Hulu recently removed a ‘Golden Girls’ episode from its platform because it sort of featured blackface (Rue McClanahan’s Blanche and Betty White’s Rose characters were in fact wearing mud masks). Fans of the show– of all races– are debating whether the episode was actually offensive but in either case, removing episodes of a classic show from a streaming platform isn’t the change Black people are looking for. Whites are seeking opportunities to “help” but Blanche and Rose never did us harm: terrorism did and that’s where the energy should be focused.
Well over 90 percent of contracts from cities, counties, states and the federal government, generally go to companies owned by white men. From the dawn of the republic this has been so but there was one small period of hope. During the 1960s and 1970s, Black people used their numbers in urban centers to elect Black mayors. Men like Richard Hatcher of Gary, Maynard Jackson of Atlanta and Marion Barry of Washington, used the power of government to steer up to 30 percent of contract dollars to Black businesses, in some cases. Whites objected and took their case to the Supreme Court. In a landmark 1989 case, the Court ruled that past discrimination based on race didn’t justify using race to address disparities in contracting. The progress of those mayors was undone, overnight. The sudden onslaught of white guilt and sensitivity to the Black Lives Matter movement today should be directed to these acts of racial terror, not Rose and Blanche.
Symbols and hollow gestures of white guilt may or may not come from a sincere place: what’s in the heart cannot be known. The level of sincerity, however, isn’t very important to Black people. What is important, in this moment of history, is focusing on the substance and not the sideshow. The sideshow is removing instances of elderly women wearing mud masks on a classic television show. The substance, however, is billions upon billions of dollars still being awarded to companies owned by white men, while the country allegedly seeks solutions to the problem of race. In truth, the solutions are plentiful but the will to pursue them has always been anemic.
Black people must transition these moments of unrest to substantive change. This will only happen if they keep a laser focus on the substance and disregard the sideshow. Hollow, insignificant gestures of racial inclusion and sensitivity will not undo the economic terror Black people have lived under for centuries. In that the will has never existed to approach these terroristic roots, Black people must keep a solid focus on buying, building, affirming and committing to all things Black.