At this point, everyone knows that Moonlight won the Academy Award for best picture, but only after the trophy was given to a team of white people who made a very white movie. The accounting firm responsible for tallying the awards has since taken responsibility for the snafu, but that doesn’t change how people feel after watching the whole situation play out.
Moonlight’s win – as the first Best Picture featuring the life of a gay Black man, and with an all Black cast – was more important than the usual award. It marked a moment where many people in the audience felt seen, recognized, and acknowledged for the first time.
Except they didn’t quite – because the winners didn’t really get their proper Oscar “moment” complete with walk, ovation, and acceptance speeches. The audience who wanted to see themselves’ reflected on that stage for the first time got a hasty set of shocked remarks instead. That sucks.
And because we live in a society where racism is pervasive and persistent, it’s not enough to apologize and claim good intentions. After fervent cries of #OscarSoWhite, folks were on high alert to see if the Academy got the message that audiences want to award art that reflects the diversity of our communities. We must acknowledge that bungles like these have a profound and wide-reaching impact on people of color who’ve struggled exponentially harder in white establishments like Hollywood to have their hard work and brilliance recognized.
But this situation also sucks for the white people involved. Because those (presumed white) accountants who made a mistake? We’ll never know if their behavior was influenced by active or latent racism, but because we see racist behavior all the time, it is fair to ask. The La La Land producer who insisted that Moonlight come get their award? He went from lauded gracious loser to white savior in record time. That wasn’t his fault, but because our white supremacist culture always looks for the white helpers, he became lionized and then criticized for it in the same way.
White people are surrounded by racism all the time, like fish who can’t see we are in water, and despite the fact that (most of us) don’t actually want to be racist, we are constantly drowning no matter our intent. Anti-racist advocates prove again and again that our systems favor white people, and that calls into question how we should be recognized for our achievements and treated when we make mistakes.
When we get into college, get hired for a job, or get acquitted in court, we can’t really say with certainty that we deserve any of it. We won’t really know if we are achieving something on our own merits or with a little help from white supremacy until there is no more white supremacy.
This is why it’s in our own self-interest, not just our high-minded, “do the right thing” interest, to end white supremacy. We need to not just be non-racist, but anti-racist. We need to move from ally to accomplices if we ever want to be able to make a mistake or win an award without second guessing ourselves and being second guessed. If we can end white supremacy, we can all own who we are, create what we want, and be recognized for what we do without wondering whether or not we deserve it.