It’s tough living in the new Golden Age of television. Just when I think I’ve gotten away, another show draws me back in. After watching the character death fest that was the season finale of Game of Thrones, I decided that perhaps it was time for some lighter fare. What’s that you say? The new season of Orange is the New Black has been released early? It is classified as a comedy now… isn’t it?
The season opened and I sat back expecting to be entertained. The scene showed a new driver behind the wheel of one of the prison vans. The character was a white junkie. A new character, an African-American prison guard, asked if she smoked crack before prison. The inmate responded along the lines of ‘crack is for blacks.’ The guard jumped out of her seat. ‘What did you say?!’ Sorry, the inmate replied, ‘crack is for African-Americans,’ and continued driving with a smile on her face, oblivious to the fact that the statement wasn’t any less offensive for its use of more politically correct terminology.
I will admit I snorted as I watched the scene. I consider myself somewhat educated and worldly, and at the time, I found the inmate’s well-intentioned ignorance funny as well as pitiable. I felt ‘in’ on the joke and that made me feel better about myself.
A few days later, church bells rang out in Charleston in reverence for the victims of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting on June 17th. Calls to remove the confederate flag from atop the State Capitol seemed to finally gained traction with legislators. A news story ran that one of the oldest manufacturers of the confederate flag would halt production. Just because you can make something, doesn’t mean you should. It started to feel like progress was being made. Americans (and Southerners at that) were finally making an effort.
Then, I read more headlines. Nationwide sales for the last production of the flag were through the roof.
I find that watching ignorance in real life is a lot less funny than it is on TV.
This article does not fit with my other writing. It makes me uncomfortable to even write the words. I’ve felt that my voice has no place in the conversation. Then I read “Please Stop Being a Good White Person,” written by a white mother of a mixed race child. By all means, please go and read it. I’ll wait. It made me realize that getting uncomfortable is a necessary step in the process.
Her words reminded me of the line from Jim Collins’ business book, Good to Great. The enemy of great is good. It reminded me of a scene from the movie Whiplash. “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than “good job”. – Terence Fletcher
Good is the acceptance of mediocrity and the status quo. Take, for example, Comedy Central’s the Daily Show. When I first started watching it, the program was just another late night celebrity talk show. The show was funny. It entertained. It was good. Then Jon Stewart was brought on board and he began to gradually shift the format. Soon he was challenging his guests, who were not just entertainers, with a well-timed joke or two. There was a risk that ratings could plummet, but instead the guests kept coming, and not just the people who agreed with Jon politically. Suddenly instead of more anecdotes, there were conversations on TV, albeit with a humorous spin. That was until Charleston. Jon Stewart wasn’t joking that day, and I find myself similarly unable to do several days later.
Taking down the flag is good. Renaming buildings and streets, as if that somehow changes history, is good. Taking up hashtags like #blacklivesmatter or #alllivesmatter are good, but I want us to be great. It begins with things like braving uncomfortable conversations. Conversations, not rants, put downs, one-sided praise, or public humiliations. This is not a political issue. Nor is this restricted to race, religion, or sexuality. This is, and has been, a human rights issue and good is no longer good enough.