Does BET have a bias against dark-skinned blacks?
The exit of Terrence J and Rocsi Diaz from the long-running 106th and Park has entertainment-hounds wondering who will be the next to take the helm of the popular BET show. 106th and Park is uniquely positioned, as the only relevant countdown music video show of its kind still on the air, to break new talent and try to recapture the attention of music-loving teens. The challenge — finding fresh, relatable hosts that will keep kids tuned in.
But some are wondering if BET will reflect the diversity of its audience in its hosts. With Rocsi and Terrence (until recently) leading one of network’s more popular shows, and the launch of a new program with former CNN journalist TJ Holmes, there’s some concern that BET may be signing on with the old, pervasive and troubling adage, “Light is right.”
The question is whether this criticism is fair, or even accurate. So let’s take a look at some of the faces BET has chosen to represent the network over the years:
Before Rocsi Diaz, Free was the natural-haired, around-the-way-girl that early 106th and Park audiences fell in love with. With co-host A.J., the two became a relatable team that helped usher the show to its early success. Another BET icon is the chocolate-hued Donnie Simpson, host of the 106th’s precursor, Video Soul, who was eventually succeeded by the energetic Sherri Carter. There was Rachel Stuart of Caribbean Rhythms, with her exotic features and Jamaican lilt. BET even went into virtual reality for a moment, with Cita, the 3-d computer-generated host of the daily video show, Cita’s World.
Award shows and special programming have been sprinkled with hosts and red-carpet reporters of various hues. Both Danella Sealock and Toccarra Jones have served as correspondents for BET’s The Black Carpet, while celebs such as Queen Latifah, Kevin Hart, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett have served as host for the annual BET Awards. And comedienne Mo’Nique hosted her eponymous late night talk show on the network for two seasons.
What about BET’s news and talk programming? Before T.J. Holmes was signed to his new show (and before BET dismantled its news division), Jacque Reid, a veteran broadcaster with a deep hue and authoritative voice, was the face of BET’s nightly newscasts. Ed Gordon, a journalist whose chops have taken him from NBC to CBS to NPR, was another known brown face for the network’s news offerings. Before both of them was Madelyne Woods, a Howard University alumna whose work with BET resulted her in being immortalized in A Tribe Called Quest lyrics.
A quick survey of BET’s hosts and personalities shows that the faces of the channel, has, in fact, remained representative of black America. So while BET’s content has left much to be desired, there’s not much lacking in the area of black diversity. Everyone has had their time to shine on BET — male and female, fair and dark, human and computer-animated cartoon.
But the concern does come into play when examining who hosts the network’s most popular shows, particularly when those hosts are women. Both Rocsi and Julissa (who served as a temporary 106th and Park host in 2005) fit a particular aesthetic – slim, fair-skinned, long-haired with Hispanic backgrounds. For entertainment-watchers, the casting amounts to nothing more than coincidence, but for others, it makes a clear statement about who BET sees fit to sell a show. Now, as BET launches its search for the next hosts of 106th, critics are waiting to see if that aesthetic will become tradition, or whether a deep-hued, possibly natural-haired woman will be given the opportunity to front the program.
Still, it’s hard to make a solid prediction. 106th and Park hasn’t had many hosts, making difficult to say whether the hosting gig will be promised to a woman with a certain look. One can only hope that BET will one of the things it’s gotten right over the years — reflecting the diversity that is Black America — when it goes to fill those hosting chairs once again.
Veronica Miller can be found on Twitter at @veronicamarche.