Rolling Out the White Carpet

According to the 2010 census, approximately 30 percent of Americans identify as people of color (POC); however, on February 28, not one will stand on the Dolby Theatre’s stage, thanking their friends and families while clutching a coveted golden man.  This year, all 20 actors nominated for Oscars are all of European ancestry.  Significantly, among those from whom these White nominees will accept awards and entertainment are celebrated actor-comedians Kevin Hart and Whoopi Goldberg.  Whether interpreted as a sign of racism within the Academy or of a disturbing under-representation of marginalized racial groups, this white-out highlights the symbolic annihilation of POC’s contributions to “high culture.”

In her article “Seeing Yourself in History: Community Archives and the Fight Against Symbolic Annihilation,” Caswell emphasizes the importance of recognizing the absence of minorities in mainstream historical discourse, arguing that this strips POC of identities and feelings of acceptance in the land that they call home–the United States.  Rather than seeking inclusion at museums or in textbooks, she argues for the creation of online archives about and curated by members of specific marginalized communities (26).  While I agree that this approach of ethnic exclusivity, particularly the proposed development of means for users of these digital collections to edit the metadata (34), would certainly strengthen these groups’ senses of community and heritage, I can’t help but wonder if it will perpetuate traditional (and ignorant) white-washed views of history.

Like the Oscars for the film industry, the aforementioned venues–museums and textbooks–are often understood to be the go-to sources for what is historically important, awarding chapters or display cases rather than statuettes to demarcate what “experts” in the field have deemed worth knowing.  Although the Black Entertainment Television Awards and Caswell’s South Asian American Digitial Archive exist to provide POC centered alternatives, these lack the cultural authority of the previous institutions and aren’t likely to be sought out by those who are non-marginalized.  Therefore, if these individuals don’t see POC’s talents and histories honored at the Oscars or museums, they may wrongly assume that these minorities have had nothing to offer either the “high arts” or our nation.  Thus, I believe that it is necessary that the achievements and experiences of all Americans–artistically and political, past and present–be integrated equally into the country’s collective consciousness.  Separate is not equal.


For information on the lack of diversity at the 2016 Oscars:

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