Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Racial-Ethnic Oscar

In celebration of this month’s fifth anniversary of my blog, last week and the Wednesdays of February I’m providing a link to the most visited post of each year. For 2012, that would be: The Magic Kingdom (also the most visited post of all five years), with A Pragmatic Guide to Prayer coming in second.

In the controversy over the lack of black nominees for Oscars, one Academy member facetiously asked if we were now to have an ethnic category “for your consideration.” I doubt very much that the man who asked the question is racist; after all, he has a black adopted daughter and black grandchildren.

But what he missed entirely is that there is already a racial-ethnic category at play in the making of films, let alone the Academy Awards: Caucasians are favored in every category, from audiences to those who get to do the films, which to me is the crux of the problem, not just that other racial-ethnic groups are thereby excluded from consideration for awards.

Affirmative action has often been misunderstood to mean that unqualified people should get a job over qualified people. Affirmative action, rather, is better understood as providing opportunities for equally qualified applicants who are underrepresented in the industry they wish to enter.

Equal rights have also been twisted by dominant cultures to mean “special rights.” How many times have I had to argue with even the most open churchgoers that LGBT people, in seeking equal rights, were not requesting “special rights,” but the rights afforded every other citizen of our country, including the right to marry. That so many legislators and judges are now trying to curtail that right under the guise of defending religious freedom is reminiscent of the many ways the dominant white culture has tried to undermine civil rights and voting rights of African Americans.

I’m also surprised that many people have difficulty with stronger sentences for hate crimes. A crime is a crime is a crime, they think, when refusing to consider how a hate crime is a crime intended to harm and intimidate a whole segment of our citizenry, not to mention that hate crimes are characteristically far more brutal and wounding.

LGBT people have made tremendous strides in a historically relative short period because we had the advantage of being part of every family, neighborhood, congregation, congressional district, and political party. While African-Americans are yet to be fully integrated (i.e., welcomed), LGBT people began “integrated” even when not always welcomed. Knowing LGBT people personally as well as seeing us in film and on television helped our culture understand who we are.

When my mother visited me in Philadelphia in 1976, I took her to several plays, including one at the historic Academy of Music that featured Billy Dee Williams as a fiery Martin Luther King Jr. I was stunned to discover we were among a handful of white people in the packed theater. Why weren’t more white people interested?

Better was seeing The Color Purple at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood years later. For the first time, I saw a theater filled with black people and mostly white gay people, given the black and lesbian themes of the film.

Not just in the South where I live now, but in every city I’ve lived or travelled, it’s still true that 11 a.m. Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week, so Christians can’t really get on our high horse—even progressive Christians—and preach what we don’t practice.

And Washington and Wall Street and corporate offices, whose whitewashed tombs house overwhelmingly white and male power structures, cannot effectively legislate, invest in, or inspire a diversity they do not represent.

So I welcome Hollywood’s agonizing over what it can do to remind us “black lives matter.” This is a step toward recognizing the diversity that makes a country great.

Blog readings for Black History month in the U.S. (February):

Other relevant posts:

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Copyright © 2016 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

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