As the first black woman to win a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a comedy, Tracee Ellis Ross of ABC’s “Black-ish” gave a shout-out to all people of color in her acceptance speech: “This is for all the women, women of color, and colorful people whose stories, ideas, thoughts are not always considered worthy and valid and important.”
Social media, of course, lit up with praise for the “first black woman” to win the award in 33 years. The implication being, of course, that, since the early ’80s, racists in the industry have been purposely keeping people of color from winning these awards—a false notion in our modern era (we’re not in the 1950s anymore).
We’re in the post-Civil Rights Movement era with blacks having obtained all the rights and privileges whites have. I don’t need to go through the litany of achievement by black Americans, but a black president for the last eight years says enough (along with Oprah, any number of men in the NBA and NFL, not to mention a number of highly successful celebrities).
For years, the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. has been realized in our nation’s institutions. We are to judge people by the content of their character, by their abilities and their merit, not by the color of their skin.
But, given the rhetoric surrounding Ross’ win, you’d think this was a fantasy, not a dream realized. I’m sure I will be called a racist for even asking the following question: “Could it be even remotely possible that a black woman hasn’t won this award in 33 years because there hasn’t been anyone worthy of it? Maybe someone else was simply the better actor? Are they saying previous white winners weren’t deserving of their award?”
In response to the deluge of race-focused praise on social media and an article in the Los Angeles Times, I tweeted the following simple question:
When are we going to stop judging by race? #GoldenGlobes
— Denise McAllister (@McAllisterDen) January 9, 2017
The response, unsurprisingly, was a flood of racist tweets attacking me for even asking the question.
When we don't have people campaigning for the presidency on racism AND winning because people are racist. And if you have to ask, you know. https://t.co/7GAOA6Pe7f
— Aisha K. Staggers (@AishaStaggers) January 9, 2017
when yall stop white washing shit. https://t.co/haPYXeDW61
— Sire (@ANiggaLivinLife) January 9, 2017
when white people stop classifying others by a social construct that they created and work to break down systematic racism 🙃 https://t.co/H853cRcnrd
— AQUEERIUS 🌱 (@JOLEiGHJACK) January 9, 2017
When it becomes as common for non-white artists to win these awards as their white counterparts it'll stop. & b/c representation matters. https://t.co/C3kJM2ZAIx
— 🇵🇷 Lower East Sashi ✡️ (@_SashiSash) January 9, 2017
Let’s consider this last one. It is a predominantly white industry. In fact, 73 percent of film actors in 2014 were white. This has often been cited as a great disparity in Hollywood, obvious racial bias, if you will. But, consider that 77 percent of the American population is white according to 2015 statistics. So, black representation in Hollywood just about matches that of the overall population. Those are numbers, folks, not racism.
One could argue for praising a black performer for beating the odds and winning an award in competition against mostly whites. That’s something to consider—if you still want to think in terms of race. But this isn’t how the narrative goes. It’s not a celebration of competition (like when a girl beats a guy in a typically male contest). No, it’s a celebration of diversity and overcoming oppression.
The thing is, there is no “oppression” in America’s institutions, not in education, business, criminal justice, or Hollywood. There is a vast array of reasons for disparity of outcome in America regarding both sex and race—personal choices, abilities, life situations, etc. To say it is systemic racism is simply ignoring the facts. Of course, I must say, as one always must in these kinds of discussions—there are certainly individual racists in America. And if someone—a boss, a police officer, a movie executive—is discriminating against you because of your race, then you have a lawsuit on your hands.
That being said, I’m not about to minimize the interpersonal racial conflicts people experience among themselves as individuals. This happens. It’s painful, and it’s wrong. But to malign whole industries and an entire country as being racially oppressive is just as wrong. If we continue to have this focus, we will push film executives to make choices, not based on what customers want and what’s good for business, but based on what’s politically correct. Awards will be given as tokens, not as achievements. As a result, the most deserving actors (black or white) and the most successful methods will be abandoned. This isn’t good for art, industry, or individuals.
For America to survive and thrive, we must stop focusing on what divides us—race, sex, sexual choices, religion, you name it—though race is probably the most explosive of them all and the one that is escalating into conflict and division that will most likely devolve into a race war if we don’t stop it. And yes, I as a “white woman” am going to cite Martin Luther King Jr. because he spoke for all human beings. We should be judged by the content of our character, not by the color of our skin. That judgment swings both ways, in contempt and in praise.
When we say we’re celebrating someone’s achievement as a “black woman,” we are focusing on merely two differences that separate her from other categories of people. But if we’re going to be consistent about diversity, why stop with race and sex? Why not praise someone who is from a town that has never had a person win a Golden Globe? How about the individual who is under-represented because he has autism and is from a mixed-race, mixed-religion family of 16? How about someone with one brown eye and one blue eye who is also an amputee?
Sound ridiculous? Yes, it does. And it should. If we’re going to focus on what makes us different, not on what we have in common, then we will never be unified. That’s because every individual is unique. When we start pushing for a certain group to win awards or fill a job or take a position, then we leave out all the other individuals who have never won that award or been hired for that job.
We need to start looking at people as individuals, not as groups. We need to look at our shared humanity as people made in the image of God—valuable and filled with dignity and glory. The only race that matters is the human race. We are a common people, a shared family, created by a father who loves every single one of us equally. That is what unites us. This is the basis of our respect for one another. This is what will heal divisions and strengthen the civil society.
But if we continue to focus on how we’re different, we will destroy ourselves. The dream of America will transform into a nightmare, and the hope of the world will be snuffed out in violence and rage. That’s not an exaggeration. That’s backed up by history. We would do well to heed it.