Why Adele's Grammy Speech was Long Overdue

"The Lemonade album, Beyoncé, was so monumental, and so well thought out, and so beautiful and soul-bearing. And we all got to see another side of you that you don't always let us see, and we appreciate that. And all us artists adore you. You are our light. 

And the way that you make me and my friends feel, the way you make my black friends feel, is empowering, and you make them stand up for themselves. And I love you. I always have. And I always will."

If you, or anyone you know tuned to the 59th annual Grammy awards on Feb. 12, 2017, these words might sound a bit familiar. Yes, this was an actual statement made by Adele, a young, talented white singer who won an award that was decided upon by (predominately white male) Academy members. Now, some people who witnessed the event unfold wholeheartedly believe the award was placed in the right hands. Before moving further, we should address the fact that a majority of the people who feel this way are in a position of privilege themselves, and may not be aware of the fact that in the past 20 years, there have only been two black winners who have claimed the “Album of the Year” title (Lauryn Hill and Outkast). With this fact in mind, it should also be said that with such a small number of equally talented black entertainers actually winning, there have been more than 200 black artists who have performed at the Grammys. You may ask yourself: How could this be? To that question, there is one simple answer.

White privilege.

Simply put, certain racial groups (in this case, predominately people of European descent) experience advantages or benefits over other groups. In this case, it would be groups that are non-white. In most cases, there is no clear explanation as to why this happens other than our society has inherently been programmed to continue this cycle of racial inequality. 

There have been numerous examples of this same problem happening at previous Grammy award shows: music made by white artists that automatically overrides revolutionary works of art created by their black counterparts. It is not fair at all, to say the least. However, I commend Adele for using her position of privilege to acknowledge Beyoncé as an extremely talented, versatile black woman who uses her voice to reach and empower black women of all ages. In the moment of Adele being announced as the winner, I know many young people and families across the country shared a moment of defeat and lack of representation yet again. But, as Adele began to share with the world how SHE, a woman in a position of privilege over Beyoncé and other black artists at the Grammys, looks up to a black woman who has been creating music for almost 20 years (including her career in Destiny’s Child). This was surely a moment that shocked many. Although I am extremely glad that Adele took the measure to express her true feelings on the matter, her speech was definitely overdue. Imagine if there was someone like Adele who made that statement 20 years ago, or even at the first Grammy Awards. Would the way we approach this be different? Would we rethink who deserves an award for their hard work and perseverance against naysayers and critics? I would hope so.

Again, Adele, thank you for addressing the elephant in the room. Thank you for speaking what had been on many, many people’s minds that night. People of color have consistently been robbed from receiving the proper recognition they deserve. Some may ask themselves: Is it because Beyoncé sang about empowering young black girls specifically, and not ALL girls? Is it because she is glorifying black culture? One can only assume the true reason behind why Beyoncé didn’t win.

I am glad that you, yourself are fully aware of your privilege as a white artist, and the leverage you have in the music word because of your public reception. Because of your message, you are breaking the barrier and opening room for discussion about why your winning was about something bigger than just music. I hope that your message will resonate with people in positions of privilege and inspire many young black children to keep prospering and following their dreams, just like Beyoncé did with her album Lemonade.

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