Guest post: Oscars - "As a black woman, you have to work ten times harder to get half as far"
After seeing the woeful lack of diversity at the Oscars this year, Jendella worries for her son's future in a world that values him less because of his skin colour
Blogger and Filmmaker
Posted on: Fri 26-Feb-16 15:21:10
(60 comments )
As a child I hated that my hair was not blonde and straight. I wished for the sleek swish of a ponytail that my own tightly coiled kinks could never manage. Then I saw the Cheesestrings advert.
Amongst the smiling white faces scoffing down strands of cheese was a black girl. Her tumble of curls was piled high on her head with two plaits in place of the blunt-edged fringe that was the playground trend of the day. The last time my mother had tried to style my hair in a similar fashion, I had fretted that it looked stupid and tried to force it into some other eurocentric style, but in the wake of this advert I went to school holding my head, and my 'afropuff', high with pride.
While some advertisers have come to the slow realisation that the disposable income of the world's black and brown population is worth courting, other elements of our Western entertainment industry are still #sowhite. Films made by and starring black people can still feel like unicorns in the wild, but the past couple of years have been pretty good for those of us who don't appreciate a delusional film industry that believes the only stories worth telling involve a monochromatic cast and crew. So when, for the second year in a row, the impeccable craft of black actors, directors and producers has been so obviously overlooked at the Oscars, our exasperated eye rolls have turned into vocal frustration.
We're not asking for tokenistic representation, we're asking for real and tangible recognition. The problem is that the creative output by talented and qualified non-white professionals is being devalued and wilfully overlooked. Creed and Straight Outta Compton are two of 2015's biggest box office successes, and both garnered critical acclaim, but while the black directors, the black writers, and the black cast were overlooked by the Academy, they saw it fit to nominate the white supporting actor and the previously unimpressive and unheard of duo of white writers for their work on these films. The cast of Straight Outta Compton – the highest grossing music biopic of all time – was not even invited to the awards ceremony.
Thinking about the spectrum of black experience today, the reality is that I've given birth to my precious little boy in a society that, even if he is outstanding, will not value him.
Thinking about the spectrum of black experience today, from being overlooked for jobs, promotions and leadership positions, to receiving harsher punishments from school rooms through to courtrooms, to the fact that black people are more likely to die in interactions with the police, the reality is that I've given birth to my precious little boy in a society that, even if he is outstanding, will not value him. And let me be clear, rightful recognition in elite institutions will not eradicate other forms of injustice, but that recognition still matters in a very concrete sense. It is that recognition that will open up doors for other black creative professionals, and it is that acknowledgement that will bring funding and opportunities and put to bed the insidious myth that projects with black headliners, and positive stories with black headliners in particular, "do not do well" and so are not worth doing at all. Recognition matters.
As much as I hope to be a strong source of affirmation and positivity in my son's life, I can't deny that messages emanating from mass media and popular culture are a force to be reckoned with. Modern parenting and childhood are hard enough without the burden of explaining and compensating for the uneven balance that permeate our society at every level. As an adult, navigating a world filled with double standards, unspoken hierarchies and the nuance of prejudice is exhausting enough, but the thought of preparing an innocent child for that journey ties my stomach in knots.
"I have to work three times harder because I'm black, because I'm a woman, and because I have an African accent." I must have been around ten years old when my mother said that, but her words have never left me. It's 2016 and I'm preparing myself to echo the words passed down from one black generation to another: "you have to work ten times harder to get half as far". In an ideal world my son would be confident that there is no arena where he, as a black boy or black man, cannot succeed, but I look at the industry I love and the one that I work in and find it hard to believe that myself. One day I'll have to explain to my son that even if he works his hardest to make something amazing, it's likely that the only recognition his labour will receive will be handed to whichever white person is standing closest to him.
I find this blog to be mind boggling racist with lots of "black/white" references. I think in the main our society is sophisticated to the point where only the person is seen and not the colour. That is certainly my experience. One cannot vote "black" remember. I'm shocked tbh and I think it's a divisive point of view and akin to victimhood.
Reap - It seems as though you have missed the point and essence of the post.
Thank you for the post Jendella. I too worry about my dd's future and hope (and pray) that the world will values her for the wonderful person that she is rather than her skin complexion. When I was younger I had several people tell me (supposedly for my own good) not to bother aiming for high expectations because of the colour of my skin but thankfully my parents taught me to believe in myself and my abilities and I will, in turn, teach my dd the same. I do, however, worry about the struggle that might lay ahead for her and the lack of diversity in a number of fields only adds to my growing concern.
This mistakingly represents black women in one profession. Does it also take into accountmixed race women or black / mixed race men? I think you would need the definitions of each racial catergory before stating it is all white.
White could be defined as most of eastern europe and the west. It's pretty unfair to class anyone as 'non-black' as white. I'm sure each ethnicity has it's own way of presuming it's own colour. This should be based on acting ability, something the oscar's is not renowned for awarding.
it's not just in the acting field that this is true. It is in any profession full stop.
But as much as I understand and appreciate Jendella's honesty to an unknown audience, it might be the case of banging your head against a brick wall expecting MN users to join hands and sing Kum-by-ja. Women of colour are needed when fighting against sexism and standing up for feminism, but beyond that women of colour are tossed to the heap and told to stop complaining or to stop being lazy. Just read any number of threads which celebrate black man bashing here and you'll see a lot. With more cohesion and dual-heritage families in the west, the issue of race inclusion has begun to affect more and more families. But equally, you will find just as much resistance to more black women reaching higher levels of education and empowerment, and my staunchest aggressors have been women - white women.
Read Daniel Cohen, La Richesse du Monde, La Pauverte de la Nation (Riches of the world, the poverty of the nation), and there the Jewish economist states that a black African woman must fight from all corners; against the black man, against the white woman, and then against the white man, then for her black son, for the white woman, but again against the white man: The hierarchy of the world is summed up (with southern Asians being included in his meaning of black if they are the "lower" castes), complicated but vital stuff on social equality and empowerment.
teaaddict Whilst I am confident racism happens in most professions, I do not think it as much an issue as gender discrimination.
I am mixed race and whilst identified as black on my companies office diversity file, (something I find humiliating and unnecessary). For Example we had to be scored on diversity in the office, it consists of myself, another worker and my 'manager'. Well thank god we passed. My manager was gay, I was black and classed as disabled and my co-worker happened to be over 50. We ticked all the boxes. I would imagine other facilities with a small staff could not say the same.
It is rather strange that although I was classed as black and disabled, I had recently put my self as being white and Jedi on the company forms. I do believe we eventually failed for having a gender norm. Again 3 of us 2 women, 1 man is not the correct ratio; but is the correct staff for the building.
I had to deal with many more instances of male rage than my manager, I have regularly had to deal with them on a face to face basis, including men who have violent crimes against women. Often my panic alarm is a dud.
In the last few weeks myself and my 50+ co-worker have been attacked with an axe, a crowbar and a brick. We have ratio of 2:27
I am so tired of being judged. I'm neither black or white. I am me. Crime is my enemy, reformation is my my staff.
It takes a special kind of guy to destroy another he does not know, too any innocents are dying. your children on both sides would be ashamed
I'm living within a parallel universe! What I sense is an attempt to whip up a self serving industry of perceived victimhood and racism.
Every person should treated fairly and are expected to be treated fairly by employers, people of authority, decision makers in schools, award events and all others who can make a difference or detrimental impact on individual life.
I like this post cause it helps to identify root cause and affect of racism today. Many people should stop the "hear no evil see no evil" attitude and act with integrity.
I rarely get to the cinema these days so am unable to comment on whether the nominees for this year's oscars are a fair representation of excellence in the movie industry this year. In my experience the Oscars are just an exercise in nepotism anyway so I take little notice. This is a hard post to reply to as a white woman because I obviously experience the world as a white woman although obviously face the world with all the discrimination a woman faces. I do think the world is more than just white or black but knowing the word constraints you're writing within for a featured post it's hard to enter that debate. I do wonder how many other ethnicities have been overlooked in the Oscar nominations though.
I must be living in the same parallel universe as you Reapwhatyousow.
I think it's a great post - it seems very reasonable to me. As a white woman I mostly go through life completely unaware of racism but it doesn't mean it isn't out there and when you actually stop and look you don't have to look very hard to see what the problem is and how easy it is to unconsciously add to it. If as white feminists we insist racism isn't a big deal our feminism is pretty crappy imo.
Wow, I don't really post on here and definitely don't post on matters discussing race because you just have to look at some of the responses to see why. I don't see racism therefore it doesn't happen!!!!
You do not get to decided
People really need to understand and realise that there is such thing as white privilege and racial bias. Once people start recognising these things and try to understand and change them, then maybe you can talk about there is no race issue. Because to be honest I'm sure we would all love to live in your 'Parallel Universe', but as it stands we live in this one where, people of colour have to work 10x harder just to be deemed acceptable.
Well said Good.
Within ten posts we had, what about the whites, what about the men and what about practically everyone else.
Observing and pointing out racial (and sex) discrimination is not the same as that discrimination.
If not on mumsnet then where? As mothers, we do most of the early socialisation and teaching our children that you do not judge another person just by the colour of their skin is essential and best done before they encounter the reality of a very unequal world. The OP makes some great points. I know it certainly exists outside of the entertainment industry...even in my industry of healthcare which is most unfortunate. And yes, it is not just about race. It is about gender, class, religion, education, regional accents. The world is full of inequalities and most of it is senseless and needs to be acknowledged and stamped out where possible. Thank you mumsnet for featuring a worthwhile topic
No Slug, I wasn't referring to you. I completely understood your comment . I just get a little annoyed when a conversation starts and then gets derailed, "with I don't see racism so it doesn't exist", or "what about women", "what about men".
People need to look up intersectionality; the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.
"through an awareness of intersectionality, we can better acknowledge and ground the differences among us"
I'm not sure why Mumsnet is the wrong blog for this discussion, surely it is a discussion that should be taking place everywhere, otherwise how can we motivate change?
No it should be on mumsnet however I have seen how the race threads go..
@vixxfacee I understand that, however we should not let other people deter us from discussing it openly. Also if i'm honest I like to know who the ignorant or racist people are so I can actively avoid them .
Will Smith was nominated twice for the Oscars and on both occasions lost to other black actors. Is he saying that the nominees this year are not worthy of accolade or is he saying that the actors/directors etc he thinks should be nominated are better and just happen to be black, or is he saying there should be a quota? White people make up 72% of the US population, black people about 13%, and about 5% asian, the rest is other races. So if about 1 in 10 of the nominations/awards are for black people every year and white people about 7 in 10, will that be enough for him and the other protesters? Will Smith is an incredible actor, but I just wonder whether because of the protest this year the focus on any future nominees/winners who are black will be speculation about whether they won it because they are black or because they are the best candidate - hopefully not.
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