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by Dr. Boyce Watkins
Discussing race on ESPN shows can be dangerous and get you fired. But that doesn’t stop Michael Wilbon from saying what’s on his mind. Wilbon discussed the recent Academy Awards on “The Tony Kornheiser Show” on ESPN 980 AM in Washington, D.C. this week. As can sometimes happen with Mike, the conversation got pretty racial.
When Wilbon was asked about the Academy Awards and the host, Seth McFarlane, Wilbon stated that he doesn’t like McFarlane one bit. In fact, he says that he was only selected to host the show because the academy is tired of black people.
“I don’t like him,” Wilbon said. “Why is he there? He’s not worthy of being there. They got tired of famous black people, so they got to get a white guy — affirmative action Academy Awards host? Is that what this is about? Really?”
Wilbon, who hosts the popular show “Pardon the Interruption” along with Kornheiser, gets the chance to chime in on race for a show that is built on racial differences between he and his white co-host. But despite Wilbon’s insistence that black people have overwhelmed the Oscars, there have actually only between two black hosts in the last 12 years. Chris Rock hosted the Oscars in 2005, and Whoopi Goldberg did the job in 2001.
“I don’t like MacFarlane,” Wilbon continued. “He is a joke. He is not worthy of the people that were up there last night.”
I like Mike Wilbon a lot, but I’m not sure what he has against McFarlane. I honestly think that Seth is hilarious. I love every single one of his cartoons, and I think he’s very funny in person. But the thing about McFarlane is that if you’re easily offended, he’s NOT your guy.
I thought Seth did a good job at the Oscars, but I also think that the Oscars was not his venue. My perception of the Oscars is that it is a bit pompus, racist and filled with people making decisions that don’t connect with the American people. In other words, it’s not much different from Congress. Seth was not the right host for the Oscars, but if they were seeking to rid themselves of stuffiness, then their outreach to Seth actually makes sense. In other words, they benefit much more from Seth’s presence than Seth benefits himself.
I don’t watch the Oscars, even when black people are hosting the show. Academy Awards mean about as much to me as parking tickets, and I have no idea why black entertainers value these awards so much. Well, there is one reason the awards are valuable: Acceptance in the white acting community can lead to a slew of economic opportunities for those who’ve been selected. Beyond that, an Oscar practically worthless.
I admittedly find it interesting that Wilbon can say what he wants about race (as can Stephen A. Smith), but Rob Parker was fired by ESPN for making reasonable remarks about race just a few weeks ago. It seems that there is an odd thing happening at ESPN, where racial conversations are welcome (since a lot of out-of-work black men watch their show, “First Take”), as long as they don’t cross certain boundaries. But the problem is that it’s difficult to see where those boundaries lie, which can leave people confused. Rob Parker’s remarks, while they weren’t as articulate as he might have wanted, were quite reasonable. But they did seem to reflect a kind of intra-racial subtlety that most white people would never understand. The truth is that I too openly wonder if Robert Griffin III (aka RG III) is ”cornball brother” (as Parker did before he was fired). The difference is that ESPN can’t banish me for asking that question out loud.
The bottom line here, whether we’re talking about discriminatory behavior at the Academy Awards or racial size ups at ESPN, is that black people need to own our own stuff. When we own the platforms, we define the conversation. We choose who gets the awards. We get to know what it’s like to live a life where the majority of our time is NOT spent complaining about decisions being made by white people. This would allow Rob Parker to have true freedom of speech and for Michael Wilbon to see his people celebrated in a way that he can appreciate.
You can’t be truly free when you’re living under somebody else’s roof. We must re-embrace the idea of black institution-building.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and author of the book, “Black American Money: How Black Power Can Thrive in a Capitalist Society.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.