Their Eyes Were Watching Tyler Perry: Some Thoughts on Escapism, Responsibility and White Rage

Illustration for article titled Their Eyes Were Watching Tyler Perry: Some Thoughts on Escapism, Responsibility and White Rage
Photo: LightField Studios (Shutterstock)

For the past two weeks, I’ve been dealing with some heavy personal stuff that’s taken an immense toll on both my mental and emotional state. Coupled with the growing restlessness of the seemingly never-ending pandemic and the lack of social experiences to counteract said restlessness, by the time the New Year’s holiday came around, I was more than ready to detach and decompress by whatever means necessary.


And so I did what anyone with an active Netflix account did—ate hella snacks, drank champagne, and binged Bridgerton. I also hopped on over to Hulu and Amazon Prime where I further distracted myself with numerous episodes of Atlanta and Sylvie’s Love, respectively. And while those moments were enough to provide some escape amidst the chaos—thoughts of what had transpired still somehow found their way to the forefront of my mind. Trauma, amirite? Surely, I thought, things have to be on the up-and-up, though. It’s about to be a new year, we’re about to get a new president, and hopefully a new season of Atlanta (you hear that, Donald? A. New. Season.)

Cue January 6. That’s right, just six days into the new year, the world watched as the U.S. Capitol was taken over and ransacked by seething, sedition-fueled Trump supporters angered and empowered to right the “wrong” of an already debunked “fraudulent election.” (For the record: The election wasn’t false. It wasn’t rigged. It just didn’t turn out the way Trump wanted it to. And so, like any other thing that presents itself in opposition to Trump, it’s automatically wrong, bad, and needs to be enacted upon with the highest and fullest amount of white rage possible.) As expected, news stations all across the country interrupted regular programming to broadcast the unprecedented attack at our nation’s capital. Well—most news stations, I should say.

You see, while most networks were covering or at the very least reacting to what was happening in D.C., BET decided to air episodes of one of Tyler Perry’s new scripted shows, Assisted Living. (Though it should be stated that there was real-time coverage of the insurrection happening on their website.) Over at TV One, another predominately Black-centric network, viewers were partaking in Family Matters reruns for most of the afternoon. Journal-Isms reporter Richard Prince, whose column was once republished on The Root, took note of their choice in programming in a recent article, reaching out to the networks in an attempt to ascertain their reasoning. BET spokesman Luis DeFrank told Prince: “We have started reporting in real-time on our digital platform and are monitoring the situation closely.” Reps for TV One, however, did not respond. And while I’m never mad at classic Black sitcoms still getting airtime, I initially couldn’t help but share Prince’s concerns.

Why aren’t they showing what’s happening right now?

Why would you have a big platform like this and not use it to showcase and inform viewers on the crazy that’s currently going down?


Don’t our people need to know?

Where does escapism end and responsibility begin?

But the more I thought about it, the more I started wondering if those questions were even the right questions to ask. After all, haven’t Black folks been subjected to enough trauma? I mean, 2020 alone was enough to send anybody over the edge, right? Not to mention the increased violence and vitriol we’ve witnessed over the last four years in response to the current presidential leadership. Do we really need to ingest more examples of white rage for the sake of “staying informed?” Should we really inundate ourselves with white people doing more white people shit at the expense of our emotional health? After all we’ve been through, don’t we deserve some sort of escape? Because while it’s one thing to be willfully ignorant, it’s a whole other thing to choose to focus on something else in an effort to preserve your mental sanity. I, of all people, should understand that.


We as Black folks have GONE THROUGH IT—and will arguably still be going through for a very long time. We, as a people, have also been trying to tell y’all that the events that took place at the Capitol were bound to happen eventually, but as usual, y’all didn’t listen. And because y’all didn’t listen, as Tamika Mallory so eloquently put it, this is not nor will it ever be our fight to engage in.


And by engage in, I mean to get upset, in a tizzy, overwhelmingly anxious, or be in fear of whatever is to come from this chaos. I’ll react in the most responsible way possible for me, my mental health, and my family but at the end of the day—unless they dot my door with some foolishness, I’m not finna get into white folks’ business like that. That’s between them and their little friends. So until that day comes, let us watch Baby Boy, Hustle & Flow, Madea’s Family Reunion, or whatever else in peace.

We deserve at least that much.

Correction: 2:37 p.m. ET, 1/7/21: This story incorrectly stated Richard Prince’s role with The Root. It has since been corrected.



I suppose, at minimum, I can’t fault entertainment stations from having, well, entertainment programming. And I am also aware of the traditional mercenary take of “these places are in business to make money, not (whatever their product or service is)“.

But I’ll approach it this way. As of 2021, Black-centered networks (even if not black owned, e.g., BET, etc.) should have a news division (if not staff, hire black freelancers), and should be covering important topics, even if uncomfortable. Many “mainstream” white owned news outlets (print, radio, television, web) for 25+ years now as these outlets have both gone out of business and been gobbled up by mega-mergers, have been increasingly reliant on the wire services like Associated Press, Reuters, heck, Bloomberg, etc., instead of having their own independent reporting (especially on foreign issues)— for example, is there any Black-American news media coverage on African countries? I’m reliant on BBC Africa, but I’m that nerdy dude. There are so many topics and sub-topics where a mainstream news report can get it wrong, or even get it “right” but still have glaring blindspots.

Black News Network is still chugging along.  Also Clear Channel/IHeartRadio has a broadcast radio presence with Black Information Network.  That helps.  (it’s not enough).

This is something that, I suppose, independent entrepreneurs will have to fill in those gaps, with platforms like Youtube, Periscope, Instagram, and whatever next somebody comes up with.