It’s award season. The Oscars are approaching. And many people have taken issue with the glaring lack of diversity in this year’s nominations. Twitter users used the satirical hashtag #OscarsSoWhite to express their frustration with the facts that all of the Best Actor nominees are White men, and that no women are nominated in the Best Writer or Best Director categories. Many are upset, in particular, that Selma actor David Oyelowo is not nominated for his powerful portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., nor is director Ava DuVernay nominated for Best Director for her work on the film despite the film itself being nominated for Best Picture.
I saw Selma. It was a moving film. It reminded me of the present political moment. That is, in large part, why I enjoyed the film so much: I saw myself, my reality, my narrative in it. But regardless of whether Selma “deserved” to be nominated for more Oscars, I couldn’t care less that it’s not. I couldn’t care less about the Grammys, the Golden Globes, the VMAs, or other award shows like them. Why?
Because all of these shows are run by rich White people, the voters and decision makers are mostly White people, and they are geared towards a White audience. So it comes as no surprise to me that nine times out of 10, they give awards to other White people, and that films that center Black people and albums that center Black cultural themes and feature Black musical styles aren’t nominated for top awards. White people, like all people, appreciate what they relate to, what they see themselves in. And they don’t relate to Blackness, nor do they see themselves in Black people.
But, ironically, it is these very reasons why these awards are coveted by Black creatives and audiences. Black people rarely win these awards against White people, so when they do, or when they are nominated amongst them, we feel as though they have gained membership to an exclusive group. There is a novelty, a grandeur attached to Whiteness and things associated with it that, due to myriad historical causes, we have learned to aspire to. We see wealth and Whiteness, especially Whiteness, as lending a kind of validation to those things which they stamp – because if rich White people like it, then it must be good.
By contrast, we don’t see nearly as much value in awards like the BET Awards, the Soul Train Awards, the NAACP Image Awards, BET’s Black Girls Rock (which I love), and the little known, because it’s never televised and seldom talked about, Black Movie Awards. These are award ceremonies where Black people celebrate Black culture and Black people’s contributions to society. They are award ceremonies where the people voting on who wins what are more likely to have listened to the nominated albums and are more likely to understand, relate to, and appreciate the themes centered by Black music, Black movies, and other forms of Black culture. And – get this – Black people always win! But, for many of us, the stamp of Blackness does not carry the same weight as the stamp of Whiteness. Other Black people seeing value in our art doesn’t mean as much as White people seeing value in it. So we have rappers who brag about how many Grammys they have instead of how many BET Awards they’ve won; Beyoncé and Jay Z rarely attend the BET or Soul Train Awards even when they’re nominated, but attend the Grammys yearly even when they’re not; and Black people get upset when a Selma or a 12 Years A Slave doesn’t win every Oscar or Golden Globe that they think they deserved, but don’t care who’s nominated for what at the BET Honors. The same dynamic is at play with many Black people who aspire to attend PWIs but won’t even consider applying to an HBCU (I was one of them before Howard), or Black PWI students who look down on HBCU students as if admittance to a White school validates one’s intelligence or makes one smarter or better. We have developed the idea that Blackness is something to transcend, and that Whiteness is a goal. We have learned to seek validation for our Blackness from Whiteness, and we must learn to validate ourselves.
I don’t care that Selma was snubbed by the Oscars because an Oscar doesn’t mean anything to me. And I stopped caring about the Grammys after Kendrick, Kanye, Jay Z and Drake all lost Best Rap Album to Macklemore last year. Year after year, White people demonstrate that they don’t see the same value in our art that we do. And year after year, we get upset because somebody got snubbed, or they gave an award to the wrong person because they don’t really know what constitutes good rap or R&B anyway. I cherish Selma because it’s a movie that focuses on the Black experience, staring, written by, and directed by Black people, and that’s good enough for me. Some of my favorite movies – Friday, Boyz in the Hood, Baby Boy (Baby Boy!) – center aspects of the Black experience that I don’t expect White people to appreciate. I don’t expect the White masses to appreciate music by Janelle Monae, Solange Knowles, or D’Angelo. And I don’t need them to. I don’t need them to tell me that my movies are worth watching, that my music is worth listening to, or that I’m is smart, kind, and important. I know that already. And as Black people, it’s our job to know that, not theirs. It’s our job to love us, to value us, and to celebrate us. And as long as we keep looking to White people to do these things for us, we will never be satisfied, we will always be disappointed. But when we learn to value ourselves for who we are and our culture for what it is, then we can know true validation.
It might sound cliche, but there is a lot of truth to the adage: happiness starts from within, not without. Whiteness cannot be the standard against which we measure ourselves. So, watch Selma. Love it. Bask in its Blackness. And forget about the Oscars, the Grammys, and everything else. Because, frankly, they don’t mean a damn thing.
Brandon Ellington Patterson is a senior Sociology major at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He was formerly Chairman of the Political Action Committee for the NAACP Howard Chapter and is an aspiring journalist.