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TV Guide

Yes, They're Classics, But Let's Leave The '90s Black Sitcoms Where They Were

"Look, and I say this with all love in my heart, beloveds: please stop touching our sacred things."

Unless you're a Clinton, Tonya Harding or a member of Milli Vanilli, how could you not love the '90s? The R&B was timeless, the clothes were baggy, the movies were good, (if we're keepin' it real, the soundtracks were better) and just being born black was a political statement. The 90s were when I fell in love with hip-hop, vintage Nia Long, and Fruitopia. But most importantly, the 90s were when we all fell in love with black sitcoms.

Sure, there were sitcoms that existed before the beloved decade but the black comedy series of the 90s far surpassed their predecessors, and have solidified a place in history as the “Golden Age” of black sitcoms. Living Single, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters, Moesha, each show brought a different flair influencing black fashion, vernacular and played an integral role in shaping the future of black pop culture while influencing generations to come.

Arguably, the Beyoncé of the bunch was Martin. Starring comedic legend Martin Lawrence as Martin Payne, Tisha Campbell-Martin as Gina Waters-Payne, Tichina Arnold as her best friend Pamela James, and the titular character's best friends Carl Anthony Payne as Cole Brown and the late Thomas Mikal Ford as Tommy “no job” Strawn. The impact of Martin can still be seen and heard today as episodes of the show are in syndication about 50-11 times a day.  Catchphrases and influences from the show are still relevant as evidenced by music and visuals created by artists like SZA, Big Sean, and Kaytranda.

What shows like Martin and many of the 90s black sitcoms created were beautiful, and a major part of their legacies is the magic created by these programs was a unique energy that can never be duplicated.

But apparently, that won’t stop some of you from trying.

Recently, Lawrence’s fiancée Roberta Moradfar posted something on Instagram that would lead those of us of sound mind and body to believe a reboot of Martin could be on the way. To add fuel to the fire, Lawrence himself responded by commenting with emoji eyes that are usually reserved for people who are either trying to forewarn you they're about to slide into your DMs, be messy on the Internet, or give credence to the mess without overtly speaking on it. Because context clues matter, I’m going to go with the latter.

Following the Instagram exchange, TMZ later caught up with three of the show’s stars, Lawrence, Arnold, and Campbell-Martin who were spotted leaving lunch together all smiles. The iconic trio remained tight-lipped about the possibility of a reboot, however it became increasingly clear as the interview progressed the rumor was more than just Internet fodder.

Carl Anthony Payne also hinted the cast has been in talks about reviving the show, and he would be interested in seeing the program picked up by streaming behemoth Netflix. The fifth main character, Thomas Mikal-Ford died in October 2016 of an aneurysm. He was 52.

I don't want to see the legacies of these shows tarnished by an attempt to recreate a moment in time and black culture that can't be replicated.

Martin isn't the only black 90s sitcom setting its sights on a new millennium comeback. Queen Latifah has spoken publicly about the possibility of a Living Single reboot. It’s also confirmed Tia Mowry-Hardrict, Tamera Mowry-Housley and possibly Marques Houston’s first Dominican doobie (fingers crossed) could all be back on our television screens again in a reboot of the hit series Sister, Sister.

All the chatter and speculation about the possibility of seeing reincarnations of some of our most beloved television shows have created a stir on social media and in barbershops nationwide. Conversations and debates surrounding the topic have established two camps: one that is ecstatic about the reboots, and another camp that's just as passionate about their love of black 90s sitcoms, but aren't sitting at home on a Friday night with a can of Surge and a black Bart Simpson T-shirt, waiting for TGIF to begin.

I’m the head counselor for the second camp.

Look, and I say this with all love in my heart, beloveds: please stop touching our sacred things. Not because I am a hater and not because I do not ab-so-lute-ly love each of these shows. On the contrary, I don't want to see the legacies of these shows tarnished by an attempt to recreate a moment in time and black culture that can't be replicated. But more importantly, I fear our need to hold onto the past will keep us from appreciating the voices of our present, and hinder the inspiration for the voices of our future.

As is the case with most social advancements for people of color in the United States, the road to success for black sitcoms in the 90s was long, winding and full of struggle and obstacles. It's no secret in the early days of television, black actors were either non-existent or only found work portraying stereotypical roles. However, in 1951, history was made when Amos 'n' Andy became the first network broadcast situational comedy with an all-black cast. The show evolved from a widely popular radio broadcast comedy show of the same name with roots in the minstrel tradition. The radio show’s main characters were voiced by two white men who were later replaced by black acting pioneers Alvin Childress and Spencer Williams, portraying Amos and Andy respectively in the televised version. (Good call y’all because, blackface...)

However, even with the casting of black actors the show still received backlash, a battle most prominently fought by the NAACP. The civil rights organization vehemently protested the show and called for its cancellation, citing Amos ‘n’ Andy continued to perpetuate negative stereotypes and untrue racial tropes about black people. Their efforts were not in vain and the show was cancelled in 1953.

After Amos ‘n’ Andy was nixed, there were no other all-black sitcoms broadcast on network television in the United States until the 1970s. That era ushered in a slew of successful black centered shows including The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son and Good Times. The momentum continued into the 1980s with programs like 227, Amen and the seminal body of work that is The Cosby Show. But even these iconic television series were not impervious to criticism. Many of the black sitcoms of the 70s were accused of yet again propagating negative stereotypes of black people, while popular 80s sitcoms like The Cosby Show and the short-lived Frank’s Place - which challenged the stereotypical roles traditionally reserved for black ensembles - have been accused of “white-washing” the black experience to be palatable to the tastes of white viewers.

The creators of those shows learned and appreciated the experiences of their predecessors and used the foundation laid to give their generation a heartbeat and a voice. This generation deserves that same opportunity.

It was in the 90s that black sitcoms hit their stride. The era produced numerous series that not only provided laughs but were also able to tackle the social issues of the times, embrace the inescapable impact of hip-hop culture on American popular culture and incorporate themes and elements of Afrocentrism in a way that had never before been seen on American television. The shows also helped to dispel the myth that black people were a monolith by highlighting the diverse individual experiences that define being black in America.

The 90s gave the world A Different World, a spinoff of The Cosby Show which followed the lives of young black students at the fictitious HBCU, Hillman College. Thanks to the vision of the show’s legendary creative director Debbie Allen, A Different World not only provided light-hearted fare, but also showed never before seen depictions of young black love, introduced the masses to the world of HBCU culture and also grappled with tough topics such as apartheid, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and colorism. The show was also responsible for a significant spike in black college and university enrollment by inspiring many African American students to attend college who longed for the Hillman experience.


The 90s also introduced us to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air starring Will Smith. The series focused on street savvy Smith, a young teenager from West Philadelphia (born and raised on the playground is where I spent most of my days...you know the rest) who was forced to move to the affluent Bel-Air to live with his Uncle and Aunt Phillip and Vivian Banks to avoid troubles in his neighborhood.

The show was a perfect marriage between the burgeoning culture of hip-hop and mainstream pop culture with Smith often donning a baggy HBCU sweatsuit paired with the latest Air Jordans and a number of other popular fashions of the time. The Fresh Prince was a comedic genius, but also found ways to deal with assimilation, classism, gun violence, and in one of television’s greatest dramatic moments (fight me or fact me), helped many of us who grew up with absentee fathers realize that we were not alone.

During this time period, black people saw numerous representations of our multidimensional selves on screen, and today the fire that is the hunger for more still burns. It isn’t hard to understand why the world is hungry to try and recreate the 90s era of black comedies. We were the butler and the head of the household. We love our sisters but Sheneneh could still catch these hands. We were finally able to show the world that the black experience in America is not a one-size-fits-all concept, at least for a couple of hours each week.

For many, and especially those of us who were children during this era, the longing for and excitement about possible reboots of these iconic shows are rooted in a desire to return to a simpler time: nostalgia. However, nostalgia is deeper than just wanting to return to a moment, it's about the yearning to revisit the memories and the emotions attached to that time.

We all remember where we were when Dwayne Wayne and Ron caught Dean Cain and a group of other white students from a rival school spray paint the word n****r on the hood of his car, and we all recalled the first time we were called a n****r ourselves.

We all remember the palpable sadness we felt when Will’s estranged father showed up in his life only to abandon him yet again, and leave him distraught and crying in Uncle Phil’s arms, “How come he don’t want me, man?”

We all wept and cheered when Whitley left Byron at the altar to marry Dwayne, her one and only true love and remembered the first person who made us feel those feelings too.

However, in our quest for nostalgia, we have to make sure that we are not blocking the path of new young black voices from telling stories of their experiences.

Part of what makes black sitcoms in general so successful is that each era builds upon the success of the era that preceded it. The new ground broken, the chances taken, that’s what made the 90s era so iconic. The creators of those shows learned and appreciated the experiences of their predecessors and used the foundation laid to give their generation a heartbeat and a voice. This generation deserves that same opportunity.

Voices like Kenya Barris, who accurately expressed the universal fear the black community harbored that President Barack Obama was going to be shot when he stepped out of his car to march in his first inaugural parade through Dre on Black-ish.

Issa Rae’s Insecure divided a whole nation into #TeamLawrence and #TeamIssa when Lawrence left Issa for Tasha, leaving his Best Buy shirt hanging in her bare closet as a consolation prize.

You can’t tell me you didn’t feel anything while watching Justin Simien’s Dear White People when a case of racial profiling left Reggie face-to-face with a racist police officer’s gun.

And seriously….have you seen Lena Waithe’s “Thanksgiving Episode” of Master of None?!

We are living in a time filled with some of the greatest black talents in history and they are doing their best to revive and elevate the black sitcom. The laugh tracks may be gone along with the live studio audiences, but the comedic gold? The ability to tackle social issues? The ability to connect with an audience and create deep emotional memorable moments? It’s all there. But by attempting to hold onto and relive the 90s we are not giving this generation an opportunity to be heard or appreciated. Black 90s sitcoms perfectly encapsulated their time period, and it is okay to appreciate the past, but we have to take off the rose-colored glasses that we so often wear when reminiscing on the years of yore, and make way for new classics and new memories.

And besides…20 years from now you will all be begging for The Carmichael Show reboot, because that’s how y’all do.

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Jay Z at the Roc Nation and NFL Partnership Announcement at Roc Nation on August 14, 2019 in New York City.
Kevin Mazur

‘Inspire Change?’ NFL's Super Bowl PSAs Only Inspire More Skepticism

It’s been a few months into the NFL’s controversial “Inspire Change” initiative, a promotion by the league to highlight the Player’s Coalition and its work to address social issues. “Inspire Change” officially launched last year, (to “nurture and strengthen community through football and music,” said official statements) with the league’s partnership with Roc Nation expected to guide much of the outreach and voice.

"With its global reach, the National Football League has the platform and opportunity to inspire change across the country," Jay-Z said via press release back in August. "Roc Nation has shown that entertainment and enacting change are not mutually exclusive ideas -- instead, we unify them. This partnership is an opportunity to strengthen the fabric of communities across America."

The first “Inspire Change” ad featured the Botham Jean Foundation, and focused on the Jean family and their reaction to Botham’s 2018 death at the hands of Dallas police officer Amber Guyger. Jean’s murder, in which Guyger shot the 26-year-old as he sat in his apartment after saying she’d believed it was her own, drew international attention. The subsequent trial and conviction of Guyger drew derision and criticism after the former officer was sentenced to ten years (with parole eligibility in five) amidst hugs from the prosecuting judge and official statements from the family that focused on forgiveness.

“He just loved people and he was very particular about the company he kept. So I felt he was not in harm’s way,” his mother, Allison Jean, says during the video.

The NFL debuted the Jean ad online in late January to a mixed reception, and a new ad was shown during Super Bowl LIV. In the new ad, former 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin is heard speaking about what happened to his cousin, Corey Jones, on the night of October 18, 2015. That night, Jones was shot and killed in Florida by a plainclothes police officer as Jones was stuck on the side of the road with car trouble.

“I was still playing with the 49ers and my wife walks up after the game and told me that my cousin Corey had been killed. Corey broke down on the side of the road and a plain clothed police officer pulled up. Then this guy starts screaming. All you hear from there is three shots.”

Both ads focus on family and loss: the first clip features footage of Botham Jean’s brother hugging his convicted murderer in court as Jean’s mother and father talk about forgiveness. In the second ad, Jones’ father tearily asks “Why? Why’s my son gone today? Why?” The human toll of these crimes is front-and-center, but as far as the institutions that have created this reality for so many non-white people in America, they’re comparatively peripheral in these clips. The word “police” is never uttered, and while the tagline is “We’re all in this together,” there is nothing on screen to suggest racism is the common enemy. It’s cozy to posit that “we” are the solution, but what’s the point if I don’t have the fortitude to declare that you are the problem?

When Jay-Z’s partnership with the NFL was announced just before the start of the 2018-2019 NFL season, many saw it was a mogul putting business before social justice. After all, the league had kept Colin Kaepernick on the sidelines for three years, and Jay supposedly supported Kaep and his protest—so why get in bed with the league that had effectively blackballed the quarterback? There didn’t seem to be any benefit in Roc Nation partnering with the NFL—outside of the NFL being able to save some face after losing some fans because of the treatment of Kaepernick. Working with a mogul who, in recent years, has become a symbol of Woke™ Celebritydom, could go a long way towards softening the league’s image as one that defers to good ol’ boyism. The most skeptical saw the initiative as a chance for the NFL to score cool points while using Jay-Z’s brand to do it. And with these new ads, those cynics have been proven right.

The hope behind these ads is that they will inspire the more ambivalent or right-leaning members of the NFL’s viewing audience to take up the cause that the league itself effectively punished Colin Kaepernick for protesting. That side of the NFL’s audience has made it clear that it does not commiserate with Kaepernick or his cause, but these ads are supposed to be what sways them. These ads are supposed to start a conversation. Roc Nation also pressed NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to commit $100 million to social justice outreach, and Jay-Z has emphasized that he did not do this deal for anything other than a chance to use the platform to raise awareness on the issues.

It’s a stance that Jay has been voicing since that first announcement in August. “As long as real people are being hurt and marginalized and losing family members, then yes, I can take a couple rounds of negative press,” Jay said this week in an interview with The New York Times. He also said that he feels for what’s happened with Kaepernick (a workout this fall turned into a debacle for all parties involved), but he feels that what Roc Nation is doing is pushing things forward.

“No one is saying he hasn’t been done wrong. He was done wrong. I would understand if it was three months ago. But it was three years ago and someone needs to say, ‘What do we do now — because people are still dying?’

“We didn’t say, ‘Let’s go make some money off the N.F.L.’”

Nonetheless, the NFL’s “Inspire Change” campaign feels more like a big-budget facelift for a league that still struggles with who it is and who it wants to sell itself to; as opposed to a lucrative corporation finding its conscience. In 2016, famed director Spike Lee was hired as a “consultant” for the NYPD when the department wanted to create initiatives to “build trust with minority communities.” Roc Nation’s cosign amidst the “Inspire Change” campaign feels like a similar maneuver from the NFL. These ads stoke emotion without indictment, evoking the murders of Botham Jean and Corey Jones at the hands of police officers, but focusing on sentimentality and not how and where reformation is needed. Jay has become someone who wears his “activist celebrity” tag on his sleeve, but how do moguls truly benefit causes? From his role in Barclays Center and the gentrification that accompanied its opening, to his deal with Barneys--can he truly occupy both worlds? Jay-Z wants Roc Nation's work with the NFL to push people to act, for everyone to see themselves in these victims. But the NFL can’t soft soap this and expect anyone to take any of this seriously. You can’t truly “inspire change” with post-woke pandering—or by helping conglomerates save face.

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Shakira performs onstage during the Pepsi Super Bowl LIV Halftime Show at Hard Rock Stadium on February 02, 2020 in Miami, Florida.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Shakira's Cultural Homages During The Super Bowl Halftime Show Deserve A Standing Ovation

Now that the glitter and fireworks have settled in Miami after Jennifer Lopez and Shakira's Super Bowl Halftime performances, the ladies are getting their just due props for incorporating Latinx, Arabic, and black/African culture into their sets.

Shakira's homages were the most prominent Sunday (Feb. 2) with many mocking her "tongue-wagging" which was a nod to her Lebanese roots. Known as zaghrouta, the act is one of celebration and joy often done to express gleeful emotions at weddings and graduations. The 43-year-old (Sunday was her birthday) was born and raised in Barranquilla, Colombia, by her Lebanese father and Spanish/Italian mother. The singer, whose name is Arabic for "grateful," has talked about her mixed heritage and how it played a big role in her music and performances (think her iconic Bellydancing or her punk-rock era).

“I am a fusion. That’s my persona. I'm a fusion between black and white, between pop and rock, between cultures — between my Lebanese father and my mother’s Spanish blood, the Colombian folklore and Arab dance I love and American music," she told Faze Magazine in the early aughts. "I was born and raised in Colombia, but I listened to bands like Led Zeppelin, the Cure, the Police, The Beatles, and Nirvana. I was so in love with that rock sound but at the same time because my father is of 100 percent Lebanese descent, I am devoted to Arabic tastes and sounds."

 Zaghrouta was heard loud and clear during her performance of the 1998 classic “Ojos Así," which is also one of the few songs in her catalog to feature Arabic on it. She also tapped Afro-Colombian dancer Liz Dany Campo Diaz to help incorporate champeta into her performance. A dance from her hometown, the moves are traced back to African ancestors. It also has a similar groove to South African pantsula dance routines which some may remember from Beyonce's "Run the World (Girls)" music video.

Btw this dance is called Champeta and it is originated in Shakira’s hometown of Branquilla Colombia! It’s respected for its footwork and it’s an important part of Colombian culture 💃🏼 pic.twitter.com/JtcLsl9sm9

— SHAKIRABOWL2020 (@Exmotions) February 3, 2020

The singer also danced to another Afro-Colombian routine called mapalé, importantly at the start of her performance. The moves (including the beautiful sea of Afro-Latinx dancers) was a sight to see at one of the most-watched shows all over the world.

The initial eyebrow raises of a Colombian pop singer at the Super Bowl Halftime Show made sense but the singer was thoughtful in the songs she picked (her 2008 World Cup hit "Waka Waka" (This Time For Africa)" is a remake of the 1986 song "Zamina Mina" by Cameroonian makossa group Zangaléwa) and even more mindful in her riffs (she repeated with passion the "no fighting" lyric during her performance of "Hips Don't Lie"). In all, Shakira's set will be one hell of a cultural study in years to come.

Jennifer Lopez also made subtle political statements during her performance. Her set was a pleasant blend of her Vegas and "It's My Party" tour sprinkled with some of her newfound pole skills from her performance in Hustlers. Swing Latino, a competitive world-champion salsa group from Colombia returned to the stage with the singer as they previously were special guests during her "Party" tour dates. It took her On The 6 single "Let's Get Loud" to new heights as the group brought together swing dancing, a very Americana dance, and salsa on the stage.

 

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A post shared by SwingLatino | official account (@swinglatino_cali) on Feb 2, 2020 at 7:56pm PST

A treat for pop culture fanatics, J. Lo's five outfits were customed made by Versace which we can give a smirk to. There's also the undeniable presence of Parris Goebel, who choreographed Lopez's entire Super Bowl performance. The two met back in 2012 when Goebel worked on her world tour and the American Idol season 11 finale where Lopez sang her 2012 hit, "Dance Again."

But it was the presence of her daughter Emme Maribel Muñoz singing with her that captured the audience. What many did miss was how the 11-year-old along with other children, appeared in silver cages, pointing towards the immigration and family separation policies the country has enforced at the southern border. "Let's Get Loud" then collided with a cover of "Born In The USA" with Lopez touting a feathered American flag with the Puerto Rican flag on the other side.

 

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Emme Daddy is so proud of you. You are my ❤ and I am forever yours.

A post shared by Marc Anthony (@marcanthony) on Feb 2, 2020 at 6:19pm PST

You can't please everyone, but their performances were one of precision. The two living legends who don't need validation from anyone were in control and commanded the attention of everyone, including those who make it difficult for Latinx families to live their version of the American dream. We like to imagine that the two singers also learned from each other, especially J. Lo since some cultural stances go over her head. "Let’s show the world what two little Latin girls can do," Lopez said on Instagram before their takeover. And that's exactly what they did.

Rewatch their performances below.

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Terry Crews speaks onstage during Steven Tyler's Third Annual GRAMMY Awards Viewing Party to benefit Janie’s Fund presented by Live Nation at Raleigh Studios on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.
Anna Webber/Getty Images for Janie's Fund

Terry Crews, 'America's Got Talent' And The Conditional Solidarity Of Celebrity

Terry Crews is doing quite a spectacular job of torching any goodwill the public had toward him. The actor moved from tertiary to central figure in the ongoing controversy surrounding NBC’s popular talent show America’s Got Talent and its November firing of former co-host Gabrielle Union.

Union has stated that there was a toxic environment on set, citing the behavior of producer Simon Cowell, and an incident involving a racist joke she says was made by guest host Jay Leno and other instances where she felt AGT and NBC had not addressed racist or sexist behavior and policies on the show.

Terry Crews offered mild support for Union upon her initial firing but has drawn the ire of fans this week after he offered a less empathetic take about the situation during an interview with the Today show.

“First of all, I can’t speak for sexism because I’m not a woman, but I can speak on behalf of any racism comments. That was never my experience on America’s Got Talent,” the AGT host said. “In fact, it was the most diverse place I have ever been in my 20 years of entertainment.”

When asked if he’d spoken to Union, Crews offered, “I have reached out, but I have not heard anything.”

The online reaction was critical, with fans and pundits pointing out that Union had been one of Crews’ most vocal supporters in 2017 when the actor revealed and then testified that he’d been a victim of sexual assault by a Hollywood studio executive. With the flurry of criticism, Crews scoffed at his detractors, tweeting that there’s only one woman in his life who he works to please—his wife.

“There is only one woman on earth I have to please. Her name is Rebecca,” the 52-year-old tweeted. “Not my mother, my sister, my daughters or co-workers. I will let their husbands/ boyfriends/ partners take care of them. Rebecca gives me WINGS.”

Crews’ statements—and his nonsensical Twitter reaction to his critics—were disappointing for anyone who’d hoped Union wouldn’t be left out to dry in her fight against a very powerful corporate entity. When there was an opportunity to support a person who’d been vocal in her support of him, Crews chose to lean on his own experiences in a way that would obviously pave the way for America’s Got Talent to cast hers into dispersion. This entire debacle has been reminiscent of other high-profile instances where Black celebs offered criticism in the wake of solidarity—either focused on the comforts of celebrity or preoccupied with the trajectory of their careers.

Mo’Nique famously engaged in a feud with streaming service Netflix, after she felt the giant lowballed her in regards to a proposed stand-up special. The star had been branded “difficult” for years and she’d felt blackballed by Hollywood notables like Oprah Winfrey and Lee Daniels, whom she worked with in 2009's Precious. It was her performance in that film that landed her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2010.

When Mo’Nique appeared on Steve to discuss her proposed boycott of Netflix and the blackballing, her longtime friend Harvey chastised the Oscar-winner. “We’re fighting two wars here,” Harvey said. “There’s two wars, it’s what your issue is and is what the perception of the issue is.”

Mo’Nique’s stance was that she was fighting for equality—for women and for Black comics—in her battle with Netflix. In regards to her stance on Winfrey and Daniels, she was fighting to be paid for extensive travel and promotion. To her, this was a fight for the right to say “no” in Hollywood.

“Now, I said ‘no’ to some very powerful people...the difficulty came in when people that looked like me, like Oprah, Tyler [Perry], Lee Daniels—and I got to put my brother Steve on the list. Y’all knew that I was not wrong. Each one of you said to me, ‘Mo’Nique, you’re not wrong.’ And when I heard you go on the air and say, ‘My sister burned too many bridges, and it’s nothing I can do for her now,’ Steve, do you know how hurt I was?”

“I would have appreciated it, had my brother called me up and said, ‘let’s talk,’” she also said.

But Harvey was adamant that Mo’Nique’s wounds were self-inflicted, dismissing any notion of solidarity for what she was fighting for. Instead, he scolded her.

“This problem that you had at Netflix are rich people problems,” Harvey told her. “Because they’re looking at us saying, ‘you’re talking about millions, well, you got this, so you oughta be cool.'”

“I felt you had done yourself a disservice by the way you chose to go about it. When you tell the truth, you have to deal with the repercussions of the truth. We black out here. We can’t come out here and do it any kind of way we want to.”

“Black people can’t do that” was always poor logic for not standing up for oneself, and Harvey’s take on Mo’Nique may have been more egregiously condescending than Crews and Union but it also reveals how “my career” can trump “you were right” when it’s time to show solidarity. It’s also important to understand that you can’t only see “the problem” via your own “experiences”—what you’ve experienced isn’t the sum total of what goes on. And waiting until the wackness affects you will have you dismissing the oppression of those who may not be in your position.

Five years ago, rapper A$AP Rocky was at the center of a firestorm after he dismissed the idea of rapping about the 2014 killing of 17-year-old Mike Brown in Ferguson, Md., at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson. The incident sparked weeks of unrest, as citizens gathered to protest police violence against Black communities, with artists like J. Cole and Talib Kweli offering support.

“Why would I feel compelled to rap about Ferguson?” Rocky said at the time during an interview with TimeOut New York. “I’m not about to say that I was down there throwing rocks at motherfuckers, getting pepper-sprayed. I’d be lying…I live in fucking Soho and Beverly Hills. I can’t relate.”

When Rocky found himself imprisoned in Sweden in 2019 for assault, the rapper’s old interview came back to haunt him. Many of his peers called for his release and railed against what they felt was a racist overreaction as Rocky faced up to six years in prison for what was essentially a fight. As his supporters pleaded his case, many online called back to Rocky’s dismissiveness when he was asked to offer support for the protests in Ferguson.

In an early January sitdown with Kerwin Frost, Rocky offered an explanation for his words in 2015. “In those old interviews, I used to say ‘I think it’s inappropriate for me to rap about things I didn’t help with… I felt like when it came to Ferguson, J. Cole went down there and he actually was on the news and he helped. I felt like he deserved to rap about it. So when someone [asked] me that in 2015 I’m like: ‘I just feel, personally, if I’m in SoHo or I’m here I can’t even talk on that’… That’s appropriating.

“It’s not sincere. It’s pretentious.”

Black voices can often be scorned when they’re facing off against powerful gatekeepers; that those in positions to amplify those voices can so often decide to take the more “practical” route of undermining or outright dismissing those voices in the most public forums is just evidence of how much the upward mobility of the individual can blind them to the bigger picture. When Rocky had to deal with what it meant to face law enforcement while young and Black, when Terry Crews had to stare down a powerful Hollywood entity who’d wronged him—they fully understood what oppression can feel like. When Steve Harvey finger-wagged Mo’Nique on a high-profile platform, he did so acknowledging the sliding scale that Black people face. Supporting each other when “that’s not my experience” means not undermining the fight against powers-that-be. Because being able to retreat “my experiences” is the greatest privilege. Hopefully, someone will remind Terry Crews.

Editor's Note: Terry Crews has tweeted an apology to Gabrielle Union saying, "I want you to know it was never my intention to invalidate your experience— but that is what I did. I apologize."

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