Saturday, 19 March 2016

Too White! Too Heterosexual! For The Sake Of Our Kids, Give It A Rest...It's TOO MUCH!

For the past few weeks, much focus has been on award ceremonies being too white.  This concerns me, and not the fact that things are too white either, but perhaps the opposite of the intended plea or message.  This is a post which treads on a very tight rope.  In this day and age, the word “black” has to be silently sounded out in an exaggerated fashion instead of the usual clear pronunciation of every other word in the English language out of fear of the speaker being labelled a racist.  My concern lies in the world that our young children are growing up in, a world where we can hide behind and make excuses on account of race, ethnicity, gender and even sexual preference.  

I want to live in a world where merit is the only base for judgement or competition.  Why should my child grow up in a world which strives for equality, but equality only as far as (in many cases) the minority will allow?  Should we really be nominating actors, singers, coworkers, etc on account of the colour of their skin - surely we can appreciate that those who are nominated for prestigious awards are by and large done so on the account of merit?  I cannot recall ever reading an article that stated that Leonardo diCaprio had never won an Oscar until recently on the account of him being white; it just wouldn't be allowed.  Yet, for some reason, it is ok to label the institutions such as the Academy Awards and Brit Awards as racist because there are fewer black actors or singers represented in that particular year as far as nominations go.  By including a quota system in such instances, we are merely undermining the talent of those who are catered for on account of their gender, sexual orientation or race.  We don’t talk about White people in the same way.  Of course I acknowledge that that many non-white races have suffered years of persecution and still do, but when it comes to the white population, we tend to be subcategorised into subcultures.  We never say “six million whites were killed in World War II”, no we describe those who lost their lives in terms of their religious subculture; Jews.  Why is this?  

There is massive irony here in that I am a white South African who grew up during apartheid, and in many people’s eyes, this makes me, by mere default, a racist - nothing could be further from the truth.  It seems that in the UK, the word racist is used in any context when a white individual says almost anything which concerns a non-white counterpart.  Racism is rooted in the belief that one’s own racial group is superior or another is inferior - since when did choosing musicians or actor who are all from one race become racism?  No one is suggesting any hint of superiority - believe it or not, it may just so be, that in that particular year, six white actors were the best performing actors over those twelve months.  I don’t want my daughter to grow up believing that it’s ok to award people based on the colour of their skin…if the academy awards were in the business of favouring whites, why was the individual with the most lines and the most “air-time” a black man - the host, Chris Rock? Is it fair to then say that the annual BET Hip Hop Awards are too Black?  Or the UK based MOBO awards (awards for the “music of black origin”) racist against white people?  

In the famous study by Clarke and Clarke (The Development of Self and the Emergence of Racial Identification in Negro Preschool Children), black and white dolls were presented to black children and a series of questions were asked.  It was apparent that the black children favoured the white dolls.  The findings are both profound and, to a degree, rather disturbing.  However, when I view children today (bearing in mind that the Clarke study was published in the 1940’s) they seem rather colour blind.  Children tend to the see the soul over the colour of their peers skin.  If children have an innate tendency to see deeper than the skin, why do we as adults wish to highlight the opposite?  I am not downplaying the seriousness of racial hatred or abuse, but I do fear that at times, we as adults do ourselves and our children a disservice by overemphasising the differences in a way that we actually believe ourselves to be the opposite of what it is.  To highlight the lack of colour represented in an awards ceremony doesn’t translate as the establishment being racist, as the media would have us believe, but rather that merit is in fact inequality if the sample is not representative of that particular institution.  Sam Smith standing up and announcing that he is a proud gay man when winning the Oscar for best original song, merely shows me that he is highlighting the fact that his lifestyle is counter to the norm.  Why announce sexual preference when you are being rated on the sound of your voice and your ability to write a piece of music?  Why announce the colour of your skin when you are rated on your ability to act?  Surely by announcing our differences, we are merely highlighting that there is in fact a difference and that equality is not what we want after all?  

An Oscar winning performance transcends the colour of one’s skin or one’s gender.  A beautiful voice has no colour.  I know the price of enforcing quota systems and it is counter productive.  Race, gender or sexual orientation are blinding us from the true talents we seek and applaud.  Let us adults take a leaf from the books of our children and recognise talent for talent in a quest to move beyond labelling things too this or too that.  If there are grounds for the calling out in despair which we have seen over the past few weeks, then that is surely warranted, but if not, we are merely highlighting that which we are trying not to highlight, and that is our perceived differences…the irony of it all!

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