#OscarsSoWhite and I Am So Tired

Some really impatient people. #OscarsSoWhite

Often, I get tired of pop culture. Then, for the second year in a row, #OscarsSoWhite reminds me why pop culture matters. But, let’s begin at the beginning:

Racism is the collection of images, messages, activities and accesses that affirm the assumed superiority (or normativity) of one race and the assumed inferiority of others. Racism is a complex, constructed and evolving ecosystem whose goal is the survival of the dominant and the supplication of the other. Racism is a centuries-old solar system with this premise as its sun: you are nothing more than what the dominant race decides you will be, based on what it needs.

Racism, and oppression-in-general, is our collective, all-encompassing reality. Full stop.

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As a result, there are infinite ways to be racist and infinite ways to fight racism. Here’s the secret to anti-racism: no monolithic strategy, short of “don’t be racist,” is going to work. It’s a complex problem which will require complex solutions. When I think about the work to be done, just within my own industry and interactions, I get exhausted before I’ve really even begun.

But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And Stacey Dash keeps getting air time,
And Michael Caine wants black actors to be patient,
And Charlotte Rampling thinks maybe black actors don’t deserve awards,
And miles to go before I sleep.

The battle against racism is a war on multiple fronts. What is so frustrating about all of the individuals named above is they are commenting on tactics without acknowledging on which front we’re fighting. Let’s break each argument down.

Dash is saying that we don’t need Black History Month and black-owned entertainment enterprises because it represents a “double standard.” In her own words:

We [black people] have to make up our minds. Either we want to have segregation or integration. And if we don’t want segregation, then we need to get rid of channels like BET and the BET Awards and the Image Awards where you’re only awarded if you’re black. If it were the other way around, we would be up in arms. It’s a double standard.

Stacey Dash

Stacey Dash

First, integration and segregation are not our only options. Dash seems to have chosen assimilation and done quite well for herself. Second, Black History Month and the Image Awards weren’t created to tackle segregation; they were created to tackle historical ignorance and lack of media representation. This argument is akin to saying “since televisions don’t work underwater, what good could they be?” Third, the “double standard” is coded language for “reverse racism,” which isn’t even a real thing.

And miles to go before I sleep.

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Caine wants us to be patient, citing his long career and struggle for recognition. Reportedly, he also told Will Smith and Samuel L. Jackson that he was once “the ‘black’ actor” in a terrible attempt to relate to the struggle.

Meryl Streep has won one-fifth of the performance Oscars won by black people. Ever.Rampling wants us to consider that maybe the caliber of black actor isn’t deserving of this type of recognition, though she has since walked those comments back a bit.

This particular form of racism is actually bad math: in the history of the Academy Awards, there have only been 15 black winners in the four major acting categories. There have been 299 awards given in these categories over the 86-year history of the awards. That means that .05% of the awards have been given to black artists. To put it in perspective, Meryl Streep’s nominations in these categories alone cover a larger percentage: 19 total nominations, or .06%. Of which she’s won three. She singlehandedly has won the equivalent of one-fifth of the performance Oscars won by black people. Ever.

So, Mr. Caine and Ms. Rampling, you would rather believe that only 20% of the black people to ever be considered for a performance Oscar have the “patience” and talent of Meryl Streep than believe that the system might be rigged?

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And miles to go before I sleep.

#OscarsSoWhite is one tactic in response to a significant lack of cultural representation in mainstream media. Black people (and people of color in general) can, and should, demand recognition in dominant spaces while creating avenues for recognition within our own spaces. We should celebrate our history as our collective history while also developing moments where we are the focus. We should continue to call out the subtle linguistics of polite white supremacy no matter how accomplished, well-meaning or progressive its users may be. We can both benefit from a system and decry its failings.

As James Baldwin said:

I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.

Because America has promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

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  • Diann Beck

    Racism is the elevation of one race over another because ________. Fill in the blank. Ah, but that’s where the ugly rub is. Who gets to set the definitions and determine who has the “privilege” to fill in the blank? Blacks, who have rightfully fought for the right to define themselves, now seek to define Whites. The chains from which you have freed yourselves are the self same chains you are seeking to use on Whites to define them, restrict them and yes, enslave them. Having seen yourselves enslaved how is it that you now seek to be masters of and enslave the ones who you claim enslaved you? Are you surprised that Whites both in and outside of the entertainment industry are resistant to your chains of rhetoric and self serving definitions? You have earned the right to be heard as to self-definition but you do not have the right to define the Other, you may simply opine. Opinions and observations are colored by position and experience but they are not Truth nor should any man or woman, White or Black consider them as such if they determine and define themselves Free.

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