“Maybe there weren’t any good black movies.”
“Everything has got to be about race.”
“Here we go again pulling the race card and playing the victim.”
“If blacks aren’t happy then blacks should create their own movie industry[;] then they can dictate anything and everything involving their movies.”
“Perhaps the black actors did not deserve to be on the final list.”
“People are just so damn sensitive, looking for a reason to be offended.”
"Isn't there an awards show for black people? Oh, wait, there is-- the BET."
In January 2016, just after the Golden Globes Awards, the nominees for the Oscars were announced. Since then, the reactions have been fierce; many were dismayed to learn that despite efforts to diversify the Academy membership base in 2015, there wasn’t a single person of color amongst the nominees.
Jada Pinkett-Smith’s denouncement of the Oscars’ selection of nominees unleashed a tidal wave of anger that was further directed to anyone who sided with her or attempted to comment in favor of her points.
Of the few white actors who publicly supported Pinkett-Smith, the online community had an especially bitter attack: if you wanted diversity so badly, why didn’t you use your money and fame to organize better support for it?
Both sides of the debate waded in, and the debate has since grown heated.
The topic joins a series of other issues that are being talked about and argued in political arenas, around dinner tables, across the water cooler, over wine glasses, with fists, with pens, with the Internet, with silence, with raised voices: gay marriage, the definition of rape and consent, feminism, meninism, religion, terrorists vs. militia vs. activists, should-we-build-a-wall-against-immigrants-or-shouldn’t-we, legalization or reclassification of weed….and many, many other hot topics.
An underlying thread is visible to those who know how to look for it: that both sides have points, but neither side has their history correct, and neither side has enough cool heads with the willpower to refrain from making quick judgments without first inspecting not only all the information and all sides of the topic, but first checking their own backpack at the door and being willing to examine if they really have the balls to face the fact that they might be wrong—that they might have to get comfortable being REALLY uncomfortable.
Because here’s an inviolable truth: to get anywhere near a real place where you’re not only qualified to have an opinion, you need to be willing to strip your soul naked, sit it down on a grimy sofa, and get used to feeling dismayed and discouraged by the world around you. You need to become determined in your efforts to read even things that offend you, that portray the opposite of your own inclinations, that are disgusting, crude, and violating to your mind. You’ll have to face the truth that while you need to read what’s on Fox News, that it’s no more reliable than Buzzfeed News, or The Onion, for that matter.
[Case in point, "Instead, agents from the ATF lost track of 1,400 of the 2,000 guns involved in the sting operation," from Fox News attempts to imply the Obama Administration sold the gun when in reality, it was never intended to fall into the hands of gun-runners but did anyway due to NRA blocking of laws that would have closed loopholes.]
To understand why prominent black celebrities are publicly denouncing the 2016 Oscar nominations and attempt to check your privilege, I’m going to share with you many of the resources I’ve found in my search to get uncomfortable and grimy, and learn some things that make me squirm. What I learned is, I SHOULD be squirmy and uncomfortable, because as a white woman, there are things that I’ve never had to pay attention to, and my very inattention and my silence has hurt other people. Who wants to face that truth when it means you have to do something about it?
Let’s start with a broad view.
Globally, we humans are a very diverse people. The very largest ethnic group in our world is known as the Han Chinese people, who number 1,300 MILLION people strong. Close behind are a huge ethnic group from India and Pakistan, the Hindustani, numbered between 420-1,200 million members strong. Arabs come in third, with approximately 400-420 million people. White people aren’t even in the top 5 largest ethnic groups, and in fact, when you distribute races using a pie chart, whites only make up 16% of the world’s population distribution, with blacks making up 15%.
Almost half of all human life is of either East or South Asian descent.
In the United States, the story is quite different. Prior to colonization by white Europeans and subsequently people of other ethnicities, North America was believed to be populated by between 2 to 8 million Native Americans. Today, the number remains at roughly 2.4 million, despite the dramatic increase and dominance of white Americans (numbering approximately 195 million, for contrast).
Between 1525 and 1866, it’s believed that around 12.5 million Africans were shipped to North America to become slaves, with around 10.7 million surviving the passage. Today, the black population in the United States is approximately 38 million, or 12% of the total population in the country.
The United States enjoys a large Hispanic population, as well, which is growing and becoming one of the most powerful ethnic groups in the country, numbering around 55 million. Asians follow with 18.3 million members.
The United States population is 38% minorities, or 115 million people.
We’ve flipped the world script in the United States, and this matters because the United States, along with many Western European countries, enjoys a prominent status as a preeminent player in the world’s political game—and in many cases, is the ultimate leader at the world’s table. American citizens enjoy a certain privilege that comes with that world leader status, a privilege of not even knowing that our poorest are richer than most of the world.
At a broad level, the fact that every one of us reading and commenting on the Oscars is privileged and rich (even if saving for you means you can afford a Burger King meal rather than dinner out at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse), means that we live our lives on a level where we don’t even know that most people alive today don’t have running water.
If we’re American, we’re privileged, flamboyant, arrogant, and ignorant— regardless of our skin color.
But being an American doesn’t excuse us from understanding that as the world’s elite, we still have inequalities that are too uncomfortable to face, because we’ve been a country of mostly white people who took it for granted that people of other colors and races were inferior—just because they weren’t white.
We still talk about the effects of World War I and II, both of which have been over for more than 70 years. Military training still uses strategy derived from the failures of WWII misfirings and missed aims, which led to theories and psychological training that enabled men and women to fight in the Vietnam War and other subsequent wars. Today’s military veterans are still struggling with the herculean task of unraveling the brainwashing from those early studies during WWII, which were meant to ensure they hit their targets. World War II is still relevant to today’s conversation.
Segregation ended 52 years ago, with the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Sixty years ago, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech was only 52 years ago. Jim Crow law was in place in the South as little as 50 years ago, and in many ways, the mentality persists today.
People in the South still fly Robert E. Lee’s Confederate flag, and today consider it a sign of their heritage, despite the fact that it would be truer to the heritage of the South to fly the “Stars and Bars”; the current iteration of the flag was brought out around 1948 when the Dixiecrats’ candidate Strom Thurmond ran for Presidency with a clear purpose of stating, “We stand for the segregation of the races.”
Today, the flag can be seen flown from the backs of trucks, from houses, and most notoriously, in front of the South Carolina State House--defended by people who insist that it stands for a way of life, of home and of family, of rebellion, of "sticking it to the man," and to remember the "brave and crazy Rebels."
The point I’m trying to make is that we can’t simply say that black people should forget what happened in our past when it wasn’t that long ago and is STILL HAPPENING, yet we can talk about other things that still have a ripple effect into today.
I focus heavily on black people’s issues, but I haven’t forgotten our history with the Chinese-Americans that built our railroads, the Japanese-Americans we herded into internment camps, the Native Americans we STILL can’t treat well.
We need to know our history and have some perspective around the issues that are being discussed today, because as I turn to my next point, I’m asking you to remember all of this and take your place at the table as a member of the most highly-educated and wealthiest populace in the world—and BEHAVE LIKE ONE. I’m asking you to settle in, get uncomfortable, and open your mind.
Look for part two soon.