White Beauty, White Privilege, a Single White Tear: Why the 2015 Oscars Proved Our Point

What happens when a media platform is completely out of touch with the diverse bodies of consumers around it? Just ask Patricia Arquette, Giuliana Rancic (and by proxy Zendaya Coleman’s faux locs), and Chris Pine’s single White tear drop; all three of which made Sunday night’s Academy Awards precisely the definition of White supremacist television and proved exactly why so many people of color chose not to watch.

Despite a double digit drop in ratings, this Sunday’s Academy Awards are receiving loads of media attention, but not for the right reasons. The award show’s inability to address highly visible racial homogeneity in Hollywood, and therefore, in the pool of those selected for honors, remains an annual issue of discussion. But, it is the repeated prioritizing of White voices, White pain, and White privilege despite the dearth of Black honorees which drives people of color further and further from viewing at all. It’s safe to say, the night lived up to it’s title as the “Whitest Oscars in Twenty Years.”

An issue which epitomizes the erasure and exclusion of Black bodies and culture from the Academy is that of differing fashion standards. In an era where Black, natural hair is still seen as unkempt, dirty, and messy by many White people, contention re-emerges whenever White spectators venture to comment or otherwise critique the fashion and beauty choices of Black women.

Case and point: Giuliana Rancic, host of Fashion Police, described 18-year-old Black (biracial) actress, Zendaya Coleman, as smelling like “patchouli oil and weed.” Why? well, because Coleman chose to wear her hair like this (left).

Yes, Giuliana Rancic said that. With a straight face. On national television. What’s worse is that her co-hosts not only laughed, they cosigned her slandering of Coleman’s gorgeous faux locs.

The hair style alone doesn’t warrant the assumption that Coleman smells like anything, especially not marijuana. Jokingly or not, Rancic played on racialized stereotypes about people of color to garner approval from other Whites. In doing so, she reinforced a status quo which paints Black bodies as inherently less valuable, inherently less worthy, and inherently criminal.


It is this general disconnection and social distancing from people of color that typifies the state of the Oscars (and much of mainstream United States culture) today.

Coleman responded to Rancic‘s harsh comments calling them “outrageously offensive.” Rancic, in turn, “apologized” saying her comments “had NOTHING to do with race and NEVER would!!” Yeah. Okay Giuliana.

Whether they were explicitly about race is one thing. We can’t argue intentions. But, they were certainly implicitly racial. And, if Rancic can’t see how hostile and dangerous implicit racism is, she isn’t fit to be commenting about anything on the red carpet or otherwise.

Another racialized diatribe has been trending since Sunday evening.

Patricia Arquette received uproarious applause from her White friends when she ended her acceptance speech for Best Supporting actress with this sentence.

“To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights! It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America!”

While I wasn’t watching live, I saw women (and men) all over the interwebs erupting in support for her comments. Articles were already in the works. Editors were slicing and dicing ledes and grafs. Freelancers were pitching their “Patricia Arquette: White Feminist Savior of the Year” pieces. She was next in line to be knighted alongside the White feminist greats like Amy Poehler, Lena Dunham, and Emma Watson.

Sadly for them though, Arquette went backstage and had this addendum to her random moment of activism.

“It is time for us. It is time for women. Equal means equal. The truth is the older women get, the less money they make. The highest percentage of children living in poverty are in female-headed households. And, it’s inexcusable that we go around the world and we talk about equal rights for women in other countries and we don’t. One of those superior court justices said two years ago in a law speech at a university, we don’t have equal rights for women in America, and we don’t because when they wrote Constitution, they didn’t intend it for women. So the truth is even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America, right under the surface there are huge issues at play that really do affect women. It’s time for all the women in America, and all the men that love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”

I guess no one gave Arquette the cue card showing that actual disparities between White women and women of color are particularly egregious. Perhaps she doesn’t know that White women are actually doing better than “all the people of color” they have apparently been fighting so tirelessly for. But, even Arquette not knowing these facts is evidence of her out-of-touch privilege. She struggled through a rehearsed set of lines about the state of women in America only to proverbially shit on marginalized groups (who aren’t White women).

Luckily, she had her bout of verbal diarrhea before her White Feminist crown was fully etched.

PineTears.gif.CROPLastly, how does an attractive White man become the new face of civil rights? Feed the hungry? Build a school in a rural area? Fund a pipeline of water to a village in a third world country?

No, it’s actually much simpler than that. While Common and John Legend performed the Best Song winner “Glory,” actor Chris Pine was moved to tear. Dassit. Just one tear. And, the entirety of White America felt it.

What is absurd about this is that every few days it seems White people are claiming other White people are the “new face” of something. Last time, it was soul music. Before that R&B. And, at some point, it was rap music. At what point are White people just the faces of White people? When does that happen?

Kirsten West Savali , senior writer at The Root, summed up this phenomenon pretty neatly.

“[W]hat is the face of civil rights? What warrants mainstream media’s swoons, heart flutters and white fists of solidarity? Chris Pine’s tear surrounded by a blinding sea of whiteness, the same group of people who couldn’t even bring themselves to say #BlackLivesMatter at the Golden Globes, but had no problem proclaiming #JeSuisCharlie.

Unfortunately, this is a lasting legacy of civil rights in this country: white reaction to black pain being perceived as more powerful than black reaction to it—and even more powerful than black pain itself.”

Hell, Chris Pine might be the next Malcolm X leave it up to White people. But, I already told you that White people prefer stuff when it comes from other White people.

These are just a few of the reasons people of color chose not to tune into the Oscars on Sunday. Aside from a general lack of recognition, Black actors and actresses have to contend with the general erasure, implicit biases, and subversive discrimination of their peers.

If the Academy doesn’t pull it together soon and hold these Hollywood types to a higher standard, they are in danger of jeopardizing patronage from Black Americans who are becoming increasingly technological and entrepreneurial. I am all for us having our own production companies, screenwriters, cast, crews, and studios. Frankly, these folks are giving us plenty of reasons to make that happen on a large scale sooner rather than later. And, if the Oscars continue this trend, they will continue to see us walking away from them year after year.

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Jenn M. Jackson

Jenn M. Jackson, PhD is a co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Water Cooler Convos. She is a native of Oakland, CA. Jenn is a radical Black feminist scholar who believes none of us are free until all of us are free.

3 Responses

  1. Mary Burrell says:

    When a white girl wears locs it’s edgy when black people do it it’s something negative. I know when this young lady went to play in the Aaliayah movie she got flack but i have new found respect for her. She eloquently put Rancic in her place.

  2. Exactly. Let one of the Kardashians rock this style and they would have been innovating all locs for all generations or something absurd. I have a new found appreciation for Zendaya after this. She gave an excellent response.

  3. Lexxs says:

    The award shows are tools of white supremacy propaganda and rank right up there with Miss America the fashion world, media, and the ivy league for promoting this evil ideology.