"Girls, New Girl, 2 Broke Girls. What do they all have in common? The universal gender classification, 'girl,' is white. In all three of these successful series, a default girl (or two) is implied and she is white. That is the norm and this is what is acceptable. Anything else is niche.” — Issa Rae
It’s hard to watch awards shows when they have a history of disproportionately celebrating white people. Last year’s Oscars and this year’s Emmys may have been the exception to rule — but I would argue their inclusivity happened only after people of color called bullshit loudly enough for the establishment to hear. Just because award shows seem to finally be embracing Black and other people of color’s experiences as “award-winning” doesn’t necessarily mean that audiences and society have done the same.
And nowhere is this more apparent than in the backlash to Issa Rae’s pre-Emmys Variety interview, where, when asked who she was rooting for, she replied “I’m rooting for everybody Black.”
Wypipo and news media got ‘offended’ by Issa’s honest — not to mention historic — response, and seized the opportunity to cry “racism” and “Black supremacy.”
But God forbid a white person say they're rooting for all white people...racist much?!— Jenn Henry (@j_nicole86) September 17, 2017
doesn't get anymore racist than that folks— chrissy smith (@chrissy37747741) September 17, 2017
She is saying that she doesn't care if the black actor/actress is any good or not, she's rooting for them regardless. Simple. Racist— ❤️45 (@gmd13n5) September 18, 2017
Nope...just bringing awareness that black supremacy is hate as well, ALL ppl should be judged on their accomplishments alone at @TheEmmys— vanessa writes... (@vanessawritess) September 17, 2017
The difference between a white person saying “I’m rooting for everybody white,” and Issa saying what she did has everything to do with power — and white society’s direct access to it.
For people of color, power and everything that comes with it is not a right granted to us at birth. We have no “God given” inherent power when we come into this world. The only power we have access to is the power we claim.
And that’s EXACTLY what Issa did when she answered Variety’s question. As a strong Black female creative, Issa publicly claimed her right to root for people like herself advancing to positions of power and influence: to see Donald Glover make history as the first Black person to win an Emmy for directing a comedy. To see Lena Waithe, a queer Black female, make history as the first Black woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing. And to call out the fact that, in 2017, sixty-nine years after the Emmys began, Black people are still making firsts — and still have many records to break. How is that equality?
And even when Black artists rise to the top of their respective game, they are still not held to same level of accolades and applause as their white counterparts. Despite critical acclaim Issa Rae’s Insecure still wasn’t nominated for an Emmy in its first two seasons. White feminists have yet to declare it “groundbreaking” or “revolutionary” the way they did Girls. Lena Dunham was anointed the patron saint of feminism because she dared to shed her clothes and show America what a “real” woman’s body looks like.
Issa too has written, starred, and directed her own show (not to mention creating the popular YouTube series, Awkward Black Girl, and authoring a NYTimes best-selling book Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl) except she has done it while being Black and did it without the privilege of whiteness, or parents with access and ties to Hollywood to help her.
Lena Dunham and Issa Rae are roughly the same age. Dunham's "breakthrough" indie Tiny Furniture and Rae's "breakthrough" web series Awkward Black Girl premiered around the same time (November 2010 and February 2011, respectively). But while Lena got an HBO deal in record time (she went from a micro-budget indie filmmaker to household name in less than a year), it took Issa a full four years of grinding, proving herself and building her audience before HBO would give her a shot. If that's not an example of white privilege, what is?
So when she takes her well-deserved spot on a red carpet and says she’s rooting for all the Black people who have defied all odds to get to the Emmys (by telling their own stories, no less), please, white people, understand that it’s not about you:
Sure, Jan. https://t.co/uDkwcJ60Zy— Issa Rae (@IssaRae) September 18, 2017
Talk about racist! You are one!— Luz Bubut Key (@lightbkey) September 18, 2017
But what we should really be pissed off about is that this real issue of race and gender inequality and representation is being overshadowed by a clever ratings attempt to normalize the political monster that is Sean Spicer. And there’s something wrong with the system when it’s okay for liberal media to grant a platform for a conservation pundit to poke fun at himself for being a horrible person, but that same America is still not okay with a Black woman saying she is rooting for her people. If that isn’t a proof of racial and gender inequality, then I don’t know what the fuck is.
And in a time when people are calling on ESPN to fire Jemele Hill for her “racists remarks” but are laughing alongside Trump when he retweets a GIF of him hitting a woman with a golf ball, or Colin Kaepernick is sitting this NFL season on his couch because he wouldn’t falsely pledge his allegiance to a system that was taking the lives of his people, WE ALL need to be rooting for everybody Black. Because until Black bodies — especially queer, transgender, and female Black bodies — are equal, none of us are.
(Photo: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET)