Media coverage of singer Whitney Houston’s funeral evoked a disappointment I often feel as a black woman in America. It reminded me that many elements of black culture are still viewed as exotic and, in some cases, disdained as such.
Houston’s funeral, but for being broadcast live and attended by celebrities, seemed unremarkable in the context of other black, Baptist memorials I have witnessed. There was rousing gospel; truth-telling; passion; equal doses of laughing and crying, clapping and shouting; references to Jesus; moving sermons; a few long-winded eulogizers; some preening preachers on “thrones” in the pulpit; a sense of sorrow, but a greater sense of joy--celebration of life and of a soul “going home” and being released from earthly sorrows. This is not to say that all African Americans grieve the same way or grieve in a Baptist Christian way, but for most black viewers Houston’s service was not completely alien.
But judging from CNN’s coverage, Houston’s home going was alien indeed to the greater public. There was a po-faced Don Lemon painfully explaining what a “wake” is, as if the vigil for the dead is some perplexing rite, rather than a ritual practiced by a host of cultures and religions since ancient days. Then someone noted that, after funeral services, the family might gather to eat and fellowship with love ones, as if that too was odd. It was all very National Geographic. Very othering. It rubbed me the wrong way.
But I suppose it is just that CNN knows its viewing public. When I went online to discover how other people had processed the memorial, I was surprised at the level of consternation I found. Folks wondered about the clapping and laughter and deemed it “disrespectful.” They marveled at the caregivers in white. They called the service an over-long “spectacle.”