A reader emailed me this Black Voices story, “The Coonery Paradox,” by Jam Donaldson, the creator of the failed BET show “We Got to Do Better,” nee “Hot Ghetto Mess.” In the article Donaldson chastizes people for not getting the satirical angle of the show and that it was about calling out what she calls “coonery,” not about endorsing stereotypes. Yet the show faced a ton of criticism before and after it aired and was quickly cancelled.
Here’s what Donaldson writes:
We rarely publicly castigate those who are in the media making us all look bad, but God help you if you ever point out the fact that they’re making us look bad. Then you are automatically a self-hating, Uncle Tom, elitist, wannabe-white sell-out who is exploiting their people. The Coonery Paradox.
I am, by no means, saying that critiques of culture shouldn’t be subject to the same artistic and intellectual criticism as everything else. Lets face it, ‘We Got To Do Better’ was no ‘Frontline.’ There should be a vigorous debate about all art all the time. So why do some things consistently get a pass? I just cannot wrap my mind around the lack of public galvanization and critique of the things that are REALLY destroying the minds of our youth.
Of course, I’m close to this issue. Maybe its just me. Maybe I’m trippin’. Maybe I’m completely off base here. Maybe I’ve just had too much wine.
‘We Got To Do Better,’ despite the highest ratings of the summer, was taken off because of the “controversy” surrounding it. Yeah, we wouldn’t want to have any show that actually tells people to get their shit together. But it’s cool, we have “Frankie and Neffie” now. The Coonery Paradox.
This isn’t about individual artists, specific channels or record labels. I don’t want to get hung up on specifics. I used show examples just to make my point. I just don’t understand the odd response we have to representations of ourselves in mainstream media. We get mad if white people call us coons, we get mad if black folks call us coons, but straight up coonery? Bring it on. The Coonery Paradox.
About the cancelled show, Donaldson specifically goes after the activists who protested it (especially Gina McCauley of “What About Our Daughters?”):
The NAACP was having “watch parties,” there were online petitions, panel discussions, t-shirts and God knows what else. Gina McCauley, a completely misguided idiot who runs some pro black woman bullsh-t. blog, made protesting the show her personal cause de célèbre.
My point, and I do have one, is that I am noticing something very disturbing about black community “activism” (or fake-a– activism as I like to call it).
Where the hell are these pro-black self-proclaimed protectors of the black image when ‘Flava of Love’ was on? When Ray-J was on? I can’t think of two shows that denigrated black women like these did.
Maybe I’m listening and reading different things from Donaldson, but there seems to be complaints about BET and various exploitive reality shows all the time, specifically on McCauley’s blog when it comes to images that are degrading to black women. The NAACP may not be organizing protests, but people are constantly voicing their opinions on such tomfoolery, including this blog.
I do think Donaldson has a point though how sometimes black people struggle with nuance, because I run into that problem with my own site from time-to-time. Some people take things very literally and are unable or unwilling to read between the proverbial lines. But the problem with “We Got to Do Better” was there was no real subtley and it did, to many, feel like a form of exploitation, not a rational critique of bad behavior.
In other words: The show had high aspirations but woefully missed the mark. The Chappelle Show or Boondocks it was not. Even the original title, Hot Ghetto Mess, seemed more like an elitist slander on the entire urban community than a succient way of explaining a message.
But obviously, this is still a bone of contention for Donaldson, and why wouldn’t it be, as “We Got to Do Better” was supposed to be biting satire meant to call out bad behavior in the media and the black community. It was meant to be a “truth-telling” show. Did the show fail in its goals or did people just fail to get it?