thing and to do so repeatedly over the course of one conversation completely diminishes me and narrows me down to one thing, in much the same way that the question "Is it true what they say about black men?" completely diminishes me and narrows me down to one thing.

Yes, I might be American, but I'm far more complex than that. I'm also black, Caribbean and gay, qualities that have influenced me as much as, if not more than my national identity. I'm also an expat, someone who has lived nearly one-quarter of my life outside of the U.S. Being a member of multiple minority groups in the United States often made me feel as much of an outsider there as I have anywhere I've lived since leaving New York City.

Of course, anyone who would dismiss me and/or my ideas with "That's so American" hasn't actually considered any of this, for as soon as they know where I'm from, they've already sized me up. "That's so American" isn't an observation, though. It's simplistic criticism. The implication: Nothing an American says or feels is the result of independent thinking. We all carry guns and support Donald Trump. We're all stupid.

That's like saying that all Australian's talk like Crocodile Dundee, like lockout laws, and are homophobic because same-sex marriage is still illegal here (tsk tsk). It's so condescending, so trivializing, so judgmental, so lazy, so tone deaf.

Any well-traveled person who is qualified to offer any insight into the American psyche that wasn't acquired second-hand would realize that as a native of the Virgin Islands who never quite lost his West Indian accent, I don't even sound "American."

So to listen to me and say "That's so American" is to not listen to me at all.

Monday, February 8, 2016

More burning questions: Random things I'm trying to figure out today

If predictive text can guess what I'm going to type next, then why does it keep mangling the words I've already typed? If I wanted to say "around," would I type "round"…or "wombat"?

Why would someone bring a nine-month-old baby on a wine-tasting excursion? I let the tot-toting couple in my Hunter Valley tour group off the hook this past weekend, though, because they were lesbians and the baby was so damn adorable. But still, why?

Who was Michael Fassbender really playing in Steve Jobs? I loved the performance and found him/it a lot more entertaining than Leonard DiCaprio in The Revenant, but I don't recall the real Steve Jobs being so urbane and sexy…at least not according to his public persona.

Speaking of Oscar-nominated performances, what did Rachel McAdams do in Spotlight to score that best supporting actress nod? It was a solid movie that I think suffered from not having a central point of view. Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, and especially Liev Schreiber were all great, but did any of them impact the film the way Sylvester Stallone did Creed, or Tom Hardy did The Revenant, or Mark Rylance did Bridge of Spies, or Jacob Tremblay did Room? Oh, right - Jacob wasn't even nominated for best supporting actor (though he's more lead in Room than Best Actress frontrunner Brie Larson). Hey, Academy, what's up with that? #OscarsSoAgeistAgainstKids?

Why are gay men so desperate for ego boosts yet so terrified/turned off when they get them?

Why do the coolest/hottest guys online always seem to live 50 kilometers or more away? Do they seem more perfect because they're less accessible? Are they only acting so dateable because they know there's safety in distance? Or are we simply always living in the wrong city?

Why do Australians get so excited when an Australian does something "newsworthy" in Australia? Doesn't that sort of thing happen every day? You'd think we were living in some foreign country where you could go months without hearing a single "Hey mate."

Why doesn't Newcastle, NSW, get more love from Aussies other than the ones who live there? And why did it remind me so much of Lima when I visited for the first time this past weekend? Did it have anything to do the city's underrated status and its coastal cliffs? Walking along Newcastle Beach, if I had tilted my head just so, I would have sworn I was in Miraflores. Am I alone here?

Newcastle

Lima

Why is it "hit and run" and not "hit and drive"?

What's with the continued Botox-shaming? Everybody does it these days, and are the results really any more inauthentic than those offered by fake tanning and coloring one's hair?

Why isn't everyone else listening to "Consideration," the opening track on Rihanna's Anti, on repeat?

What's the big deal about Beyonce's "Formation"? I mean, what's her point? Is she saying be black and be proud...if you're gorgeous and you've got "paper"? Hasn't she been singing that song for years? #Overrated

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

In defense of the BET Awards: Is celebrating women in rock anti-male?

I've had it. I'm done. Let's move it along, please.

If I read one more comment by one more disingenuously slighted white person using the BET Awards as ammunition against the #OscarsSoWhite call for diversity and inclusion in Hollywood…

Let's just say, it's time to give that particular one a rest. Trying to turn the tables is futile. When it comes to the thorny race issue, the majority generally wields the power. That's why no one has ever been able to coin an anti-white slam as brutally effective as the N word (and no, neither "honkey" nor "cracker" comes close). And to those tit-for-tatters who carp, "Well, black people use the N word, too," the danger isn't in the word itself but in the hatred it represents and the painful history it recalls when uttered by anyone of the race that coined it,

Those shouting "Reverse racism!" over the Oscars boycott and the BET Awards can continue to do so if it helps them feel less guilty about being white and privileged, but the slights they allegedly suffer at the hands of black people don't begin to approach the level of disgrace and injustice blacks in America experience every day.

Personally, I consider the Oscars boycott to be ridiculously self-serving and misguided, but that's beside the point. The Oscars are beside the point. The point is a movie industry that's too narrow in its scope to spawn diversity during awards season. The un-diverse Oscar nominations and it lack of acting nominees of color are but a symptom of a much larger problem: a Hollywood movie industry that reflects the ongoing dismissal of minorities in the U.S. and the systemic white-is-better racism that's plagued the country since its inception.

Why do we need the BET Awards, and why aren't white performers invited to the party?

That's like asking why Adele's "Hello" isn't eligible for a Latin Grammy, even if Latinos love the song. Just as the Latin Grammys were created because a specific ethnic demographic wasn't being properly represented at the regular Grammys, the BET Awards were created to recognize talent that was also being overlooked at mainstream awards shows.

How is celebrating yourself because no one else will racist against the ruling privileged majority? (A similar case can be made for Black History Month, another target of some privileged whites who have likely never heard of the Harlem Renaissance or any other aspect of black history that, unlike slavery, doesn't revolve around whites and therefore isn't taught in school.)

Should we close down all of the gay bars and clubs because they may be construed as being heterophobic? Should we cancel everything that celebrates women because they might be interpreted as being man-hating? It's already a man's man's man's man's (Western) world - one in which straight white guys have a clear advantage. Forgive me if I don't cry for them because they occasionally feel left out.

White (male) power is a fact of life that cannot be refuted by the tired reverse-racism argument that too many white people, including an out-of-touch Charlotte Rampling, are grasping at to make those pesky black folks go away…or at least shut the hell up.

But getting back to the BET Awards, Black Entertainment Television put the BET in the BET Awards. The network came to prominence during a decade in which The Cosby Show was pretty much the only mainstream representation of black culture. All of the progress blacks had made in the '70s toward something resembling diversity had fallen by the wayside.

In music, MTV was created mainly as a vehicle for white artists, as there was an unofficial decree that videos by black artists were not to be played because even if audiences wanted to hear their music, they didn't want to actually see them. At least that was the ruling assumption. Things only changed when Michael Jackson's Thriller came along. The future self-proclaimed King of Pop, the world's biggest artist at the time, was able to reverse MTV's racist decree only because his record label threatened to pull all of its white artists from the network if it didn't play the videos by its top star.

Even after Michael Jackson became a video icon, all but the biggest crossover black artists were still largely ignored by MTV and Top 40 radio. If it hadn't been for BET's Video Soul and its host Donnie Simpson in the '80s, I might have entirely missed the incredible music being recorded by non-crossover artists like Stephanie Mills, Angela Winbush, and Miki Howard. I owe the balanced musical diet of my formative years as much to BET as to MTV's 120 Minutes and Bob Kingsley's Great American Country Countdown.


Meanwhile, as I've already mentioned, things had gone from decent to worse on TV in the '80s. Good Times, Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons, Diff'rent Strokes, and What's Happening!! had all left the air. And even during the peak era of Norman Lear's lower-case black entertainment television sitcoms, Isabel Sanford, who played Louise "Weezy" Jefferson on The Jeffersons, was the only black performer ever to win an Emmy for best leading actress in a comedy series. To date, she remains the only black women to ever take this prize.


By the time The Cosby Show ended its run in 1992, the white status quo had a solid grip on the three major networks. If you wanted to see shows featuring blacks in prominent roles, you had to go to Fox…or BET. Black performers were largely absent from the must-see TV of the '90s and the early '00s. Friends, Seinfeld, Will and Grace, Mad About You, and Sex and the City, like Girls today, were all set in a New York City that was nearly 100 percent white.

Melrose Place, another '90s cultural phenomenon, had a token black regular for several seasons who was relegated to minor "black"-themed storylines until she was bounced completely. For black performers and people who wanted to see them in substantial roles, Fox and BET (and later UPN) were pretty much the only options.

The TV industry has come a long way since then, but in some ways, the movie industry still feels like TV in the '90s. I don't blame the Oscars for the dearth of black nominees, or nominees of color. I blame a movie industry that erroneously believes that the white majority isn't interested in black stories, or in diversity. It's actually less about racism than it is about ignorance.

Just one look at the music charts or the success of series like Empire, Black-ish, How to Get Away with Murder, and Scandal shows that audiences are a lot more sophisticated than movie executives believe them to be. To paraphrase a Field of Dreams line spoken by a highly esteemed black actor, James Earl Jones, if you create diverse entertainment, they will come.

And they have, in TV and in music. The Grammys are fairly solid as far as black-and-white diversity goes, and the Emmys are still catching up. Last year Viola Davis became the first black actress to score an Emmy for a leading role in a dramatic TV series. It was a win-win, but it took us decades to get there. Halle Berry became the first black woman to win an Oscar for a leading role 15 years ago, and we're still waiting for the second.

So despite the inroads made on TV and the progress made by the Oscars before the recent reversal, the BET Awards remain as valid and important as ever. They were created to recognize talent that would go largely unrewarded elsewhere, talent that continues to go largely unrewarded elsewhere. We need them as much now as we did 10, 20, 30 years ago.

No, whites are generally ineligible because it's Black Entertainment Television. But so what? They already get plenty of recognition everywhere else from voting bodies that present "white" awards in everything but name. Should blacks stop launching their own shows and their own movies and remain at the mercy of an industry run by white men? Should we stop creating our own opportunities as well as our own forums for recognition?

I can understand the frustration of white people who cringe whenever race comes up. It's not a pleasant topic, but ignoring it or trying to turn the tables on minorities isn't going to lead to progress.

To those who insist on closing their ears and their minds, I offer a suggestion: Rather than griping about the incessant "whining" of black people and making our experience all about yourselves, why not try to listen to us? You just might learn something. And knowledge is power…for everyone.