Acton Institute Powerblog

BET’s “Read A Book” Is Satirical Not Racist

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One of the sad legacies of the civil-rights movement is that anyone who makes a critical comment about bad dimensions of black life in America is automatically branded a racist. This is silly. The New York Times reports today on the uproar regarding a recent BET satirical cartoon called “Read A Book” which is circulation in Some are claiming that the video is racist.

In a gloss on the hip-hop videos frequently shown on BET, an animated rapper named D’Mite comes on with what looks like a public service message about the benefits of reading, but devolves into a foul-mouthed song accompanied by images of black men shooting guns loaded with books and gyrating black women with the word “book” written on the back of their low-slung pants. The uncensored cut is making the rounds on YouTube, while a cleaner version was shown on BET.

The cartoon, which represents an effort by the network to broaden its programming, was the subject of an article on Friday in The Los Angeles Times, which noted that the network has been “long criticized for showing gangsta rap videos and those with scantily clad female dancers.”

The video does have bad language but it’s meant to make a point: stupid is as stupid does. The cartoon is protesting the fact that the ghetto-mentality encourages the following:

(1) Ignorance as a goal. The cartoon encourages viewers to read. You rarely ever hear popular radio hip hop encouraging listeners to enlighten their minds. A strong emphasis on education has always been a strong pillar of black life in America until recently.

(2) Irresponsible fatherhood. The cartoon encourages men to take care of their own kids. Popular radio hip hop often celebrates parental irresponsibility.

(3) Financial irresponsibility. The video encourages viewers to buy property instead of rims for their cars. What’s odd is that Chris Rock makes the exact same comments about the stupidity of wasting money on rims for worthless vehicles but Rock is never called “racist.”

(4) Bad personal hygiene and grooming. The video encourages viewers to take better care of themselves–dental care, bathing, deodorant, etc.

The burning question remains: how is this video racist? BET does not need to apologize for showing the satire. I hope more cartoons like this emerge to expose just how the self-sabotaging dimensions of the ghetto-mentality are destroying a segment of American culture.

What we really need is a conversation on what constitutes real racism. Pointing out ignorance, regardless of the racial expression, moves us closer to the truth and to confuse this with racism will keep many blacks from making any progress. In fact, to point out ignorance and conclude that such comment is the same as mocking blacks in general is the most racist position of them all. “Black” and “ghetto ignorance” are not synonyms.”

What is most helpful is if black cultural elites would put the black-community-as-sacred-cow to death. It’s not helping any of us.

Anthony Bradley Anthony Bradley, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics in the Public Service Program at The King's College in New York City and serves as a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute. Dr. Bradley lectures at colleges, universities, business organizations, conferences, and churches throughout the U.S. and abroad. His books include: Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America (2010),  Black and Tired: Essays on Race, Politics, Culture, and International Development (2011),  The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone of the Black Experience (2012), Keep Your Head Up: America's New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation (2012), Aliens in the Promised Land:  Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions (forthcoming, 2013). Dr. Bradley's writings on religious and cultural issues have been published in a variety of journals, including: the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Detroit News, and World Magazine. Dr. Bradley is called upon by members of the broadcast media for comment on current issues and has appeared C-SPAN, NPR, CNN/Headline News, and Fox News, among others. He studies and writes on issues of race in America, hip hop, youth culture, issues among African Americans, the American family, welfare, education, and modern slavery. From 2005-2009, Dr. Bradley was Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO where he also directed the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute.   Dr. Bradley holds Bachelor of Science in biological sciences from Clemson University, a Master of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Westminster Theological Seminary.  Dr. Bradley also holds an M.A. in Ethics and Society at Fordham University.


  • KDavis

    There appear to be many layers of meaning in the video, many ironic, but while it may be true that many young men and women are discouraged from academic excellence and sexual/familial responsibilities, the commentary on soap, toothpaste and deodorant are either racially gratuitous or triply ironic at a level of irony beyond my reading. I have never met such overly-groomed and hygienic people as the young Black men and women of Detroit. no matter their social, economic, legal, or other statuses. I suspect young Black men and women far outspend their counterparts of other ethnicities in perfumes, shampoos, deodorants, dry-cleaning, and other grooming items. K

  • Ashley Austin

    I did not find the commercial offensive. As a 23 year old female I was not offended by the booty shaking women with the word book on there bottom. We see this in hip hop 90% of the time. I feel the director and writer took what he sees in hip hop and said ok instead of spending money on rims put your money into something that can make you some money instead of reading a magazine or sports page read a newspaper or something that lets you know about whats going on in the world not just the hip hop community. Some of my friends are so involved with material things such as rims and clothes that they fail to take care of their responsibilities ie;kids, themselves. I feel that the writer captured the audience attention by using something young african american teens respond to and put a message behind it. I feel that young teens especially the african american community needs to refocus and look at the bigger picture.

  • Anonymous Coward

    This is exactly the kind of garbage I expect from BET. the “community” is living up to my low expectations.

  • wise one

    Do you really believe that young children and teenagers, black or white, grasp the satire and social commentary in this video? Do we really need even more degrading images, satirical or not, to expose what we already know? Understand that satire is a sophisticated form of social commentary that generally takes an older, more mature mind to fully grasp. Whatever value this video purpots to have is lost on the majority of BET’s prepubescent and teen viewers who are a large segment of BETs consumer base. And if im a black cultural elite for understanding that our children should not watch this, and any video with similar images, then so be it. Ill wear that brand proudly.

  • Jason R.

    Wait, I cant find racism in something unless it is a general reference to black people regardless of economic class? Then is it not racist when a bunch of white kids at a university have a ghetto-themed party and dress and behave in similar fashion potrayed in this video? Satire is as satire does.

  • Andrea

    No, I do not think BET needs to apologize for airing the video, I understand the satire and racism did not even cross my mind, it is disgusting and do we NEED to use ignorance to point out ignorance?? That would be my question. Yet, we as a people want to uprise when others call us out on the ignorance, after we have put it out there and appear to adopt/accept it.

  • D’Angelo Tolbert

    Looking at this video it is telling the truth to a degree. When these Rappers and singer make a video with African American men and woman its talking about hustling, dealing or using drugs, the women are just sex toys and we as a public just eat it up; but when a video comes out and says what we need to do we get offended. These videos are out there because we as a community are not raising our kids. We need to do something about that. Are YOU telling your kids to read a book? Are YOU showing interests in your child’s education or are YOU too busy with work and your own life to care? Are the mentors in your child’s life touchable or on TV and bulletin boards? Are YOU taking your kids to the art galleries, museums zoos, aquariums, even the library any place to broaden there mind; or are you waiting for the school to do it for you? Do YOU know the names of you child’s Teacher? Are YOU telling your child what’s appropriate to watch or are you waiting for the FCC to cancel the show? Are YOU monitoring what your child is watching or just expecting them to do the right thing? We let television; athletes, gangs and sometime the government raise our kids. WE should be ashamed and outrages at OURSELVES cause it took something like this to make people realize even after forty years since Jim Crow was done away with we are still looked at as inferior and it is not society fault or the government but out own if we want our school to be better make sure your kids are going. Ask about their homework. Instead of buying a new video game buy a book or a musical instrument find activities that will stimulate your kids mind. Go to the school go to board meeting fight for our kids. We need to show our kids we want more from them not just to graduate but to go ahead in life succeed. We want them to surpass us and be those executives; business owners, those leaders. Television use to just be a form of entertainment and in some cases informative of what’s going on in our world today; it has transcended to the parent; teacher, babysitter, role model and ruler of our more importantly our children lives we nee to do better. If they can see there is more to life than being a rapper or an athlete we won’t need satire; jokes or shows saying we need to do better we will be better. It is up to us the black men and women to stand up and show we are smart (not just meaning street smart but book smart as well) market ourselves instead of being treated as the cheap unneeded labor or the token guy to keep affirmative action suite from corporate Americas’ door. Then the world won’t talk about the cartoon depicting black people but that black astronaut on his/her way to mars the new black President how 6 of the fortune 500 company are black owned this is what we should look forward to not what new cartoon is out

  • Sigh. It is depressing to me that my people are either so a) uptight or b)ignorant, that they do not understand that ‘Read a Book’ is some fantastically subversive satire.

    People are saying ‘well we shouldn’t use ignorance to point out ignorance’ and that they have issues with the imagery used to portray the message.

    They are completely missing the point – by exaggerating the imagery such as the thugs with guns and the booty-shaking girls and subverting it with a completely different (and lest we forget POSITIVE) message, the video is ridiculing that same negative imagery that is so pervasive in hip-hop today.

    That is what satire does – it exaggerates or subverts a particular genre or work to mock its ridiculousness.

    As for those who are ashamed/angry that it seems to behanging out our dirty laundry – again, that is what satire does. Satire is not supposed to be sweet and friendly. It is supposed to be tough love- showing the flaws for what they are.

    And if you still don’t understand that this is satire, well then… it just kind of proves his message doesn’t it?

    Not a sports page, not a magazine- read a *$@ book!

  • Wisdom

    I just saw this video on Google being imitated by a couple of college students. They were making fun and stating how ignorant this video is and how there are people in the African American community who are just as bad as the KKK. The concept–and the video– is Ignorant, Ignorant, Ignorant.

    Wake up people..history is repeating itself all over again. Have you seen the news lately or seen the results regarding the mandatory high stake test scores (IOWA, ACT, or SAT)?

    I guess ignorace doesn’t possess a particular shade…it just is.

    This video is very insulting!!

  • wise one

    I take issue with the non-satirical portrayal of blacks as unclean. Even snoop “…for the %$*#^s that [he] might take home…put on the johnson baby powder and cool water cologne.” nOW, you cannot point to a piece of modern satirical work that has accomplished much of anything. This “fantastic”, subversive, and ultimately useless cartoon will do, as satire often does, more harm than good. Sure, both you and I can grasp the overt and subtle nuances. So what? Clearly, we are the choir its preaching too. Do you not take issue when this cartoon is played for children? Arguably, it was produced for children. Go “Read A Book” on child development.

    Caribbean Lionesse says:
    “As for those who are ashamed/angry that it seems to behanging (sic) out our dirty laundry – again, that is what satire does. Satire is not supposed to be sweet and friendly. It is supposed to be tough love- showing the flaws for what they are.”

    No one is concerned over airing of said dirty laundry. Hell, regular ol’ videos do a fine job of that. There is a legitimate concern that we are again involved in producing work, satirical or otherwise, that is rife with negative imagery. Why is this a concern? Because racism today is very real and adding fuel to the flame hurts us in profound ways. People see what they want, and mr joe whitey at the bank already itching to deny me a mortgage does not need more reason to do so. A slight exaggeration? Maybe. Point still stands.

    And no real student of satire would claim its not supposed to be sweet. The great satirical works of sir will (that’s shakespeare) are, at times, just that.

  • Read A Book is satire at its finest. How ironic that this video is so controversial, yet there are videos shown 24 hours a day on the same channel glorifying booty-shaking, phat rides and bling-bling! Hypocrites abound when they point the finger at Read A Book but their hand is withered when it comes to “Buy U A Drank”, “The Whisper Song” and other videos. Read A Book is not Reading Rainbow, but it’s now a ringtone!

  • Andrea

    “”””How ironic that this video is so controversial, yet there are videos shown 24 hours a day on the same channel glorifying booty-shaking, phat rides and bling-bling! Hypocrites abound when they point the finger at Read A Book but their hand is withered when it comes to “Buy U A Drank”, “The Whisper Song” and other videos. Read A Book is not Reading Rainbow, but it’s now a ringtone!”””””

    Wouldn’t know, I am not familiar with, don’t watch any of them nor do I allow my 13 year old to do so. Not even a question of allowing of her to do, she has enough sense to not be interested in the crap. Though, I dont think they are intended to be satire. Would never think of it as being “satire at it’s finest”. Satire at it’s finest would be subtle with a very profound message. Nothing at all profound about that message. Funny how just because someone may have a differing opinion, they are labeled as hypocrite!! That’s laughable! As far as I am concerned…..all of it is crap to put it nicely and there’s nothing hypocritical about it. It would be more profound to just BUY a book for a child…..GIVE a child a book, READ a child a book…. TELL a child to read a book and then talk about it!! Oh, that’s all too easy, too hypocritical!! LOL It’s all done for attention for whatever reason. Question is….does one desire positive attention or negative?? I pity those who download it as a ringtone.

  • JDB

    Satire should be subtle? Ever read Jonathan Swift?

    Satire should be grating, as this is. It should inspire dialog, as this does.

  • I don’t see this video as racist at all. I think the creators are simply using satire to send a message that hip-hops “values” need to be changed. In the world of hip-hop it is shown by example that as soon as you make it big and aquire wealth you go out and buy things with only short term value– big rims, jewelry, clothes. Spending outrageous amounts of money on jewelry, cars, and clothes may work for the rich rappers, but the audience to which the music is directed (and anyone for that matter) would be alot better off spending there hard earned money on things that can really better their and their family’s lives. Hip hop is changing its identity from a cultural expression that could be viewed as art to a stage that rappers can show how rich they are. This sends the wrong message to millions of ears everyday.

  • Ashton

    I also do not see this video as racist either. I agree with D’Angelo and Caribbean Lionesse from above (#7,8.) I think that this cartoon is using extreme means to get the director’s point across to the audience. We do need to spend more time reading and taking care of ourselves instead of wasting money on things that are not of value. People learn by best by building off of something they know or they like. The audience the video was targeting likes rap. Therefore, at some point, this cartoon can catch their attention. For example, if your doctor wanted to tell you about your diagnosis, he would use words you understood, not his medical jargon. It’s the same concept put to an extreme level.

  • K

    I don’t understand why people think younger people can’t understand satire. I had to read “Animal Farm” in the 9th grade, and Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” in the 11th, and the first time I saw “Read A Book”, I knew it had to be satire because it was so over the top.

  • thegnu

    “Now, you cannot point to a piece of modern satirical work that has accomplished much of anything”
    That’s because change takes time. Stephen Colbert’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner speech had a noticeable effect on the media.

    Anyway, you have to consider the medium. It’s a parody of rap videos, not necessarily black humans as a whole. Consider Shakespeare’s medium as well, and notice it differs from a rap video channel. In comparison to other rap videos, this is a sugary sweet ode to its listeners.

    For the record, young people nowadays have less parental guidance than they’ve ever really had, and so in that context, throwing in the stuff about the deodorant and toothepaste makes lots of sense. And I’m not just talking about black people, either.

    It’s not produced for children. His target demographic, young men, watch a lot of [obscenity deleted] cartoons. So I don’t know what your problem is. Just because he’s not affecting change how you would do it (which if you’re anything like me, you’re probably not doing right now) doesn’t mean he’s not on your side.

  • Andrew

    Yeah I’m late to the party, but no, it’s neither racist nor especially ironic. In fact, while the whole thing is sort of tongue-in-cheek it’s also deadly serious. The message is, take account of the things in life that matter and start taking your life and yourself seriously. Education is empowering — read a book. Good health is necessary — drink water instead of soda or alcohol, and brush your teeth. Children are the future — be a responsible parent. Land has permanent value and social benefits — save to buy some, instead of wasting money on trifles. You have to have self-respect before you can earn others’ respect — take a shower, wear deodorant, and again, brush teeth. It’s actually a formula for fighting against the problems faced by “inner-city blacks” (among others… in truth it can apply to anyone) and a statement of the uselessness of the “ghetto lifestyle”.

  • hurricane32401

    the video was meant to get the message that our young people respond to what they hear on the radio much quicker than more traditional ways.that was a great idea to broadcast makes perfectly good sense if you really look at it.think about it how many black young people are actually buying houses or land as opposed to spinning rims or other high price nonsense!

  • Dana


    i had arguments with people about can it be racist when hes rapping about DOING THE RIGHT THING!?

  • Annabelle434

    I guess what I take issue with in this entire mess of a situation is not the racism of the video. The video is ultimately a constructive criticism of what is happening in the black community today and it points out what is not being emphasized enough in the portrayal of black youth in music, on television, and in film. What I take issue with is the fact that BET aired this video as a positive message but it constantly bombards youth and children with videos from rap stars that convey the exact opposite message. Though I agree with some who have said this before that it is and should be about how the kids are being raised by their parents and not their TVs, but nonetheless it is confusing for children to see one message that is positive in a sea of contradicting messages. If BET really and truly wants this positive message of reading, bathing, familial responsibility, and financial responsibility to be pumped out into the masses, shouldn’t it then reconsider what it broadcasts the rest of the time?

  • Ben

    The video was the funniest thing I have seen in a long time.

  • A Fan

    I think it is very funny I can’t stop laughing. Its a 50/50 thing good and bad. I’m happy its out there though. I hope every ignorant black person sees it and thinks. BET needs to change its act really quick. If we are going to have a station on TV we need to focus on the issues in our community and not distractions like gangster rap and stupid reality shows.

  • Jimmy (England)

    It seems to me that whether you see this video as racist or not depends on whether you see it as a parody of the ideals of rap videos or as a parody of how African-Americans actually live.

    The last part of the cartoon made me feel distinctly uncomfortable, as there is little excuse for portraying members of any race as poor-smelling – but on the other hand it kind of fits with the whole theme of the cartoon; forget about having your name in diamonds across your chest, the bling lifestyle promoted by many rappers, and concentrate on the basics.

    Sadly, the ideals of more boring, violent, misogynistic and just plain dumb rap videos have started to spread to other black cultures. It was very disorientating recently watching a Portuguese channel dedicated to the sounds of African blues music, and seeing endless images of women waving their asses in the air and shots of guns or machetes – in the middle of a dusty road whilst the lilting sounds of traditional instruments played.

    It does look like someone needs to address the issue of the message rappers are sending across; why not these guys?

  • TokinBlackGuy

    This isn’t racist. It’s promoting a positive and realistic message. Like any satire, it can be offensive IF taken out of context. This is what the average idiot does while shouting out “RACISM!!!”

    I’m Black and I listen to hip hop. I found this to be a very funny and progressive image of what needs to be said. Not to the Black community alone, but to all of America.

    “Read a Book” “Buy land” and “**** spinning rims” is EXACTLY what some people need to hear. Nowhere in the video does it say that ONLY Black people should listen to these words.

    Listen to “Reverse Pimpology” by Immortal Technique. It’s the same message coming from and educated New York Hip Hop artist.

    If we all get pissy and offended anytime someone has the balls to make a statement, then it’s no wonder nothing is accomplished anymore. Everyone’s to scared of being politically correct that no one says anything.

    So I say take you political correct ideologies and […]