The accolades that come from white establishments can never compare to the joy and truth we bring to the narratives of our people.


By George M Johnson

Fuck the Grammys. Fuck the Oscars. Fuck the Emmys. Fuck it all. That’s all you would hear if Black folks were to say how we really feel when year after year we continue to be the best in the room only to be overshadowed by the “breakthrough performance of a lifetime” that won Jennifer Lawrence an Oscar for the life story of a woman who invented the mop, or won Becky the Grammy of the year for, well, being white and “weird.”

Instead, Black people in the public eye are expected to be the respectable negro and always respond with “I’m just glad to be nominated,” which is eerily similar to our ancestors’ notion of “I’m just happy to be alive.”

But are we really just happy to be nominated and alive? Are we okay with watching our people constantly be forced to witness their excellence stolen away by a white voting body that thinks we are only worth applause when we play the stereotypes they have imagined us to be? In the minstrel show, whites got to dress up and play Black without any of our oppression for the laughs and jeers of the crowd. Their descendants are now able to dictate when Denzel Washington is worthy of an Oscar, because his portrayal of a thug showcases the range in a respectable negro also being a nigger.

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Should we even give a fuck if we are nominated? I mean, I get it. Black folks have been conditioned to believe the standard of excellence is the white appeasement and approval they didn’t want to give us in the first place. We are told to appreciate how Hattie McDaniel couldn’t walk the red carpet or attend an Oscar ceremony because it paved the way for Halle Berry to be the first and only Black woman to win the Oscar for Best Lead Actress. That Ray Charles and Etta James and Muddy Waters had all their music stolen and repackaged in a blanket of white symphonies so that Jay-Z could own a streaming service one day.

But I also get that Beyoncé continues to lose—one year because she had the sales but not the content, and one year because she had the content not sales—because not being white means there is always something more you have to do. Even when we won best picture for Moonlight, whiteness had a way to steal that moment by raising the question of whether the loser deserves an award, too.

While watching the most recent Emmys and seeing Tituss Burgess lose Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series to Alec Baldwin for his portrayal of 45, I knew it was time to stop giving a fuck. Not only was this further proof of how society benefits white liberals who claim to be “against Trump” but aren’t against white supremacy, but the face Tituss made was evidence that he knew he was the best and coming to terms with the fact that being Black and the best is never enough.

White folks have been getting credit despite Black excellence forever. Fact checkers were needed when First Lady Michelle Obama stated she lived in a house built by slaves, as if this entire country wasn’t. The Black women of Hidden Figures are only now getting their spotlight, years after white men had taken all the glory for getting us to the moon. For Black people, we never get our awards when we deserve them, and when we do finally get them there is no expectation that we will ever receive that honor again.

This is not an argument that we shouldn’t continue to support our Black family when we finally break through and win an award. When we do win, it is still our duty to light it the hell up because we should always be here to cheer on the Black folks. However, the time has come for us to stop caring so much when don’t win. To stop caring so much when we aren’t nominated and are overlooked.

The accolades that come from white establishments can never compare to the joy and truth we bring to the narratives of our people.

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I’ve won awards in the past, and have been nominated and lost awards I should’ve won. I’ve also been overlooked for awards I felt I deserved. I’ve had to learn to evaluate why I do the work that I do, and recognize that these accolades are tied to the same social conditioning about how one determines self-worth as white supremacy.

I learned to recognize that the message from a young Black person who is grateful that I am fighting on their behalf is worth much more than awards from white and Black institutions, especially those built on upholding respectability.

The #OscarsSoWhite hashtag by April Reign continues to do major work in creating some of the diversity changes needed within the voting bodies of these institutions. Yet we are still faced with the reality that this is not our problem to fix. We can only do so much before we put our energy into our own accolades being enough. The highest honors in the land don’t need to be the highest measure for our community.

Kanye West is many things, but he was right when he reclaimed the mic from Taylor Swift to announce that “Single Ladies” was the best video for that year. That snatch of the mic also should have happened when Angela lost for playing Tina Turner, when Dorothy lost for playing Carmen, and when all our other ancestors ever lost at the hands of white supremacy. This is me reclaiming our time.

George M. Johnson is a Journalist and Activist. He has written for Entertainment Tonight, EBONY, TheGrio, TeenVogue, NBC News and several other major publications. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram