* A draft of this piece was posted without my knowledge yesterday evening. My apologies.
Actress Jada Pinkett-Smith and director Spike Lee made headlines this week in announcing their boycott against the 2016 Oscars (Academy Awards). The boycott is said to be in response to the lack of diversity in Oscar nominees. While I appreciate Smith and Lee’s efforts to bring awareness to the issue of black “invisibility,” this issue is not new. Thus, the credibility of this boycott crumbles in what appears to be a personal offense.
The first ever Academy Award ceremony took place in 1929 amidst the Great Depression whose tragedy ,while all encompassing, hit black communities especially hard. While slavery was technically over, blacks endured a disenfranchised reality with sub-par facilities and a limited reality that made opportunity as scarce their immediate surroundings. So while poverty placed American society in a general humbling state, those of the majority could find solstice in small and big screen images that perpetuated their superiority. This countered their darker counterparts who were seldom featured, but in the rare instance that they were– they were minimized to degrading roles.
In 1929, Hattie McDaniel became the first black recipient for Bedt Supporting Actress in a film for her role as “Mammy” in Gone With the Wind. Clad with a head tie, apron and love for her master- McDaniel’s role as Mammy was falsely perceived as a victory despite her overt subjugation within and beyond her character. Although she received a prominent award that evening, McDaniel’s hue cast reason for her exclusion of several award events that evening. She wasn’t even permitted to sit at the same table as her cast mates. McDaniel’s win set off a series of periodical wins for blacks in a variant of stereotypical roles. Each victory, from Hattie McDaniels and Lupita N’yong’o satiate black need for visibility in
exchange for integrity.
This exchange of integrity is not beyond expectation, as The Academy was founded and still operated with the sole interest in projecting whiteness as central. Any black recognized by the economy is solely recognized for placing whiteness as central or superior. Halle Berry, although a beautiful and talented actress, won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress on the same principles that awarded Dorothy Dandridge her 1954 nomination. Playing beautiful yet hyper sexualized characters, Dandridge as Carmen Jones (Carmen, 1954) and Berry as Leticia (Monster’s Ball, 2002) substantiate black female inferiority by portraying them as sexual beasts.In perpetuating whiteness as central and superior, the Academy Awards do nothing for blacks besides appease the need for white acceptance. In awarding a black actress or screenwriter the academy surfacely celebrates “black contribution” while covertly satisfying its own purposes. In a society built on the backs of black people it is never to be expected that black interest is considered for any reason other than exploitation. In striving for white acceptance blacks in turn exploit their own interest. Even the boycott works to place whiteness as central, as what participants label “striving for inclusion” is actually imploring the Academy for recognition.
In hiring comedian Chris Rock, the Academy shields itself from “racist” labeling, appearing to not only appreciate black presence but award it the starring role of the ceremony. This appointment is of course a facade, as employing blacks to entertain an audience who is predominately white mirrors a past where blacks were also excluded from the festivities but featured as entertainment.
Nevertheless, I do not stand with Smith, Lee or any of my brethren who decide to boycott the Oscars- not because said efforts are in vain but because they are out of inferiority. In omitting blackness, western society maintains its constructed “exclusivity.” Alice Walker once said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” In striving for white acceptance blacks like Smith and Lee give up their power to forge a new path in fighting to walk a path that cradles their plight with glass and hot coals, guised in subjugate or sexual portrays that portrays blacks like animals and not royalty.
While I aim to feature blackness as central on my blog, I will bend these rules slightly to quote the late Eleanor Roosevelt. The former first lady once said “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” As persons of the black diaspora we’ve been handed an inferior identity, however the acceptance of said identity is entirely up to us. To maintain their fallacious superiority, whites will continue to overlook and exclude blacks. However, it is up to us to let this burden us. Perhaps one of the biggest lies western culture embedded in the black psyche is that integration or assimilation into white culture is a symbol of success. Black recipients of awards such as the Oscars and Emmys culminate cultural assimilation. Therefore,working for black inclusion in said award show is within expectation of western societal hierarchy as Smith and Lee actions prove acquiescent to an inferior existence.
Although many may perceive my words as harsh, my purpose in writing is not to chastise Smith or Lee. However, I do hope that somehow my words will reach them to remind of what I am sure they already know. In short, blacks do not need white acceptance. Whites do however need black acceptance. If blacks do not accept white truth there is no validation for white placement at the top of western hierarchy. In closing, to honor ancestors like Vesey, Turner, Tubman, King, X, Jackson, Evers, Newton amongst others, I am simply suggesting that we simply reject this truth and implement our own.
With this said, I hope that blacks will not only withdraw support from the Oscars but the Emmys and all other tokens of white acceptance– not for personal reasons but in efforts to place blackness as central.