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Thursday, January 21, 2016

What will Boycotting 88th Academy Awards Achieve?

African-Americans survived and prevailed in America because they fought for what they wanted through thick and thin. And that struggle didn’t start in America but in Africa with slave raiders, throughout the middle passage, during slavery, during reconstruction, during Jim Crow, during civil rights moment, and to the present. If there’s anything that defines African-Americans better, then it’s grits, survivalism and the coveted capacity to endure and forgive.

While we can agree that America has changed for better for African-Americans, it’s equally true to argue that contemporary sociopolitical, sociocultural and socioeconomic realities which African-Americans struggle against are a neat transmutation of the past ills. African-Americans still, except for the lucky few, reside at the periphery of society. They are at the mercy of the European-Americans owing to their economic marginalization. Their proverbial alterity has remained the same since the first African landed on the American shores.

While this struggle is something that has to be continued – for the manner in which oppressive realities are portrayed has changed—there has to be a noted change in regard to how struggle has to be executed.

 And this brings me to the planned boycott of 88th Academy Awards by some African-American actors and actresses. Among these actors are Spike Lee, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, among others. Justifying their boycott of the Oscars, Spike Lee has this to say:

"We cannot support it and [I] mean no disrespect ... But, how is it possible for the second consecutive year all 20 contenders under the acting category are white? And let's not even get into the other branches," Lee wrote on Instagram. "Forty white actors in two years and no flava at all. We can't act?! WTF!!"

It’s true that, for the last two years, the nominated actors have all been Europeans or European-Americans. Given the history of America and what Donald Trump is bringing back to America, it would be naïve not to feel for the likes of Lee and the Smiths. Anyone who knows the history of America, its moral paralysis—what James Baldwin called the search for ‘Moral Identity’—will understand the noted concerns.

Reminding us of history, Lee quoted Kings that “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it's right.”

I’m totally with the actors for their stand and I applaud them knowing what America is becoming with the likes of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. The noble conservativism (socially that is) of Ronald Raegan is now being replaced by the bigoted, idiotic conservatism of the likes of Trumps, Christies, Cruzs etc.

However, my main concern is what Lee and the Smiths hope to achieve. Simply boycotting the Oscars brings to mind what I call the paradox of solidarity. This is the situation in which you stick together with your own but you don’t want others to stick with their own. What one fights is other people’s solidarity, which one fights with one’s own solidarity.

If African-Americans stick together, then why can’t European-Americans stick together too, would be the question (I know this sounds like something you can only hear on “Fox & Friends”). How about European-Americans saying “well, there’s nothing worthy of Oscars, but let’s give them a lame token to shut them up!”

Well, I know a movie like “The Beast of No Nation” is worthy of Oscar nomination because of the stellar performance of the young Abraham Attah. However, boycotting the Oscars trivializes the grievances. Deep, racial concerns need more than avoiding an event.  But when did America ever change because the proposed changes are good for minorities? America only changes if and only if there is a vested interest in the proposed change to the European-Americans.

It would have been a good idea for the boycotters to voice theirs concerns of the Europeanization of Oscars but still attend the 88th Academy Awards. 

With no doubt, there has to be a change in the manner in which grievances are shown because the way in which ‘peripherization’ is now exercised has been cleverly disguised. Using old methods to fight new challenges is ineffective. The boycott will be in the news for a few weeks but then fades away. I don't know what that change in strategy would look like, but there has to be another method of community empowerment.

Wealthy African-Americans complain about what ‘whites’ are doing, but what concerted efforts have they done to bring respect to the community of crime-destroyed youth? Any disrespect to the community stems from historical misinformation, distortion of facts, and the contemporary socioeconomic position of African-Americans. Oscars to a few individuals will never change the general view of the community. It’d only be regarded as the achievement of the exceptional few.

There has to be a better way to empower the community then boycotts!