Serving up hour-long doses of Black pain for amusement is deeply irresponsible, when that pain remains so deeply real.
Last night, members of the “alt-right” and KKK gathered in Charlottesville outside of the University of Virginia for a “Unite the Right” rally, organized against the removal of a Confederate statue at Richard Spencer’s alma mater. Virginia’s governor Terry McAuliffe released a statement advising people to stay away from the rally that will carry into Saturday due to those “who may seek to commit acts of violence against rally participants or law enforcement” — a statement that sounds like it is in the best interest of the protesters.
So far there has not been any forceful police intervention. There has been no tear gas. No one has called these men thugs. Although the Charlottesville Police Department has just issued a Declaration of Local Emergency, one doesn’t need to imagine what immediate actions would have been taken if Black people stormed an area with flaming torches. We have seen what happens to protesters with the wrong skin color, even when they are acting peacefully. These men (and possibly women too) no longer even bother wearing their hoods, like the KKK once did to hide their identity. The world we live in now lets them boldly put their racism, bigotry, and hatred on display, knowing there will be little consequence for their actions.
One doesn’t need to imagine what immediate actions would have been taken if Black people stormed an area with flaming torches.
According to several tweets from people who were at the rally, pro-white chants echoed through the air, including “White Lives Matter” and “Jews will not replace us.” Meanwhile, the hashtag #unitetheright spread across social media. And then, another hashtag re-emerged on Twitter: #NoConfederate.
That this rally is taking place just weeks after a major network announced plans to create a show imagining what it would be like if the South did not lose the Civil War says a lot about the state of America in 2017.
On July 19, HBO announced its plans for a show requiring creators and writers to fantasize about slavery still existing. As the network announcement put it, the series would feature “an alternate timeline, where the southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution.”
The laundry list of reasons Confederate should never have been greenlit is long, and seems self-explanatory, echoing in many ways the fight of activists like Bree Newsome to have confederate flags taken down.
Chief among these reasons is the fact that slavery didn’t just disappear when the Civil War ended; it just looks different now. Systems of oppression have been reborn in new forms, like the prison industrial complex and institutional racism. The descendants of slave owners continue to benefit from generational wealth, profiting off the oppression of Black people. The fact is, our country has yet to figure out a way to even the playing field for Black people after the dissolution of the institution of slavery.
Confederate has subsequently been met with sweeping and justified backlash — not just for its patently problematic premise, but also because it would be executive produced and written by the creators of Game of Thrones, which has received criticism for making very little room for people of color, specifically Black characters. Moreover, over the course of seven seasons, the Black characters who have been featured have been restricted largely to the roles of servants. (Confederate would also be executive-produced by Nichelle Tramble Spellman and Malcolm Spellman, who are Black, a fact that has not assuaged concerns over the show’s direction.)
But even after #NoConfederate was promoted by activists on Twitter—including the creator of the #OscarSoWhite hashtag April Reign (@ReignOfApril) and Rebecca Theodore (@FilmFatale_NYC)—a statement was issued by producers stating that the show will go on:
“We have great respect for the dialogue and concern being expressed around Confederate. We have faith that [writers] Nichelle, Dan, David and Malcolm will approach the subject with care and sensitivity. The project is currently in its infancy so we hope that people will reserve judgment until there is something to see.”
I have zero interest in finding out whether my legitimate outrage over such a ridiculous and exploitative premise is premature. However, there is a silver lining in all this — it was announced this week that a secret project by Will Packer (Girls Trip, Straight Outta Compton) and Aaron McGruder (The Boondocks, Black Jesus) had been greenlit by Amazon — and it essentially posits the exact opposite premise. The show will be titled Black America, and envisions what the world would look like if Black people actually received the reparations they were promised upon being freed from slavery, showing a completely fictional scenario in which Black people thrive without having to contend with the systemic hardships of white supremacy. Instead of the billionth piece of entertainment that portrays Black history as nothing more than slavery, Black America could actually uplift Black people.
In contrast to the problematic Game of Thrones producers behind Confederate, the creative duo at the helm of Black America seems uniquely well-suited to tackle this controversial topic, thanks to their experience with projects that have deftly explored fraught racial themes. I am confident in their ability to represent not only Black people and their unseen potential, but also to embody the humanity of the Black community in their storytelling.
Already, the interviews coming from the creators of Black America show promise, as they have explicitly included discussion of the dangerous impact Confederate could have on present times. Like many others, Packer and McGruder have said they won’t be tuning in to Confederate. “The fact that there is the contemplation of contemporary slavery makes it something that I would not be a part of producing nor consuming,” Packer told Deadline. “Slavery is far too real and far too painful, and we still see the manifestations of it today as a country for me to ever view that as a form of entertainment.”
Many are saying there’s a double standard here: Why do we believe a show like Confederate is abysmal, whereas a show like Black America should be celebrated? The answer is fairly simple, and in many ways connects to the heinous KKK rally that’s taken place in Charlottesville.
Since reparations never happened, Black America is an actual fantasy, envisioning a world that does not exist. But America stealing Black people to have them enslaved and build their plantations, and then remaining systemically racist decades after? That’s not fiction; it’s reality. Serving up hour-long doses of Black pain for amusement is deeply irresponsible, when that pain remains so deeply real.
If you need evidence of this devastating fact, look no further than the KKK rally in Charlottesville — at the faces of its unmasked white nationalists who are calling for the death of Black bodies, and who are being protected by the government and police as they do.
Confederate asks us to imagine a world in which the South did not lose, and white supremacy won. The rally in Charlottesville — and the systemic forces protecting the white nationalists behind it — proves that we are living in it.