This has been a traumatic year for black Americans. Video after video has shown police shooting or choking to death unarmed black men or boys who posed no threat to them. Meanwhile, the cult adoration and political rise of multidirectional racist Donald Trump has reinforced a feeling among many blacks that white America is out to get them.
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They’re not entirely wrong. Lots of cops in the U.S. seem to view black males, and at times black females, as a threat until proven different. There are a lot of angry white men and angry white women in America who feel the same way as those cops, and Trump has got them roaring.
Black Americans have had every reason to be up in arms, and the Black Lives Matter demonstrations against police racism and at the Trump campaign rallies were right on target.
Not so, however, with this last year’s two other major American venues of black protest: elite colleges and Hollywood, the latter coming into range because of the Oscars, which will air Sunday night.
For the second year in a row, all 20 nominees in the four Academy Award acting categories are white. This led to an outcry by blacks and soon after by liberal whites that racism was at play – that black actors and actresses were shut out twice in a row because the people who choose the nominees and winners, the overwhelmingly white 6,200 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, are prejudiced against blacks.
Who would have thought it? Until now, Hollywood was considered one of the most left-liberal corners of America, a virtual no-Republican zone, a place where major movies were made that not only glorified Martin Luther King (“Selma”) and Nelson Mandela (“Invictus”), but Malcolm X (“Malcolm X”) and anti-police black rappers (“Straight Outta Compton”).
Suddenly Hollywood isn’t being damned for political correctness, as it’s been for decades, but for good-ol’-boy white discrimination.
Which is ridiculous. Yes, for the last two years black actors and actresses have been absent from the Oscar picks – but between 2000 and then, blacks got 10.4% of the acting nominations (29 out of 280). On the whole, black people make up 12.6% of the U.S. population. Do these numbers add up to racism?
Less than a month ago the Screen Actors Guild held its annual award ceremony for movies and prime-time TV shows, and black actors and actresses not only got nominated all over the place, but Queen Latifah, Viola Davis and Uzo Aduba won in their categories – while Idris Elba won in two.
This is from the same industry the Oscars are in. And in a just-released, widely publicized, critical study of diversity in movies and TV in America by the University of Southern California, 12.2% of the speaking roles in 2014 and 2015 productions were found to have gone to black actors and actresses. Is that racism?
To nominate white performers over black performers strictly on the basis of race, which is what the Academy members are being accused of, requires no “ordinary” prejudice, but a racism of a depth and determination that by now is found only on the fringes of white America. Of the 6,200 Academy members, I would bet that the number who chose not to nominate any black actors or actresses because of their race was zero. Even subconsciously: zero. If anything, there may be some Academy members who would, subconsciously or perhaps even consciously, give a black actor or actress a slight edge. After all, this is Hollywood, and Hollywood is as liberal as America gets.
Except for maybe the elite colleges, like Yale, Princeton, Brown, Brandeis, Oberlin, Claremont-McKenna, Smith and the others where black students and their white allies leveled loud, caustic accusations of racism at administrators, faculty and students.
Such nonsense. America’s top universities are politically correct to the bone; not only don’t they discriminate against blacks, they give an advantage in admissions to many black applicants. (There were, however, incidents of black students and at least one black faculty member at the University of Missouri being subjected to racial insults on and off campus. The Mizzou community evidently includes a white-cracker frat boy element that you won’t find, for instance, at Yale or Princeton.)
America’s elite colleges are not racist, they’re anti-racist, and the same is true for Hollywood. They belong to a radically different America than the one of police forces, know-nothing Obamaphobes and Donald Trump. Lumping these two parts of white American society together, even if prompted by the devastating events that blacks have been witnessing, is to be blind to the basic divisions in that society. And, as we will no doubt see and hear on Oscar night, it is to cast a terrible slur on about the last people in America to whom it applies.
Larry Derfner is an Israeli journalist and copy editor at Haaretz.