EXTRA! SO VERY EXTRA!

No, I’m not watching the Academy Awards

In and other uncomfortable topics, Examining my tears #ExMT, Race, R[evol]ution, Somewhat disjointed rant... on March 3, 2014 at 3:00 am

This is one of those posts that, the writing of it, takes a sigh and the publishing of it takes another. I have immense self-doubt even as I write this. Also, I have hood-winked you. This post is only slightly about the Oscars, and a lot about my own confrontations with and misunderstandings of color.

I am an American, and steeped in the hypocritical psuedo-democratic, but at the same time grandiose and hopeful, rhetoric and culture of this place. And, like so many other Americans who are aware of this Oscar season, I found heart-breaking the words of Lupita Nyong’o as she accepted an award at Essence’s Black Women of Hollywood luncheon. As a child, she prayed to God to “wake up lighter-skinned.” That prayer embodies years of negative comments to Ms. Nyong’o; years of not being told she was beautiful period; hundred of years of subjugating and objectifying and brutalizing darker women; colonialism; the slave trade; religious teachings about the evil and depravity of darker people.

Those things set up a hierarchy, embodied in the old (though not so old) Southern U.S. saying: “If you’re white, you’re right; if you’re brown, stick around; if you’re black, get back.” But, as I am typing this, I am looking at my fingers and realize that I might be scoffed at for joining in this conversation. I’m in an outsider position and, for years, I was told as much: “You don’t have Black girl hair”; “you’re best feature is your light skin”; “you get handed things because you’re light.”

I say “for years” because I now actively refuse to participate in color conversations because no matter what someone always gets hurt and because I am not an outsider. I am an insider. I am an inside witness to what the still-working system of subjugation does to darker people of all hues.

That system–and all of us who participate in it–defines darker as ugly; if not ugly, then less than; if not less than, then different; if not different, then exotic; if not exotic, then not *quite* White. Darker is never allowed to be, to live, to exist as an unremarkable part of daily life. We all have the daily opportunity to see beautiful people of every color. Whether we choose to seize that opportunity is another thing; whether we choose to wholly acknowledge that beauty is another thing.

In plain language, Morris Chestnut is not a beautiful brown man. That is not wholly appreciating beauty. No, he is a beautiful man. Jesse Williams is not a beautiful “mixed guy.” No, he is a beautiful man. And, most importantly, the two do not stand as representations of polar opposites of each other. Ms. Nyong’o deserves all of the accolades and attention for her acting chops and her beauty. But, it makes me a little sad that, in some of the writing about Ms. Nyong’o, “lighter” actresses are getting thrown under the bus as examples of what’s wrong with Hollywood.

The hard part–and the part that sometimes makes me feel hopeless–is that there is no real way out of the system. The fact of the matter is that women who look like Lupita Nyong’o and Grace Jones and Iman and Viola Davis are often either told they are ugly or not told they are beautiful and these same women deserve to be smothered with love and appreciation and admiration because they were beautiful all along; the fact of the matter is that Halle Berry and Paula Patton and Zoe Saldana are very popular actresses and not always because of talent alone. Is there a way to reconcile all of that? Is there a way to love and appreciate and admire one without pointing out the fault in the other?

And, the point of the whole thing is money made by selling images and films and tickets. It seems that the better the system works at making someone feel ugly, the more likely that person is to pay good money to see someone who looks like them who is beautiful. So, the system wins in the end anyway, and in the end we all end up distracted from the fact that minority communities (and I don’t just mean Black folks and racial/ethnic communities) are underrepresented anyway and all the damage caused by that can’t be fixed by a couple of magazine covers, a television show, and a few awards.

So, no. I’m not watching the Academy Awards–despite the fact that I think Ellen DeGeneres is hilarious. I’m no longer sure that I can trust what I am watching. I am no longer sure of where the system ends and true admiration and healing begin.

Here goes: sigh.

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