Pastor Says to BET: 'Enough Is Enough'

The Rev. Delman Coates is leading the "Enough is Enough" campaign to stop the promotion of stereotypical and degrading images of African Americans on television. Last week, Coates led hundreds of protesters outside the home of Debra Lee, president of cable of network Black Entertainment Television (BET). He talks about the mission behind his campaign.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Now, on to the politics of television programming. This week in our Faith Matters conversation, we want to talk about the ongoing battle over Black Entertainment Television.

(Soundbite of protesting)

Unidentified Woman: Enough is enough.

Unidentified Group: (Unintelligible).

MARTIN: Last Saturday, some 500 protesters gathered in front of the Washington, D.C. home of Debra Lee, the president and COO of Black Entertainment Television. The group of protesters are calling themselves the Enough is Enough campaign. And they say they want BET to clean up its act, saying the programming degrades women and stereotypes African-Americans.

Members of some secular groups also participated, but the leader of the protest was Reverend Delman Coates, the pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Maryland. He joins us now in the studio. Welcome, reverend. Thanks for speaking with us.

Reverend DELMAN COATES (Pastor, Mt. Ennon Baptist Church): Thank you. Thanks for inviting me.

MARTIN: Can you tell us exactly where you started to think that BET was going down the wrong road?

Rev. COATES: Well, first, I want to be clear that this campaign isn't a campaign directed at BET. It's much larger than BET. But for sometime, I and, I think, millions of other African-Americans have been deeply concerned about the kinds of representations of black women and of black men that are projected and celebrated in the popular culture. Portrayals of black men as pimps received an Oscar, you know, the "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" song.

MARTIN: You're talking about "Hustle & Flow," the film…

Rev. COATES: "Hustle & Flow," right.

MARTIN: …the song from the movie received an Oscar for Best Song.

Rev. COATES: From - right. Right. And so, while…

MARTIN: But that had nothing to do with BET.

Rev. COATES: …while these images - again, this campaign is not a campaign…

MARTIN: But you're picketing at Debra Lee's home, and I'm sure you can understand why…

Rev. COATES: Sure.

MARTIN: …someone might think that that means you're aiming at BET. That's a very provocative act.

Rev. COATES: BET presents itself as the premier provider of content for and about African-Americans. So, certainly, they're our major player in this space,. But it's certainly much larger than that - there's a larger network. We're beginning with Black Entertainment Television…

MARTIN: When you say enough is enough, the idea of being fed up, you know, I've had it. Is this something that you could point to that said to members of your group, this is the tipping point, this is the point at which I need to go…

Rev. COATES: Right.

MARTIN: …I need to go out here and picket somebody's house?

Rev. COATES: I think there have been a series of precipitous steps - events that have taken place this year. Recently, Black Entertainment's animation department took the liberty and the initiative to produce the "Read A Book" video. Which for them is a new step because up to this point whenever concerns have been voiced about the content on BET, the videos in particular, their management has always responded by saying, we don't make the videos, we just play what's given to us.

Black Entertainment Television took the initiative to produce this particular animated video, which plays during the day, which has every sort of profane word that one can imagine. The images, you know, I think, you know, are completely disgraceful. And when I played it for the members of my church with the profanity and all, they were deeply outraged. And here's…

MARTIN: You know, what's interesting about that, we talked to the man who wrote the lyrics.

Rev. COATES: Yes.

MARTIN: He is in Washington, D.C.

Rev. COATES: Sure.

MARTIN: He is - he says he's a poet, not a rapper.

Rev. COATES: Sure.

MARTIN: He is married. He has two children, he has - he is a teacher and his point was that this is a song promoting positive values. It says, you know, read a book, take responsibility, buy some land, be fiscally responsible. But you haven't been out protesting, at least not your group, you know, videos that promote violence that have far more negative or anti-social messages than his.

Rev. COATES: There's no doubt in my mind that had that same video been produced by a white supremist organization and they gave the same rationale for producing the video - that we're trying to send a message to the African-American community that this is the language that the young people speak we're just merely communicating that message in a medium that the young people into it would understand - there would be a zero tolerance policy for that among black voices. We'd be picketing and protesting.

Here's the real concern that motivates and animates me. At a certain point within the African-American community, I believe that our struggle for freedom and equality is undermined when we're inconsistent in our outrage. And so, if we're going to be outraged when there are voices outside of our community who demean us and put us down, we have to be as concerned about voices within our community that do sent us the same thing.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're talking to Reverend Delman Coates, pastor of Ennon Baptist Church, about his campaign against BET and other media portrayals of women and African-Americans. How does this tie into - this campaign tie into your role as a faith leader?

Rev. COATES: Faith is not just personal it's also public. Jesus wasn't merely crucified according to the narrative to challenge instances of individual sin, and but that he was deeply concerned about challenging the culture.

MARTIN: What would you say to those who would argue that you're imposing your values on others? There are some who would say if you don't like what BET has to offer, turn it off.

Rev. COATES: Yeah.

MARTIN: You don't have to get cable.

Rev. COATES: That's a good point. That actually was said to me by my Mr. Bob Johnson, who called me last week.

MARTIN: One of the co-founders of BET.

Rev. COATES: Sure. That sounds good but there's a problem with that. I still pay for it. If I want cable in order for me to get any of the regular channels…

MARTIN: CNN…

Rev. COATES: …and compare this content. CNN or the ABC affiliate, I have to get the entire suite of services.

MARTIN: I understand that you spoke this week with the Federal Communications Commission to ask them to do their part in allowing people to opt out of programming that they don't like but you get the programming that's offered as part of a, sort of a bundled cable package. Is that right?

Rev. COATES: Actually, the FCC reached out to us, some kind of way they heard about our campaign and know that one of the goals of the campaign is to encourage Congress to enact legislation that provides consumer choice in the cable industries.

MARTIN: The idea, of course, is that you're part of the target audience. I mean, you're a young man, you're 34 as I understand it, went to Morehouse , went to Harvard Divinity School - you are the person who they're supposed to be programming for.

Rev. COATES: It is an irony.

MARTIN: You just not like hip-hop?

Rev. COATES: I like hip-hop. I grew up on rap. Run-D.M.C., KRS-One, Eric B. & Rakim, X-Clan, Afrika Bambaataa, I grew up on that, De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest, I mean, this was all a part of my maturation. And here's a thing - When I grew up listening to rap in the '80s, the music was, first of all, it was much more diverse and broad but it also gave me a sense of cultural pride. I mean, in the '80s when I was listening to rap, I was wearing my African medallion, my black African, you know, T-shirt, Malcolm X T-shirt - because the genre was inspiring me to be positive to embrace my cultural heritage. And then the '80s, it was at that time when the major record labels thought that rap was a fad.

When it was decided in the late '80s that rap was going to be around and the majors bought up many of those small, independent black labels, a decision was made to focus in on two genres of rap and to export it to the world. Those two genres were the gangster image genre, and the sort of over-sexualized genre that, at that time, out of Miami with Luc and that whole piece. Those were the two images that were selected and marketed to the dominant culture.

MARTIN: And so how long do you plan to continue this campaign? As I understand, you plan to protest again this Saturday in front of Deborah Lee's house. How long do you plan to do this?

Rev. COATES: This campaign is about change and there are a variety of approaches that we want to take to making sure that the fundamental equality of black women and of black men is affirmed in the public square.

MARTIN: Someone argued, though, that picketing in front of this successful African-American woman's house is a step too far, made you feel that, you know, that you may not like how they have achieved their success but that Deborah Lee, Bob Johnson, the founders of BET have at least created an institution that did not exist before. They've created wealth for many people, including themselves, and that it just, the protesting in front of their house, Deborah Lee's house, is just provocative in a way that it's not necessary and that is, you kind of divisive and somewhat might argue disrespectful. I just like to know how you respond to that.

Rev. COATES: I'm aware of that concern and response that many people might give. What I would say is that there's a tremendous responsibility for those in power and when the people who have afforded you opportunities to be in power have been deep down so long, people have been expressing concerns about BET for the 25 or 27 years of its history. And every time the response has been, this is just a business. When people had been beat down so long at a certain point, they're going to say enough is enough and that's why I believe people are.

This tactic is a result of the fact that the community's homes themselves are being invaded. Our homes are being invaded with images and messages that we don't invite in. And so this campaign is about creating the space to let the world know and let artists know that there is an audience for speech that lifts us up and not pulls us down.

MARTIN: Reverend Delman Coates is the pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Maryland - that's outside Washington, D.C. He's a leader of the "Enough is Enough" campaign to hold media accountable to community standards.

Reverend Coates was kind enough to join us here in the studio. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Rev. COATES: Thank you.

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