“Ethnic, Ethical, and Excellent”

by Latoya Peterson

Soul Train

Soul Train

During the Saturday Snowpocalypse Two that hit the East Coast, I happened to catch VH1’s documentary “Soul Train: The Hippest Trip In America.”

The description on the VH1 site says:

Few television series were as innovative and influential as Soul Train. Set first in Chicago, and later in Los Angeles, the Soul Train dance party reached national significance and became the longest running syndicated show in television history. In commemoration of its 40th anniversary, Soul Train: The Hippest Trip In America is a 90 minute documentary celebrating the show’s many contributions to pop culture, music, dance and fashion. From 1970-2006 the series offered a window into the history of Black music, and its charismatic host, Don Cornelius was The Man responsible for a new era in Black expression. A trained journalist, Don created a media empire that provided an outlet for record labels and advertisers to reach a new generation of music fans. As the epitome of cool, many of his expressions entered the popular American lexicon: “A groove that will make you move real smooth,” “Wishing you Peace, Love and Soul!” The documentary will feature performances and great moments from the show, as well as behind-the-scene stories and memories from the cast and crew. In addition, popular musicians, comics and actors of yesterday and today will comment on growing up with the show and will share their stories of how Soul Train affected their own lives.

Soul Train was an unapologetically black space within the landscape of television. (This doesn’t mean other races/ethnicities were excluded, but more on that later.) Don Cornelius used to say that he felt black media (and by extension, Soul Train) should be “ethnic, ethical, and excellent.”

That small concept was fascinating.

What does it mean to have ethnic media?

What does it mean for that media to be ethical?

And how do those two factors work along with excellence?