“Did any Black people win last night, mommy?”
This was the first question out of my daughter the morning after the Golden Globe awards. Thankfully, I could answer yes, knowing that at the age of seven, she would be content with only one actress winning a Globe, and the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement award going to a Black man.
You may be shocked that a seven year old is even thinking about such things, but representation of her race is important to my daughter, and it should be. I’ve taught her that, because I can’t give her “blackness” (forgive me for lack of a better description) so she has to search for it elsewhere – her friends, her activities, her entertainment, her neighbourhood – all of these areas of her life serve as surrogate racial models for my daughter because I can’t. I wish I could, but I knew before I adopted her the only thing I can do is teach her as best I can to watch and learn from other sources in addition to what I regurgitate for her from my own research. It matters to her to see herself, in both her race and her adoption, represented in the real world.
In the past six years, I’ve pushed through many moments of my own discomfort to try to learn about struggles that I have never experienced as a white women protected with a coat of white privilege. I’ve tried to educate myself as much as I possibly can on what white privilege is and what I, as a white person, can do to become an ally to people of colour in ways that people of colour have shared are relevant to them.
As a stay-at-home mother initially, and now a work-at-home mother, often my simplest and most readily-available form of me-time recreation has been watching movies. I love movies. Especially the season of excellent quality films following Christmas up until summer blockbuster season. For six years, I’ve obsessively watched all Oscar-quality movies, made my own predictions, attempted to see all or most of the nominated performances and then watched the award shows and live-tweeted during those shows. I’ve voiced my disappointment over the lack of diversity both in Hollywood and in the nominations and winners of the awards, but I’ve never really done much more about it; armchair slactivism at its worst. I won’t lie – I’ve loved being a part of it all and didn’t really think I could do much more than just express my disappointment.
This year, for the second year in a row, there are no Black actor or actress nominees. Nor Supporting Actor or Actress nominees. Not a single Black actor was deemed worthy of a nomination by a mostly white, male institution. Not many people of colour in general, in any category, for that matter. Yet The Academy figured they had it all balanced by contracting Chris Rock to host the show.
I’m pissed about it all.
Yet, I’m also to blame.
And so are you.
HEAR ME OUT, before you start rolling your eyes and complaining that Will Smith and his wife are just whining that he didn’t get a nomination.
We continue to support these award shows by watching them. That’s how they make money and what indirectly continues to feed the vicious circle of racism – we support movies featuring more white actors than people of colour in more white stories than stories about people of colour, we watch award shows to reward more of the white actors and actresses so they will continue to get more white parts in more white movies. What’s worse is that we also continue to complacently accept white actors playing characters who weren’t originally white.
I am not going to actively teach my daughter about racial equity with my words and then completely confuse her by exemplifying with my actions what white privilege is all about. I refuse to let her believe that it’s ok to watch award shows that disrespect the talent and effort of people of colour.
It’s not ok.
How can I look my daughter in the eye when she asks me the morning after the Oscars if any Black actors won and tell her “No, darling. There weren’t any nominated. But mommy still watched and enjoyed the show like I always have.”
I can’t do it.
I won’t do it.
And personally, I’d like to know how Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Sandra Bullock, Charlize Theron, Hugh Jackman, Madonna, and even one of the Grand Poobahs of Hollywood, Steven Spielberg, along with other Hollywood royal members are going to explain to THEIR children of colour how and why they supported an institution that doesn’t respect the efforts of their child’s race?
I can’t do that to my daughter nor can I disrespect the talented people of colour who put out high-quality work in Hollywood without the same opportunities or recognition that white people receive.
So, for the first time in my adult life, I will not be watching the Academy Awards this year.
(Those who know me or at least are friends with me on Facebook and read my frequent status movie reviews are going “WHOAAA!” right now, while the rest of you are probably going “Who gives a shit?” and that’s just fine by me.)
Going forward, I will also be choosing the films I spend money to watch with a far greater intention; I will be actively looking for movies that feature stories about people of colour, that star people of colour and are written and/or produced by people of colour.
Adopting my daughter helped open my eyes to my own white privilege and continuously forces me to confront it, own it and acknowledge it in my everyday life. I’m thankful every day for her presence in my life and I owe her and all people of colour to do what I can.
Oh sure, it may seem like no big deal to you, and in a harsh world of so many societal problems, some may be inclined to write off the importance of “a little gold statue”. Thankfully, I’ve also learned that just because something isn’t important to me, that doesn’t give me the right to invalidate its importance to others. Nor does it allow me to dismiss the greater societal issues behind that little gold statue. Everyone deserves recognition for a job well done – would we dismiss a teacher or doctor asking for equal recognition for equal work performance? Of course not. The Oscars may not matter to you, but it matters to the people who work at providing movies for entertainment. ALL of the people, not just the white ones.
My daughter knows how much I love movies and how Oscar night has been a VERY BIG DEAL for me in the past, so I’m making my stand in a way that I know is meaningful to her. I don’t expect my position to have any impact on Hollywood and their institutionalized racism, but quite frankly, I’m not doing it for them.