"Who's more racist, black people or white people? Black people. You know why? 'Cause we hate black people, too." — Chris Rock, "Bring the Pain" (1996)
Indeed, our fair city has become the newest battleground in what the premier social analyst of our generation, Chris Rock, once described as the war between "black people and niggas." (Don't worry Gwyneth Paltrow, you have permission to read that word, as long as you're not reading it aloud while on stage with Jay-Z and Kanye.)
Like the American Civil War, another historic flamer that once got this town all hot and bothered, the latest shots fired in this black culture war have pit brother against brother-from-another-mother, and Spelmanites against side hoes-in-training. But the carnage created by the culprit in question — VH1's latest blaxploitation trainwreck, "Love and Hip-Hop: Atlanta" — has left me stranded somewhere in the middle.
First, a CliffsNotes summary of the exaggerated reality show: It basically revolves around a bootleg congregation of B-list rappers, singers, and producers on the grind, an ex-stripper/alleged post-op transsexual sexing for tracks, a former pimp-turned-doting-grandmother, and a couple of desperate single moms seemingly forced to raise their baby — and their baby's daddy — alone. But as it turns out, the beef broiling in response to the show has become a sideshow in itself.
When online petitioner and Spelman grad Erin Harper called it "Digital Crack," fans dismissed her as a major hater on Twitter. She embraced it with an essay about the self-hate mass media breeds in black women. Sick of the city's treasured Civil Rights rep being tarnished by the likes of fake a$$ housewives and reality show desperadoes, another one-time Atlantan Kelly Smith Beaty pleaded, "Will the Real Black People of Atlanta Please Stand Up." Yet both of their self-righteous critiques missed the mark, wrote cultural critic Kirsten West Savali, who argued that boycotting ratchet reality TV doesn't negate the existence of said reality.
I'd like to feign indifference, considering we have a black president occupying the highest office in the land and should be past this by now. But the truth is I've become both addicted to the show, which drew 3.6 million viewers when it premiered two weeks ago, and a fervent supporter of the petition against it, which has yet to garner 3,000 signatures. Although the math may not bear it out, "Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta" has become a real boon for black folk who are sick of being shat upon by the powers-that-be. We haven't had a common target this inviting since Kanye ripped George Bush a new one, post-Katrina.
Since the days of minstrelsy and blackface 100 years ago, stereotypical depictions of African-Americans on stage and in the media have sparked intense (intra- and inter-) racial debate in America. And it's been fueled by the fact we now wield the power to conspire with the Viacoms of the world in our own seeming self-degradation — just like the respective producers of "Basketball Wives" and "Love and Hip-Hop," Shaunie O'Neal and Mona Scott-Young, both proud black women presiding over the supposed exploitation of their own kind.
Sure, it's easy to peg them as sellouts or race traitors, but I can also empathize with the position they've voluntarily placed themselves in. How could I not, being the only black editor at the whitest paper in the nation's black capital? When I became music editor at Creative Loafing five years ago, my biggest dilemma was deciding how to cover mainstream Atlanta hip-hop with integrity when many of the artists lacked it. The last thing I wanted to do was "reinforce stereotypes of the day — like all my brothers eat chicken and watermelon, talk broken English, and drug selling," as KRS-One raps in his classic "My Philosophy."
But I also didn't want to ignore, or whitewash, the city's biggest musical exports out of fear of airing the Dirty South's dirty laundry in mixed company. In the process, I've endured well-intentioned criticism from white readers, who make zero distinction between Gucci Mane and Killer Mike, for covering rap too much; and black readers, critical of the imbalance in rap, for covering "niggas" too much. Just as Dave Chappelle quit his successful Comedy Central show after growing tired of the racial politics that began to manifest just one season after Viacom acquired the network, I agonized over quoting lyrics in which artists threw the n-word around with little to no context for those who don't speak their coded language, and little to no respect for those who do.
Protecting the image of blacks in the media doesn't have to be mutually exclusive of telling the truth — even when the truth hurts. And the truth is that Atlanta represents different things to different people. It took my being exposed to a broader cross-section of the city through my work at Creative Loafing to discover that.
So to those standing on the outside looking in: Welcome to Atlanta, where your favorite stripper might be an upwardly mobile transvestite with a mean tuck-and-pull game. Now turn off the TV and get real.