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'Weeds' Continues to Grow Negative Stereotypes

ED GORDON, host:

The age-old question of blacks and their images on television and film rages on. Are the images we see a fair representation of black America? Commentator Betty Baye says that debate should continue, and Showtime's new comedy series "Weeds" is the most recent example of why.

(Soundbite of "Weeds")

Unidentified Man #1: You calling black people stupid?

Unidentified Woman #1: And lazy and they also steal.

Unidentified Man #1: Oh?

Unidentified Woman #2: But we're saying they dances real good.

Unidentified Man #1: White people steal. Enron, WorldCom.

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah.

Unidentified Man #1: They be stealing billions of dollars, flushing it through some overseas bank account, then sit on a beach and count they money.

Unidentified Woman #2: Oh, somebody been listening to the good Reverend Sharpton.

Unidentified Woman #1: Maybe black people need to start stealing a little bit bigger.

GORDON: Again, Commentator Betty Baye.


Showtime's new comedy series, "Weeds," may provoke some African-Americans to sigh, `Here we go again.' I mean, why else would a white widow who chooses to make money peddling marijuana to her white-bread neighbors just have to get her supply from black folks? I mean, if it was crack, maybe, but weed? Please. Everybody knows that when you want marijuana direct from the source, you don't go to the ghetto. You go to the white folks who grow the stuff.

Anyhow, it's just the latest chapter in a long history of negative black stereotypes in the media. When the NAACP hounded "Amos and Andy" off television in the 1950s, it wasn't because African-Americans weren't laughing right along with white folks at the antics of Kingfish, Sapphire and the rest of the gang. It's just that there was little else on TV at the time to counter the image of black folks as 24/7 buffoons.

In the 1970s, black folks wrung our hands over blaxploitation films that glorified pimps, cocaine sniffing and dope-dealing. But these movies also ushered in black superheroes like Shaft, Cleopatra Jones and Foxy Brown. These characters challenged the pushers and usually prevailed.

These days, African-Americans exert more creative control in the mass media than ever before, and some of the most troubling negative stereotypes of black people now spring directly from the minds and computers of African-Americans. And this begs a few questions: When will African-Americans be secure enough in our self-love and our self-knowledge not to care so much about what white folks think about us? When will African-Americans finally be free to laugh at ourselves and to even tolerate movies, sitcoms and music that's not about anything except making somebody a whole lot of money?

We seem to have already crossed that bridge when it comes to comedy. I mean, back in the day, a lot of black folks weren't amused by Richard Pryor's constant use of the N word. Today, many call Pryor a comedic genius, a national treasure. And he opened the door for Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle and many others who struck it rich poking fun at black folks in front of mixed audiences. And guess what? Everybody, black, white and all in between, laughs.

GORDON: Betty Baye is a columnist with The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky.

This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Betty Baye