The nature of privilege is such that those who do not have it are not entitled to expect it or ask for it.
Why didn’t anyone tell me that?
Why didn’t anyone tell me that I would lack privilege -- socially, academically, and professionally -- because I am (and look) Korean? That the way I look does not fit into the baseline model of being a person? Why did I hope to fit in with my white friends at school or at summer camp? To relate their experiences to my own? Why did I feel unwelcome at auditions for plays in high school when I was a student just like any other? Why did I romanticize the relationships I saw in TV shows and movies when I looked nothing like the people who were part of them? Why did I think I would be able to do stand-up comedy without ever having to acknowledge that I look different than the majority of people who do it?
I never knew the parameters of the contract I signed as a non-white person.
My friends asked me if I spoke “Asian." I settled as a stage manager for my high school play. I feel pressure to acknowledge that I am Asian in every single stand-up set I do. No one told me that the privileged are the only ones who can grant the non-privileged entitlement, regardless of my expectations, my hopes.
Why hasn’t anyone told the nominees for this year’s five major Oscar awards?
We have heard publicly from two (of 25) nominees for the five major awards. They aggressively seem to think that the onus for change is on someone else. Who?
There have been numerous blogs, op-eds, and hashtags trashing the “so white” nomination roster for the major Oscar awards in 2016. It’s appalling that the Oscars are all-white this year … but it certainly isn’t surprising. It happened last year too. Apparently, it does not matter to the powers that be that the masses finally took notice of what has been happening historically during the annual biggest night in Hollywood.
It does not matter that they were angry, or that the mass anger triggered an online outcry. We assume so much because the Academy promised last year to make efforts to color in its whiteness. They even invited new members, whom they chose “with an emphasis on women, young people and people of color." This year, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs reiterated -- vowed, even -- that the Academy is “going to” make “historical” changes. Such empty promises to increase the institution’s diversity temporarily placated the masses before. But this year, staring at another list of all-white Oscar nominees, it matters to me.
I’m so tired of pretending like it doesn’t.
The awards doled out by the Oscars are still the highest honor for cinematic achievement. They are the public’s compass for what is and what isn’t noteworthy. They are important achievements in film, and whether or not we like it, the Oscars tell audiences who the important industry players are. The Academy informs filmgoers about the value of films and actors by elevating them and honoring them. It directs us to see and appreciate the films that it validates. Sadly, this year, same as last year, and for many years previous, the Academy has informed us that the only worthy films are those made by white people. And that only my white friends, my white peers, and my white colleagues are worthy of it.
I love the Oscars. I have faithfully and longingly looked forward to them, even when they have let me down. (Even when they snubbed The Lego Movie, which I took very hard.) I have gathered with friends, prediction cards in hand, for as long as I have tried to fit in with white people. I have made jokes on and offline about its adamant lack of diversity and comfortable clothing. I have done so, long dreaming that one day I might be included, represented in an industry that purports to tell life’s most important stories.
This year, I feel exhausted and crushed. I feel ignored. I feel like I can no longer expect, and I should no longer hope for, a privilege that I have never had.
I know, from the Internet, that I am not alone. People of color in the film industry are speaking out. Spike Lee says he “can’t support it." Jada Pinkett Smith says, “The Academy has the right to acknowledge whomever they choose,” but she announced that she would not be attending and encouraged other people of color to do the same. She rightly states: “Begging for acknowledgement, or even asking, diminishes dignity and diminishes power.”
So, white Oscar nominees, of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag: I am not entitled to ask, and I will not beg, but I’m calling on you to make an immediate impact. A change that the public clearly wants. A change that my younger, conspicuously Asian self could not imagine possible. A change that only you can make.
I’m calling on you to reject your nominations.
You are the smallest number of people with the greatest capacity for change. It’s time for you to take up the challenge. Never mind an Oscar nomination. An Oscar may be memorable, but imagine changing history. Recognize your power, own your privilege, and use it to demand change, for those who have tried and failed.
A simple but firm rejection of your Oscar nomination could change everything. It could reclaim and invent the definition of success in the film industry. It could instill the notion that the baseline human experience is not just white. That all experiences -- black, Asian, Hispanic, those of color -- matter.
I might finally understand that although I cannot ask for the privilege of being represented in the Oscars’ story, I can hope for it.
Don't wait until next year, don't do it eventually. Do it now. Skip the red carpet (and its constricting apparel). Make the change that we, and so many others, don’t have the power to ask for.
Give privilege to those who have never been entitled to it. Reject your nominations.
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