Black intellect is BET’s worst nightmare

Marchae Grair

Tavis Smiley is coming to Kent State Feb. 24, and you should care.

Most college students may not know who Tavis Smiley is, but they have probably heard of Black Entertainment Television.

BET is a network targeted at a primarily black audience. The shows featured on BET are mainly music videos or syndicated comedies starring blacks.

The network is continuously under fire for its negative portrayal of blacks. The station airs music videos and movies that sensationalize living the “gangster life.” It is not uncommon to turn on BET and see a man using a drug or surrounding himself with scantily clad women.

BET is not known for its power to educate black people or better the black man’s self-esteem. It pacifies the black population by running all-black programming, no matter how distasteful that programming may be.

There was one man who tried to educate the black community on BET by hosting and producing a nightly news program.

His name is Tavis Smiley.

Smiley hosted “BET Tonight” from 1996 to 2001, according to his Web site During the course of his show, he addressed current events and interviewed high-profile guests. Former President Bill Clinton and Pope John Paul II were guests on the show in its prime.

Smiley is a best-selling author, and Time named him one of the 50 most promising young leaders in the country.

It seems like BET would do anything to keep such a prestigious and gifted talent.


In 2001, BET fired Smiley because of low ratings and a contract dispute. Despite the written and public protests of thousands of blacks, Smiley’s career was finished at BET.

He went on to do shows for CNN and National Public Radio. He tours the nation doing seminars on being self-empowered and goal-oriented.

It puzzles me that BET could take an obviously desirable journalist and let him go.

Tavis Smiley was not only a good television personality but a good person. He has a squeaky clean image. Unfortunately for BET, that was a problem.

BET caters to the lavish hip-hop and rap industries because sex sells, and BET wants to make money. Intelligent blacks such as Smiley have no place on the over-sexed and unrealistic network.

The network defeats the purpose of having a station for black television. Blacks are supposed to be able to watch shows on BET and feel like they represent them. Yet, BET does anything but represent common blacks. Most blacks are not drug dealers. All black women are not whores. I am an African-American female, and I have never worn anything remotely close to the girls that star in rap videos.

I am not saying that anyone who watches BET is at fault. If one prefers the hip-hop genre, then he or she has no other alternative.

However, it is a disservice to viewers when no educational programming is placed on the network. Maybe I’m harsh, but I don’t think learning a new style of grinding will help society as much as learning about why the U.S. is at war.

On Feb. 24, I will be at Smiley’s presentation. It’s time that stereotypical black behavior isn’t praised. More focus on blacks like Smiley instead of Snoop Dogg seems like a good start.

Marchae Grair is a freshman broadcast journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].