Not Your Mule and Oscars So White Collide
We’ve Been Paving This Road for Over 200 Years, Don’t Expect A Piggy Back Ride On It, Too.
Last night was the 88th Academy Awards. At the same time, a #JusticeForFlint benefit concert was also held with amazing artists like Stevie Wonder and Janelle Monaé performing, so naturally, I ended up switching back and forth between the two as both events were bound to produce some historical moments. Of course, with the lack of accurate representation amongst the Academy’s mostly white nominees this past year, despite many noteworthy and acclaimed films with black actors and actresses, and the backlash from film titans like Spike Lee and The Smiths, and the Academy’s choice to have Chris Rock host the Oscars this year, there was an acute calm-before-the-storm sort of feeling as Oscars night drew close. Finally, Chris Rock came on stage and delivered a monologue that (for the sake of brevity I will not offer my own analysis because that’s a whole other piece of writing all on its own) hit some sour and sweet notes for many. Reactions from #BlackTwitter was decidedly mixed, but as I was live tweeting the Oscars, what stood out were the reactions to Rock from non-Black people of color.
Now, to Jose’s credit, he’s done a lot of great work on behalf of marginalized communities (can’t speak for others who tweeted similarly not shown here); however, that does not exempt him, or anyone else, from real mistakes such as this one. This argument is the equivalent of #AllLivesMatter, especially when the original creator of the #OscarsSoWhite hash, @ReignOfApril, clearly did so with 100% inclusiveness. And it only got worse from there.
One of the main problems with this sort of thinking is that it is incredibly myopic. Black activists have regularly made it a point to intertwine our struggle for liberation with other PoC and even Whites, but the same courtesy is rarely extended to the black community. The U.S. suffrage movement of the late 1800s to early 1900s and the feminist movement of the 1960s through the 1970s both lauded, advocated for and benefitted white women while simultaneously ignoring and erasing black women. Meanwhile, in the communities of non-black people of color, racism runs rampant, unaddressed and unencumbered. Not to mention this assumption that Black people cannot also be Latinx really ignores the identities of those who are Afro-Latinx. The double standard here is so strikingly apparent, it boggles my mind that this actually happened from such a well-involved source.
So, it really was very insulting for all of us when a highly visible Filipino journalist with much agency, platform, and credibility along with HuffPost Latino, a digital media agency with thousands more reading their tweets, both actively went after a Black comedian who, in a singular moment, was discussing/joking about his community because we essentially have no one else outside of our communities speaking up for us.
Of course, Jose says this is all a misunderstanding and that he was not doing what we think he was doing, but the evidence is pretty damning. Nonetheless, #BlackTwitter proceeded to drag him and all of the the other tweeters who paraded this silly logic during #OscarsSoWhite. Consequently, it revived the #NotYourMule hash. “Not Your Mule” is nothing new, in fact, it’s been around for years. It started a couple of years ago when Perez Hilton infamously said, “Inside every gay man is a black woman” or something stupid like that. Perez effectively reduced all black women to his pathetic imagining of a monolithic Negro woman trope for his own purposes of self-aggrandizement, amusement or whatever. Of course, he was dragged for this and dragged well. Ever since, it has been a clarion and a warning to all those who try to lump their misogyny, racism, patriarchy, and now, social justice needs upon Black women’s/activists’ backs. Despite whatever the initial intentions of those who start these controversies may be, this conversation is worth having.
The real question of the week is obviously not,
“What can black people do to lift up other minority concerns with the occasional spotlight we get from screaming loudly and literally grabbing microphones?”
Instead, the questions should be,
“Why are non-Black PoC failing at employing their own agency and activism to the same degree that Blacks are to the point that they are grasping at our straws like this is the Oppression Olympics?”
What is the expectation from non-Black PoC anyways? With conventional logic applied, if you allow someone to speak for you all of the time in your absence, it would follow that your thoughts will not be conveyed exactly as you want them to be. That is a reasonable assertion. Must we always be the vanguard, the infantry, the generals, and, ultimately, the sainted martyrs?
And then there’s another touchy subject that nobody wants to discuss (Well, I do), but we really should: people of color who effectively and essentially distance themselves from minority liberation movements due to an inherent desire to cater to and become part of the dynamics of white supremacy.
There are a lot of self-hating, prideless Asians, Latinx, and Blacks who would prefer not to be lumped in with the rest of their community because either whiteness is how they want to identify or they directly benefit from the perpetuation of white supremacist systems. *Cue Stacey Dash*
This is not to say that any race is monolithic, that we all have to agree, and then move as one mind like the Borg because clearly this is not so; our people are infinitely diverse with layers upon layers of personalities, desires, identities, shades, etc. But in regards to issues of social justice in which a community must come together to combat and dismantle the machinations of white supremacy, which affect us all, the disdain for and lack of involvement by these lost ones is particularly noticeable.
So, what can be done? Well, America’s black community had its Black Pride Movement in the 60s and 70s. This history helps us redefine and cement our identities today and to dispel and rewrite the false and racist narrative about Black bodies that permeates modern U.S. policy, news, pop culture entertainment media, and, primary education. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but non-Black PoC have a similar road ahead. We see it every day, the way Latinx are dehumanized and made the butt of jokes in this country. They are facing a similarly years-long challenge to break these cultural stereotypes and, like us, combat the institutionally racist policies that ultimately hinder access to opportunity in this country. But that road is one that we as a Black community have been paving for over 200 years. We will not be the ones to carry our Latinx and Asian pedestrian brothers and sisters on this road as well. As the mantra of Aboriginal Australian activist groups in Queensland during the 1970s dictates,
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
So, too, must our liberation be crafted thusly, not as a totem pole of oppression by which one group’s voice is stronger than the rest and therefore misconstrued by some as being displayed as more urgent and substantive and requiring the “sharing” of the spotlight, but for others who know they are in the same boat to paddle with us as real partners.
In the end, it seemed at least one person sort of started to LISTEN and finally understand what #OscarsSoWhite and #NotYourMule was all about while others who lacked intuitive knowledge stayed out of it altogether, smartly.
So, even with what some would call a universal debacle (on TV and on Twitter), the Oscars didn’t ruin the end to Black History Month this year. Besides, it’s a leap year and God gave us an extra day to make up for it!
And not to mention, Leo won! Finally. And Kanye was there to show love.
I think Kendrick was right after all!