Political correctness is a double-edged sword. Cut with the "upside," you're left with civility in discourse. The downside is, plainly, censorship from the left. Fortunately, most times common sense carries the day. By now we know (I hope) that group X shouldn't be publicly using a slur when referring to group Y.
But what if someone in group X is using what someone else in that group perceives to be a slur or seemingly promoting stereotypes against themselves?
Such the dilemma for Black Entertainment Television with its new limited series, We Got to Do Better. Originally titled Hot Ghetto Mess, the program is based on the Web site of the same name, which basically satirizes "urban" black culture by running true photos of black folks dressed or behaving in extreme examples of, oh, "urban blackness."
Controversial enough for the Web. But just hours before the program debut this past Wednesday, in the face of sizable protests, BET was forced to change the program's name to "We Got to Do Better," the Web site's tagline. Ironically, the push for change was driven by another Web site, Whataboutourdaughters.blogspot.com. Gina McCauley, who runs that site, would have been happier if the show had been pulled altogether.
So, then, is this a victory (even if a partial one) for decency, or is it another example of PC authoritarianism? If Jeff Foxworthy can make a fortune counseling whites that they "Might be a redneck if..." can't Jam Donaldson, the founder of Hot Ghetto Mess, do the same? If BET can make its bread off selling the gangsta lifestyle in its videos and programming such as American Gangsta and Lil' Kim: Countdown to Lockdown, why can't it counterprogram with a show that dares to wink at a single aspect of black culture?
Perhaps it's just a "money" thing, the feeling that urban blacks are being mocked because of their socioeconomic status. But the reverse has long been acceptable. There remains a degree of anti-black intellectualism in entertainment. Middle and upper-middle class blacks have often been portrayed as buffoons in popular culture; witness the characters of Carlton Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Braxton P. Hartnabrig on The Jamie Foxx Show. In real life, the likes of Condi Rice and Colin Powell have been derided as being an Aunt Jemima and a House N— with barely a word of protest spoken.
So, what can we say about ourselves, and when can we say it? If some of us can get an Oscar for extolling that it's hard out there for a pimp, why can't others of us admonish: "Then quit acting like a pimp"?
If you're looking for answers, don't look to Hot Ghetto Mess. At least not under that name on BET.