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The Daily Tar Heel

Black Media: Looks All Light to Me

(For the uninitiated, The Box was "music television you control" -- a channel that played music videos all day, every day. It was divine.)

Every day after school, I would bond with The Box, soaking in the latest from Tribe, De La Soul, Snoop, Salt 'N Pepa, Das EFX and others.

Then one day The Box went away and took my love for music videos with it. Sure, I'd catch Rap City now and again, but it wasn't the same.

But last week, while running a 100-degree fever, I decided that my suffering needed a soundtrack and reached for the remote instead of a CD. I promptly found new reasons to continue my video prohibition.

I spent the better part of two days flipping between BET and MTV. Hours passed, yet I was sure I'd only seen three videos. Was my fever driving me mad?

Unfortunately, no. The reality is that 99.2 percent of the rap and R&B videos currently in rotation simply suck. Where creativity once ruled, complacent conformity now thrives. Every artist wants to be jiggy and every director wants to be Hype Williams.

Disgusted, I hit the mute button. But then, things got real interesting.

I watched BET for an hour with no sound and my head is still spinning.

It wasn't the abundance of bling bling, do rags, Hummers and trite dance steps. No, it was the women that got me! And it wasn't the objectification of the women, either. (Sadly, that's about as surprising as a Duke star sitting the bench in the NBA).

The women didn't stand out because of what they were (or weren't) wearing but because of what they represented.

It was their complexion that got to me. I watched more than 50 videos and saw a color spectrum slimmer than the chance of a Bobby Brown comeback.

Take Snoop's "What's My Name Part II" video, for example. Remove his flow and the catchy hook and just focus on the visual message.

Amid the bevy of beauties gyrating for the camera the only true differences are the colors of their halter tops and bikinis. Otherwise, they are essentially the same girl -- long, straight hair; hazel or green eyes; Barbie-doll body. And, of course, a skin tone that is "light-bright-damn-near-white."

"The darker the berry the sweeter the juice," my grandmother would say. "But if it gets too dark, then what's the use?" she added.

I always laughed at that aside, secure in the belief that colorism was dying out. But my BET session showed me that, like racism, it has simply taken on slightly more subtle forms.

Here we are in a new millennium and Eurocentric, exoticized images of blackness are still being enshrined as though it were 1901. Only now, the media is global and the culprits are new.

White music executives account for but a small part of the continued malaise of the black female image. After all, they're in the music business, and culture is only as valuable as the number of units it can push.

There are too many black A&Rs, directors (male and female), producers and executives in the game for the buck to be passed.

More than any point in the past, black people control black entertainment. But for some reason, the brass ring has yet to be grasped. For some reason, black girls with wide lips and hips still don't see themselves in videos, movies and magazines. For some reason, a woman with an afro or dressed Afrocentrically still must be "making a statement" instead of simply enjoying her natural beauty. And for some reason, $40 million worth of skin-lightening products were sold in this country in 1990, according to Kathy Russell's "The Color Complex."

Sound and sight melded almost 20 years ago, and the ability to shape images of blackness came along with it. However, almost inexplicably, that power has been largely ignored.

And, still, the only black that matters in music videos is the bottom line.

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I'd love to go into more detail, but, for some reason, I'm feeling a little light-headed.

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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