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Awards Show Season and the Minority Struggle

Always working twice as hard, to get half of what they have. 

Ah, yes, The Grammys. Known as the music industry’s highest honor, the Recording Academy presented the 63rd Grammy Awards on March 14, 2021. The night was full of history, from Beyoncé becoming the most awarded female recipient of all-time, to Taylor Swift receiving her third Album of the Year distinction, a feat reached by no other woman. 

However, in what has now seemingly become a trend in award shows, there were notable snubs when it came to who won which award. For the past two years, white recipients of awards have stated that their Black counterparts were more deserving of the award than they were. First was Adele who received the award for Album of the Year for 25, coincidentally winning over Beyoncé’s Lemonade. Adele spent most of her speech gushing about not only Beyoncé but also the work that was Lemonade. At the past Grammy’s, Billie Eilish reacted in a similar manner for beating out Megan Thee Stallion for Record of the Year. Eilish’s song “Everything I Wanted” was pitted against Thee Stallion’s “Savage,” and ultimately won against the latter. In her acceptance speech, Eilish said that she was embarrassed about having to accept the award over Megan Thee Stallion. 

It’s important that I point out that the purpose of my distinction is not to say who is more deserving of an award. If I’m being honest, I am one of the worst music-listeners I know. I rarely listen to lyrics, but instead, I listen to songs that make my brain feel good. The beat and overall feeling ignited by the music is what speaks to me more than anything else. Therefore, I will be the first to acknowledge that I lack the expertise required of someone at the Recording Academy to make a decision on who is the most deserving of a specified award. That being said, the Grammys serves as a microcosm for an emerging issue when it comes to who is deserving and who is not, and it’s a conversation that needs to be had. 

Award shows have a diversity problem and it’s time to address it. 

On Jan. 15, 2015, April Reign created the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite in response to the nomination list of top honors in the industry. That year specifically, all acting nominations were awarded to white actors, and it actually became the first of two consecutive years to do this. 

Reign’s hashtag became a battle cry of those criticizing the Oscars for their apparent lack of care when it came to spreading the wealth. There is no shortage of diverse talent within Hollywood, yet it always seems like pulling teeth to have these actors recognized for their work. Actors such as Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman (Rest in Power), Lupita Nyong’o and too many others are pushed over in favor of their white counterparts. 

The issue with awards shows and their lack of diverse representation does not only come from the area of race but also a superiority complex when comparing American entertainment versus its international counterpart.

We need to look no further than the success of the South Korean movie Parasite. The movie, which analyzed greed and socioeconomic class from the view of two different families, made Oscars history as the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture in the entire history of the Oscars. While this was certainly an honor for the cast of the movie, it highlighted a greater issue. At this point, the Oscars were 92 years old. Meaning that for almost 100 years, foreign-language films had not achieved the highest honor of the event. This, of course, is not because they were not good enough. The superiority complex held by the Western entertainment industry is one that largely blinds people from recognizing the beauty and expertise held by those who are not white.

Although I’m sure the Oscars and those around it will use the example of Parasite to show that they are moving forward in the diversity department, there is an important aspect of this argument that cannot be left behind. 

In order to truly engage in the consistent promise to be better, institutions must recognize that the E and I are just as important as the D. 

When discussing diversity, equity and inclusion, too many people believe that their work is done. They may believe that the threshold of DEI work ends and begins with having more people of different races, ethnicities, genders, sexualities, religions, etc. in the room. While this is certainly important, it is a disservice to everyone to believe that DEI work ends with diversity. 

After the D, there comes an E, equity. Equity means giving people opportunities and resources while acknowledging how their path differs from others. To narrow that down even more, the support that I receive should differ from another person because we do not have the same lives. This needs to be taken into account in the entertainment industry as well. When looking at the history of our country, it makes sense why most that benefit from nepotism come from white communities. America has a sordid history of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, etc. Because of this, people who fell into these categories were stifled from attaining their highest potential and it still shows today. It cannot be enough to say that everyone will be given an equal shot or the classic “everyone has the same 24-hours.” While we may all abide by the same 24-hour daily time stamp, it is foolhardy to not recognize that there are obstacles present for others that might not be present for another group. After all, how can you say we ran a fair race when your path was a straight shot, and I had a few hurdles in my way. 

Similar to how one cannot leave the E out of the conversation, the same goes for the I. Inclusivity is absolutely imperative to the conversation of DEI work. You can recruit and display all the minorities in the world, but if you do not make a space for them to feel comfortable in their own identity, then your efforts are ultimately self-serving. Specifically, as it relates to entertainment, minorities should not have to typecast themselves according to a stereotype in order to get work. The same goes for how often minorities will be pushed into the music genres that their community is known for. In the same vein, they should not be barred from stretching into music genres that are not usually associated with their community. I am absolutely speaking on the Lil Nas X incident with his hit song “Old Town Road” and the collective complaint of the country music community.

When discussing equity and inclusivity, I want to bring up a final point. 

Minority artists should not have to jump through extra hoops in order to be celebrated. 

I know that I’ve said this before, both in this article and others that have come before it, but it bears repeating. A minority should not have to abide by a certain box applied to them in order to be successful. Black people should not have to only sing R&B. Trans actors should have the ability to play roles that do not center around that portion of their identity. This sentiment needs to stretch to all minorities and their creative talents. 

Even more importantly, let’s go back to the first sentence of this article. 

“Always working twice as hard, to get half of what they have.” 

This is an age-old proverb based down through generations of minorities. It has prepared us for the cruelty of the real world, a place where there is already a whole system built against us. It means that we will be pushed to put in two times as much work to achieve half of what our counterparts might. It means going above and beyond to still fall short, oftentimes with no concrete explanation beyond the unspoken truth. 

All in all, it is imperative that award shows put in a conscious effort in the future. We no longer live in a society that will silently accept the bare minimum and less than. 

The work of “doing better” is something that must be done intentionally. It is no longer enough to prop up minority artists just for the purpose of showing that they are there. Give them their accolades. Give them their flowers. It is the right thing to do. 

Hi friends! I'm a public relations and political science double major with an interest in public policy. In my free time, I love annoying my friends with rants about some sort of injustice. I can't wait for us to learn from each other :)
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