Black Lives Matter at Awards Shows Too

This year’s VMAs featured the audacious erasure of Black women, excessive valorizing of Black men, and the gratuitous disregard for the moment of history in which we currently live. I expected most of that. What I didn’t expect though was to come away from the show feeling as though my life’s work for the preservation and liberation of Black lives was so completely unfinished.

At WCC, we have written post after post explaining why many music awards shows are particularly terrible and monochromatic. We have even written about the Emmy’s and the Oscars and their repeated failures to acknowledge excellence in film and TV if it falls outside of the norm of whiteness. Frankly, we have written about the Oscars over and over and over and over again in the hopes of change. We keep writing about these awards shows because we keep watching them despite our repeated disappointments.

Every year, we begrudgingly tune in just to make sure we are up on the happenings of the shows. We want to know who was robbed and who was undeservingly awarded. We want to know these things, at least in part, because we hope that popular culture will respond to the many calls from communities on the margins to represent us more fully.

During the year leading up to the awards shows, we watch fantastic films featuring Black casts and directors only to see them snubbed time and again. We offer lip service to the biased judgement of art and entertainment but our desensitization to White ambivalence toward Black Excellence reduces these concerns to nothing after a few days. So, the question is: if these awards shows haven’t changed by now, why would they change ever?

Last week, the Democratic National Committee endorsed Black Lives Matter, a grassroots organization founded by three Black women with many member chapters across the country. However, the DNC’s formal resolution was swiftly rejected by BLM leadership. Rather than align themselves with a political organization which benefits from the control and silence of Black people, BLM leaders made a powerful statement that they will not blindly support any political party. Rather, their focus is on Black Liberation writ large. While some have called this move a “mistake,” I actually think this stance from the BLM team is precisely what we, as Black people, should be doing across industries today.

Too often, Black Americans find themselves in communities which have been gentrified, office spaces where they are one of few people of color, or social situations which make them hypervisible. I am not negating those real issues. I often face them myself. However, I am suggesting that there are some realities over which we have direct control. In those moments, don’t we have a duty to do something? Anything?

Is it that unrealistic for us to simply stop patronizing businesses which benefit from our marginalization? Is it preposterous to think that we could simply skip awards shows that reproduce racial and gender hierarchies and exclude people of color? I just don’t think that stuff is so far-fetched.

We could take a queue from BLM activists who denied the DNC’s endorsement. At some point, our need for self-preservation must outweigh our obligation to a culture predicated on our eradication. The movement for Black lives can’t only exist in the streets. It can’t consist of local contingents of predominantly young people seeking liberation from oppressive systems around us. This movement has to also be articulated through how and when we choose to consume images, products, and narratives which involve and affect Black people.

In considering our social commitments, we must examine how our loyalties contribute to our own demise. In the case of the Black Lives Matter Network, this means remaining independent of political parties. In our personal lives, this means rejecting messages, shows, narratives, and products which harm us. And, in our consumer behaviors, it means making conscious choices about what our patronage really means.

In this case, changing the channel may seem small. But, it’s minimal effort shouldn’t undermine it’s larger impact.

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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.