How I Got Radicalized

When Network TV Censored ‘Do the Right Thing’

As a child, I knew Radio Raheem died but not how. Only later did I realize a trash can through a window was a reasonable response.

Hanif Abdurraqib
Published in
6 min readNov 27, 2020


Spike Lee on the set of his film ‘Do the Right Thing’
Photo illustration, source: Anthony Barboza/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Welcome to How I Got Radicalized, a new series at GEN that tells a story about a cultural moment that made you drastically rethink how society works.

I was 10 or 11 when I first watched Do the Right Thing, decidedly too young to sit through Spike Lee’s 1989 film peppered with scenes and language that my elders would have likely deemed too “colorful.” I was sitting in the living room of my home in Columbus, watching network television, a censored format that provided a buffer against the film’s more salacious moments — scenes that I wouldn’t see until a few years later, when I watched the movie again on DVD in a friend’s basement.

The issue with movies on network television in the ’90s was that the standards by which something was deemed too inappropriate for broadcast appeared to exist on a sliding scale. Whereas images of a Black man’s death was edited out in Do the Right Thing, the network that showed Alien was fine keeping the scene where an alien exploded out of a man’s chest.