Entertainment & Culture
Saturday Nights and How New Edition Saved Our Souls

Black people are fucking beautiful.

Let’s start there.

If you dare engage in conversation with anyone who has an opinion on the condition of Black people in America, whether it be dreadlocked hotep, Steve Harvey-suited pastor or kowtowing Republican, they usually end up with the same conclusion:

Black people need to come together.

I always wonder how this is supposed to happen. We are a disparate people scattered across 3.8 million miles of stolen real estate. Is there a black mailing list that we can send invitations to the mythical black people meetings that wypipo seem to think we have? Is there a phone system large enough to host a national negro conference call? Can we simultaneously log into a secret chat room and discuss the solutions? Is that why Blackplanet still exists?

Well, it happened this week.

On Tuesday night, night Black America gathered around their TV sets to watch the New Edition biopic on BET. I know there are some people reading this thinking, “is this nigga for real? With all of the obstacles facing Black America, is he seriously about to tell me that a basic cable boy band movie is what Black people needed?”

Let me tell you about Saturday nights.

When America was becoming a superpower by capitalizing off the free labor of her “peculiar institution,” slaves worked from sun-up to sundown five, sometimes six, days a week. When they finished their back-breaking work under the heat of the unrelenting sun, after slave supervisors had whipped and prodded them all week, there was always Saturday night.

On Saturday nights the boys and girls who managed to find a morsel of love held hands and jumped brooms. On Saturday nights the transplanted descendants of griots told jokes and shared stories on Saturday night the scowling rebels hid in the shadows and planned uprisings.

But whatever those slaves did on Saturday nights, whether it was crowded in a corner of the slave quarters shanty or under the same moonlight that shone on their homeland, they usually did it together.

And there was always music.

Whether it came from hand clapping on an antebellum plantation, a blues guitar in a backwoods juke joint, from the choir stand of a Baptist church or the DJ booth of “da club,” Black music has always been magic, and it has always bonded us together. Even when we couldn’t escape, it was always our escape. This is the tie that binds us.

The New Edition miniseries was an oasis in the middle of the sea of hand-wringing about the brand new dictatorship of the sharp cheddar dickwad we now have to call “Mr. President.” For those too young to remember the heyday of the group, it was pure entertainment like the fictional Five Heartbeats, or educational, like “The Temptations” movie was for me over a decade ago.

But for those of us who grew up with them, it carried us back to our youth. It restored our souls. Everything on black Twitter and black Facebook (I don’t know if there is such a thing, but if not, I am making it so) was about how much that little boy looked like Bobby, or how when Avon had a heart attack at the concert (I know Wood Harris’ name wasn’t “Avon” in the movie, but in the black part of the internet, he will forever be Avon Barksdale).

In fact, the New Edition documentary (I know it was a drama, but for me, that shit was real dammit) brought us so close, that B.E.T. now has a responsibility to make one of these every year. I am fully aware that the network is owned by Y .P. Pull, who probably don’t know who New Edition is, so they wouldn’t know which subject to tackle next. Fortunately, I have a few ideas:

Ooooh Yeah: The Jodeci Story Jodeci was the last masculine R&B singers, and their story needs to be told. They’d save a lot of money on wardrobe because K-Ci, Jo-Jo and Devante just wore a collection of vests and leather pants all the time.

Destiny’s Chirren Who wouldn’t want to see the story of Destiny’s Child? I I know I would. The only thing we have to worry about is the Beyhive burning down the world and sending us into a barren, dystopian future if they choose the wrong person to play Beyoncé. And trust me, they will choose the wrong person to play Beyoncè—even if they choose Beyoncé.

Elemental: The Story of Earth Wind & Fire – If we are serious about jobs in the Black community, then we need this movie made. Just the members of the band alone would employ every black actor in Hollywood. Plus, you know your aunt who makes the sweet potato pies would put on her leopardskin blouse just to watch it at home.

Bad Boys A terrifying horror picture in the vein of The Ring or Final Destination where we just watch everyone who ever gets involved with P. Diddy crash and burn. We can see why Shine went to jail for murder. The scene where Biggie is killed would be the sad part. All the different faces of Lil Kim would cause nightmares. There could be an inspirational part when Ma$e gets saved to escape P. Diddy’s grasp. There’s the crime drama part when G. Dep goes to prison for murder. I could go on…

Anyway, BET, we need you to get on this. The New Edition miniseries was perfect. Over the last three days, we set aside our petty differences, our consternation about the shithead in the Oval office and all of our worries and enjoyed the communal experience we have been missing. There are times when you get weary of the whip, but just when you think the chains might break you, just when you’re exasperated, sometimes, there is a Saturday night.

If you think those six hours were superficial bits of nothingness, you missed the entire point. Ralph, Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky, Mike and Johnny are everything Black people are. This was the story of creating something from nothing, flushing it down the toilet and doing it again. Regardless of how meaningless it might seem, they created something timeless with nothing but the same songs and dances we’ve been doing on Saturday nights since time immemorial. No one but Black people could’ve done that shit. They showed us who we are. We flawed but resilient. Bent, but not broken.  When we are together we can make dreams our of spit and air, and can never be conquered.

And goddamn, are we beautiful.


About the author

Michael Harriot is a renowned spoken word poet, the host of The Black One podcast and the editor-in-chief of NegusWhoRead. He is perpetually just getting warmed up because he has no chill. He is on Instagram and twitter as @michaelharriot