Is big media really concerned for Kobe’s family, friends and community, or with Bryant’s corporate value as a black celebrity, an apolitical athlete and a commodity?
“Black religious leaders, black media, academic and political leadership are failing the black masses.”
To the detriment of humanity and black people specifically, an almost sacred reverence for athletes and entertainers, orchestrated by billionaire sports franchise owners, media conglomerates, sneaker manufacturers, lawyers, and agents is pervasive in black communities nationwide. This essay argues that sports, entertainment and celebrity culture manipulated by monopoly media conglomerates is, "the opioid of the masses of black people."
The German sociologist, economist, political theorist, scholar Karl Marx said, "religion is the opioid of the people." For many black Christians worldwide, this is confirmed every Sunday when black men, women, and children flock to churches that embrace prosperity ministries and Eurocentric interpretations of Christianity. A far too rare exception are black Christians attending places of worship grounded in the concept of black liberation theology, the theology of Nat Turner, Dr. James Cone, Rev. Jerimiah Wright, and others. On the contrary, an almost sacred reverence for Sunday NFL games, athletes, entertainers, and reality TV performers flooding black communities with messages of consumerism, consumption, and capitalism are the “opioid” engulfing black communities nationwide.
“Many black Christians embrace prosperity ministries and Eurocentric interpretations of Christianity.”
Fundamental to our oppression is the power, control, and influence of corporate-controlled media. My work as a filmmaker, scholar, and activist explores efforts to end the oppression and exploitation of black people and counters corporate media profit-driven interpretations of black experiences. We see corporate media profit motives coupled with black celebrity-driven news in the coverage of the tragic death of former Los Angeles Laker basketball player Kobe Bryant. It exemplifies the imbalance throughout society and the black community in particular regarding the value of "celebrity" in our everyday lives.
I am not being critical of or diminishing the life and accomplishments of Kobe Bryant. However, I am expressing concern about what has significance in the lives of the masses of black people and the power of corporate-controlled media to manipulate and influence what has significance. I'm also concerned that black religious leaders, black media, academic and political leadership are failing the black masses by not addressing the structural, capitalist profit motive connected to the coverage of Kobe Bryant's death.
Kobe touched many lives with his intelligence and humanity. His incredible talent on the basketball court was a thing of beauty, grace, and art. However, he was also a corporate entity and an instrument of profit for the LA Lakers, sneaker manufacturers, and corporate-controlled media. The Lakers charge thousands of dollars for courtside seats, Nike charges hundreds of dollars for Kobe Bryant sneakers that are manufactured in sweatshops by people of color in developing nations. The broadcast and cable networks charge tens of thousands of dollars for commercial time during NBA basketball games. Is all of the media coverage of Kobe Bryant's tragic death a result of concern for Kobe's family, friends and the pain his death brought to our communities? Or is it grounded in the corporate value of Kobe Bryant as a black celebrity, an apolitical athlete and a commodity? After all, we haven't seen any commercial free tributes to Kobe.
“Nike charges hundreds of dollars for Kobe Bryant sneakers that are manufactured in sweatshops by people of color in developing nations.”
Almost everyday black on black violence takes the lives of men, women, and children in Chicago and other urban areas nationwide. Yet, there is very little national corporate media coverage of these deaths. We must remind corporate media and the black celebrities commenting on Kobe's death that the lives lost in urban inner cities also have value and merit our attention and concern. Real committed journalistic coverage would require examining and exploring the inherent economic, social, political and judicial oppressive racial policies and forces contributing to the violence. Let's demand that corporate and black-owned media address the issues in our communities with respect and dignity through the lens of our history and culture unencumbered by their corporate profit motives. Let's demand that our scholars, religious and political leaders and yes the grassroots black community recognize the value of all black lives. We must embrace our humanity and understand that corporate-controlled media propagandizes black celebrityhood, sports, and entertainment, "the opioid of the masses of black people" that contributes to undermining our struggle for liberation.
Dante James is an Emmy award-winning independent filmmaker. He has a master's degree from Duke University.
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