Did Ebony Get It Right on NeNe, Diamonds, and African Americans?

 

Earlier today, I came across a Facebook post by Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity brother, Attorney Laurence Evans, that left me in complete shock. Brother Evans alerted his friends to a Daily Beast article that discussed the backlash Ebony Magazine is receiving over its Power 100 cover, feature NeNe of Housewives of Atlanta fame, sitting in a bathtub littered with diamonds.

 

A video circulating on YouTube offered a behind-the-scenes look at the photo shoot.

In a rather tongue-in-cheek manner, my first response to Brother Evans’ post expressed sentiments that we should not be surprised given the times we are living. My next post questioned whether the jewels were really diamonds or some real shiny chunks of zirconium. I followed that post with an even more satirical look at Ebony’s selection and cover:

Ebony should just “thong up” and have copies flying off the rack. Heck, they can put in some Hennessy coupons and max out the joint. A year end edition that features blunt holders. Cause we do what we do, when we do what we do!

I had officially become part of the narrative. Doubled-down on dumbed-down black America. And almost instantaneously upon hitting the submit button, no longer was the Ebony cover a laughing matter. This is what Main Street sees in black America. Happy like slaves putting on master’s clothes for the annual jubilee. After all, African American wear our wealth — as a Jewish friend lamented to me several years ago. So what better display, what better embodiment of our “power” than a reality show creation, submerged in bling-bling. It is tantamount to a declaration that we are what every negative stereotype of black Americans has depicted us to be.

Did Ebony get it right?

What does it mean to be “influential” and specifically, one of the top 100 most influential African Americans in a population group of some 40 million?

And is NeNe an appropriate selection for that group?

And the imagery. Of all the scenes, does a bathtub of jewelry capture the essence of where black America is or desires to be in this season?

By this cover, is Ebony right on who we are and what we project in in the world?

Twenty-six percent of African American families are living in poverty.

A persistent unemployment rate that exceeds 14 percent — and if accurately reported is well above that figure — is devastating the urban core, frustrating black college graduates, and sending far too many young black men into a life of drugs, and that lifestyle all to often leading to violence.

Continual growth in blacks caught in the vice grips of incarceration are now feeding a for-profit prison industry that literally flourishes with each new inmate.

Historically black colleges and universities [HBCUs] from Knoxville College to Morris Brown are imploding under the weight of financial insolvency.

Chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure are claiming more lives at younger ages. And the gap of new cases of HIV in the African American community is widening relative to Caucasians on an annual basis.

And around the country, communities where black concentrate are disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards that exacerbate health problems and pose myriad infrastructure dangers (e.g., methane explosions).

These are just part of the very real societal context in which black America finds itself. And it is within this context that Ebony is featuring a reality show celebrity, laying with breasts partially exposed, in a pool of jewelry. Surely, we could have had, at this most critical juncture in our tedious plight, images of some African American who left the corporate world to return to an inner-city school district. A scientist who is dedicating his or her work to an unforgiving disease. A professional athlete who is tithing to fund black businesses. These we did not have cover the cover. But what we have is clear. Brash and flamboyant. Opulent and suggestive. A return to the ethos of “me”.

Is Ebony right?  If not, does the NeNe cover offer a sustaining lesson of the implications of the Johnson Publishing Company’sdeal that spun off a large ownership interest to JP Morgan Chase? And if Ebony did get it right, what does it say about us?

 

 

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