Black folks in America have always had a funny relationship with conspiracy theories. Given the actual lengths and depths to which white racists actually have been willing to go to harm black folks, it makes us particularly susceptible to believing just about anything is possible if the man has it in his mind to cause trouble.
Pop culture has caught up in the last few decades with Chris Rock’s Nat X, Damon Wayans’ playing Oswald Bates on In Living Color, Dave Chapelle’s Conspiracy Brotha and just about anything you see on Hotep Twitter when Scandal is on. But no matter how far down the rabbit hole we go, there is nothing black folks can “conspiracize” as much as white racists who live in a constant state of fear that blacks are taking over and about to mongrelize the world.
That is why you should be watching Bella and the Bulldogs on Nickelodeon, because it’s become ground zero for white conspiracy theories about the eventual Negro takeover of the world. You might need to hold my hand as we walk down this path if 1) you don’t regularly surf or post on white supremacist sites like Stormfront and Stormer and 2) you’re not in the habit of watching teen and kids shows on Nickelodeon.
Bella and the Bulldogs is a typical Nickelodeon tween show. Shows like That’s So Raven, Pair of Kings and KC Undercover are all sweet kids shows about regular, innocent teens who usually have some weird quirk (they’re super-geniuses, talk to ghosts, own a magic bracelet, have robot siblings—or all of the above) that sets them up for wacky adventures. In the case of Bella, she’s your typical tween cheerleader at her middle school until—blamo!—somehow she’s become the starting quarterback for the team. Now her life is about balancing her cheerleader friends and earning the trust and respect of the boys. Sounds simple enough, right? Only if you’re easily fooled by the evil Zionist Black Conspiracy!
Apparently, the Stormfront message board got all agitated back in May about this new show, claiming that it was all about emasculating white men and subtly encouraging young white girls to lust after black boys. And while Bella follows the typical formula of most Nick and Disney sitcoms in which the main female protagonist is surrounded by goofy characters, the online bigots are convinced that this is all some plot of the Jews and the blacks to weaken white men so that Bella is all theirs.
This would have been just another funny trip down the clickhole of white supremacist Web searching, but the conspiracy grew, and grew and grew. It turns out that the show’s co-creator (a black man) also directed a movie called Cuckold—a film about a particular fetish involving white men who enjoy watching their wives have sex with black men. This fact convinced the white supremacist TV critics to pull out their PowerPoint apps and create a series of posts and pictures, not to mention hilarious hashtags like #niCUCKelodeon, proving once and for all that the show’s goal was to mongrelize the world through a silly sitcom. At this point, it came to the mainstream attention of Gawker, but rather than embarrass the whole Klannish lot, that only seemed to validate their belief that this was all some black/Jewish conspiracy.
There is a lesson here for black folks to learn about ourselves and the convoluted mindset of white supremacists. Unlike these supremacists, unable to reconcile that they still live in a society where whites hold a majority of the wealth and the power, black folks are often justified in our paranoia, thanks to a lengthy history of white violence, abuse and discrimination against African Americans. When it comes to popular culture, we are in a constant battle to retain our dignity and humanity in the face of movies and shows that have spent 100 years portraying us as stupid, lazy, cowardly, sex-crazed or just insanely deferential to white characters.
The problems with shows like Scandal are obvious, but even at the kid level, you could get nitpicky. In True Jackson VP, the Nick show that launched Keke Palmer’s career, over the four seasons it was on the air, every love interest was a white boy. Even worse, the only black man on the show who wasn’t a relative was her subtly effeminate office assistant. The conspiracy-minded could also surmise that Lab Rats is really about the white man marrying a single black mother and forcing her black son to babysit his Übermensch, bionically perfect white stepsiblings.
On The Haunted Hathaways, the only reason a marriage between a white woman and a black man works is that he’s dead (literally) and a jazz singer? See, it’s easy to find a hidden anti-black racial agenda in just about every program. And to be honest with you, the premises and occasional plots of these shows are a heckuva lot more worrisome than anything these neo-Nazis are squawking about.
The catch is that white racist paranoia is not really about facts or history or even real examples; it’s about fear. White racists have always feared that one day, somehow, some way, black folks are finally gonna get angry and seek retribution for all the abuse white supremacy has caused. This is despite the fact that African Americans have never shown a collective interest in getting “revenge” on white folks, no matter how terrible the behavior; just ask those folks in Charleston, S.C.
So white racists can rant for pages and pages online about how Bella and the Bulldogs promotes cuckolding of white men because deep down they’ve watched for decades how black women have been casually thrown into bed with white men in movies, art and on television, and they’re terrified of ever being put in that position culturally. White bigots are like a cheating husband: No matter how much he’s been forgiven, he’s wracked by paranoia that his wife’s gonna get him back. The catch is, we black folks are so busy just trying to get on television and create positive images of ourselves that no one has time to try to emasculate white men on scripted TV.
But despite this bizarre backlash against a kids show, you should take time to peek at Bella and the Bulldogs some lazy Saturday afternoon. It’ll remind you of just how far television has progressed in the last 20 years, and how even the slightest, most innocent depiction of interracial interaction among kids is still met with anger and resistance from certain segments of white America. And that should remind us to never back down and never shy away from demanding that our own depictions continue to grow and represent the diversity of African-American life. Because there are certainly people out there dedicated to stopping every step of our progress, lest it one day blow back on them.
Jason Johnson, political editor at The Root, is a professor of political science at Morgan State’s School of Global Journalism and Communication and is a frequent guest on MSNBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera International, Fox Business News and SiriusXM Satellite Radio. Follow him on Twitter.