Laurence Fishburne continues white and black America’s immature national conversation on race, by citing Justin Bieber to defend the contentious title of his new TV show “Black-ish.”
Because, as we all know, Justin Bieber is the only white kid in history to wear baggy pants, have black friends, like R&B music and sometimes act like a teenager.
Somehow, these four “heinous crimes,” combined with the 20-year-old singer’s polarizing appeal and fame, have become a kind of easy shorthand in discussions by both African-Americans and White Americans, in an endless quest to shove each other into rigid slots of racial “do’s” and “don’ts.”
While appearing on “The View” on Monday, co-host Whoopi Goldberg told Fishburne that some people were “freaked out” over the word “Black-ish.”
The 53-year actor replied, “Depending upon on your perspective, for some people [black-ish] means when black folks kind of act white, for some people it means when white folks act black.”
In a nutshell, he referred to the comedy series’ central pitch of an upper-middle class black family residing in a predominantly white, upper-middle-class neighborhood and the father’s attempts to maintain their racial identity. Fishburne plays the dad and executive produces the show.
Delivering his money-shot line, Laurence added, “I think of it this way. Two words: Justin Bieber.”
A video of the moment shows the audience applauding in seeming agreement, while host Rosie Perez visibly gasped.
Fishburne plowed on, stating, “Justin Bieber acts ‘black-ish,’ but he doesn’t get shot by the police. He gets a police escort home.”
Perez interjected that she was “nervous” and erupted in “uncomfortable laughter” as outlet Gossip Cop put it.
It seems that in an America where Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, Ferguson and the unlawful killing of Black males is still happening, the only thing entertainment shows across TV and radio and the blogosphere agree on when it comes to race — is Bieber.
Laurence later added what may be one of the most pointless generalizations about racial identity heard for some time.
“If you like rock and roll, if you like rhythm and blues, if you like jazz, if you like hip-hop — you might be black-ish.”
With respect, Mr. Fishburne, you were great in The Matrix. But, on race ideology? Stick to acting, which you excel at and are acclaimed for.
An alternative perspective:
1: America’s race history is bloody, disgraceful and centuries in the making
The answers to necessary conversations on why black male and female lives in the U.S. are self-evidently valued less than white lives, deserves a more serious focus than Justin Bieber’s drop-crotch pants and youthful missteps.
Race inequalities in America have nothing to do with Bieber. He doesn’t make the laws. He didn’t create slavery, and he doesn’t maintain the systemic racism that continues.
Put bluntly: If chastising Bieber for the way he dresses and sometimes acts — not unlike billions of white, Asian, black and mixed youth around the world — is the only thing black people can think of to change the paradigm that gave rise to Michael Brown’s death, and the centuries of ignorance and degradation that bookmarks that; then Martin Luther King’s civil rights legacy is being catastrophically disrespected.
(Photo: The entertainer striking a pose for the Adidas NEO label in 2012.)
2: Bieber has never directly said that he wants to be black or considers himself as black
At the close of 2013, the oft-shirtless one briefly mentioned to The Hollywood Reporter in an interview about a range of subjects, that he was,
“Influenced by black culture,” not to try to be black, but as a “lifestyle — like a suaveness or a swag, per se.”
Obviously, that was the, then, 19-year-old’s idea of being “cool,” something many young people are concerned with. Since then, a blustery Huffington Post op-ed argued that the Biebs is now “acting black,” and that this is what accounts for his success.
3: In reply, a history lesson
When manager Scooter Braun discovered the, then, 12-year-old Bieber on YouTube, he was already singing R&B covers by the likes of Ne-Yo, Chris Brown, Aretha Franklin and Justin Timberlake, while the rapper Tupac hung on his bedroom wall.
The popification overhaul of Bieber took place when he signed a record deal with Def Jam, which proceeded to sell America an apple pie, swoop-haired moppet ideal.
Bieber’s low-fi, Journals album release last year is actually a return to his R&B roots, not a departure.
From his first 2009 hit “One Time” to 2010’s chart destroyer “Baby” to Bieber’s five No.1 Billboard albums, all of that success took place before the bulk of his run-ins with the law and multiple lawsuits.
So, it wasn’t an urban image that powered Bieber to teen iconhood. It was talent, goofy-meets-cute charm and cultivation of “Bieber Fever” by his team, aided by media and social media saturation.
4: Kids are sponges
The idea that a clearly impressionable, Canadian kid, who was developed and “swagged” up by Braun and Usher in the urban nexus of Atlanta, Georgia, then surrounded by friends and associates including Big Sean, Sean Kingston and L.A Reid, wouldn’t be influenced a little (or a lot) by Black culture is ludicrous.
(Video: The “Baby” singer in Atlanta in 2008 with Braun.)
5: But mostly, just this
In 2014, we shouldn’t be telling kids, or anyone, to essentially “stay in their lane” and not to “act” a particular way, based on subjective concepts.
Individuals are allowed to define who they are. Like everyone else in America, the Biebs is free to experiment with his style and beliefs. He’s also allowed to make mistakes, as we all do. But we’re not all accused of race-jumping.
If America spent less time on circular conversations about how races are supposed to act, and elevated those obsessions to dialogues about how human beings can start relating to each other without irrational judgment – perhaps — we would see the kind of real, positive social change most sane people want.
Justin Bieber isn’t the root of historical racism in America. Nor should he be the poster boy for the various points “Black-ish” makes.
Bieber is a just 20-year-old kid who loves R&B, likes wearing ridiculous pants and has had a wobble for a year and a bit. Lame debates about his “whiteness” or so-called “blackness” distract from real race issues, and they are just too deadly to let that happen.