The BET Apology: A Good Thing, But Short-Sighted

This morning, reported that BET has denounced the Lil Wayne and Drake performance at the award show earlier this week. Here is an excerpt from

BET has expressed remorse over a performance by Lil Wayne, Drake and Young Money Records that involved underage girls during songs “Best I Ever Had” and “Every Girl.”

The songs, which have overt sexual references, were performed during the Sunday BET Awards ’09 show as a bevy of young girls danced on stage. The group of girls consisted of Lil Wayne’s daughters and her friends.

In an exclusive statement, BET has responded to the criticism and the public outcry over the segment.

“BET Networks deeply regrets the performance by Young Money at the BET AWARDS ’09 (featuring Lil Wayne, Drake, Gudda Gudda and Mack Maine),” a BET representative told exclusively. “Elements of the performance were unplanned and should not have happened.”

In the aftermath of the show, many have expressed outrage over the outing by Young Money, which was set amid a show dedicated to the late Michael Jackson.

Activist and filmmaker Byron Hurt lambasted the network earlier in the week in an open letter to Debra Lee, the President and Chief Executive Officer of BET Holdings, Inc.

“In a culture where one out of four girls and women are either raped or sexually assaulted – and where manipulative men routinely traffic vulnerable women into the sex industry – it is not okay that BET allowed this to happen,” Hurt said. “BET owes its entire audience – particularly girls and women around the world – an apology for its failure to intervene.”

A representative said generally the company has found such opinions useful.

“We value and appreciate the feedback from our viewers and have edited Young Money’s performance for all BET Awards ’09 encore presentations.”

An edited version of the show will re-air on Monday July 6. The BET Awards saw a 61-percent increase in viewers this year fueled by the sudden death of Michael Jackson. Ten percent of all turned on television sets watched the show Sunday, a remarkably high number.

It is a good thing that BET Networks apologized for the performance. It’s also very important to highlight the fact that they “value and appreciate the feedback from…viewers.” I am happy to read that BET is listening. That is the basis of any meaningful, productive exchange.

Since BET’s antennas are now up, this is a great opportunity to remind the network about the context of the public outcry that exploded around the Internet this week. The uproar was not merely about a single performance.

Judging from the massive, far-reaching response to my essay alone, one can see that the uproar was targeted at BET’s history of programming. Millions have argued – this week and throughout the years – that, as a general rule, BET programming does not powerfully dig at some of the dreadful realities that exist in the Black community. Some of those realities can be seen in the lives affected by these stats: Seventy percent of all Black children in this country are born to parents who are not married; sixty percent of all Black children are growing up without their fathers; one out of sixteen black males will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime; the same is true from one out of thirty black women. There is a mountain of other verifiable data that could be inserted here.

To be clear: There is no expectation from viewers that BET is able to fix problems that it didn’t create. We understand that the original seeds of materialism or sexism, for example, were not planted by BET. Yet because we live in a country where Black people are unhealthier, less educated, disproportionately incarcerated, and more likely to be brutalized by the police than most any other racial group – because of these facts, then so many of us expect BET to be more forward-thinking and progressive with its programming. Millions of people believe that when BET pushes an abundance of programming that focuses on sex, fame, glory, and money and that same programming grid is lacking in news, history programs, financial literacy shows, social justice investigations, or similar kinds of shows, then BET is helping to unravel the fabric of our community. A saturation of shows that celebrate the most surface aspects of who we are is like having unprotected sex: it might feel good in the moment, but it’s not good in the long run.

BET, if you are listening sincerely then take note that millions of outraged people (which include your loyal viewers, former viewers, and secretly, even some of your employees) have never really been offended by any one single performance, but more offended by what the network refuses to do. The outcry is for the network to epitomize the kind of programming that includes a more balanced look at African Americans. At the very least, the outcry is for BET to invest in more than just videos, reality TV shows, and awards. People are still critical of the network for cancelling Teen Summit and BET News.

What’s glaring here is the fact that there is more to Black people than what meets the eye. We are a complex collective. A network that recognizes the diversity of Black people would be a welcome shift to millions. While we can expect ignorant racists to put Black people in a box, we don’t want to fight that battle with a network run by Black people. If a country like the United States, with its history of hatred toward Black people, can elect an African American to the White House, then surely BET can expand its mission beyond its narrow view.

And it saddens millions of us that when the world wants to turn on television to learn about the history of African Americans or about how our humanity has changed the course of history, then viewers must tune into other networks. It’s the other networks, like PBS and HBO (with all their shortcomings), who find the foresight and the financing to tell our stories. It’s the other networks that consistently provide specials on Black luminaries ranging from Josephine Baker to Jack Johnson; from Roberto Clemente to Sweet Honey in the Rock; from Ida B. Wells to Marcus Garvey.

And so, BET, while an apology is good, it’s simply not deep enough. It’s as surface as most of the programs the network stands behind. If there was a monitoring of this week’s backlash and the only result was a statement that denounced a single performance, then it seems that BET still doesn’t get it.

But perhaps millions of us expect too much. A Viacom-owned company, BET is a business and its business is entertainment. It operates to make a profit, not to heal a nation. It did not have to issue an apology, but when that all it did, it reminded millions that the uproar should be directed to those who advertise with the network.

6 thoughts on “The BET Apology: A Good Thing, But Short-Sighted”

  1. 11, El Capi'Tan

    The shit I see here is insane. How could BET put Wayne on blast? It was his daughter and her friends on stage, not just random girls pulled from the crowd…
    If the content of the song was a issue, then it shouldn't be on the radio building the strong BUZZ and following that it is.
    I understand the ideals that BET should be a cornerstone of the black community, being that it's Black Entertainment Television.. But seriously, it's an award show honoring black artist for the music that EVERYONE (race not included) love so if a song about "SEX" which MANY artists touch on a daily basis is the problem, then we have a major issue with things such as FREE SPEECH.

  2. Too Late Too Little if you for #BETFAILED #BETFAIL @BETAWARDS they knew Monday Morning @ 12am – 3am we had almost 25% of people who were trending BET BETAWARDS coming back with #BETFAILED in their tweets.

    I have had it with BET it is my goal/mission for the 09-10 season to see DEBRA LEE FIRED! And a complete overhaul of that Network if not they will LOSE!

    ps great post 🙂

  3. I received the link to your blog from a friend who recommended it as a "must read." He was right! Well said and so on target. Thank you. I'm putting you on my regular reading list.

  4. I received the link to your blog from a friend who recommended it as a "must read." He was right! Well said and so on target. Thank you. I'm putting you on my regular reading list.

  5. April, I couldn't agree with you more. Apologizing is just a Band-Aid….Temporary fix to a long-term problem. This is my first time reading your blog. I was refered by a friend so I'm getting ready to thank her now. Have a great day and keep on doin' what ya doin'!

    Mello Melanin, The Hot Instrumentalist

Comments are closed.