Opinion: We’ll Take Your Awards But We Don’t Need Emmys, Oscars And Grammys To Validate Black Art Or Artists

Opinion: We’ll Take Your Awards But We Don’t Need Emmys, Oscars And Grammys To Validate Black Art Or Artists

Black awards

Sheryl Lee Ralph won outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series for "Abbott Elementary" at the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards, Sept. 12, 2022 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

I am not a fan of social structure award shows or mainstream ceremonies.

By social structure award shows, I mean the Emmys, Oscars and Grammys specifically. It’s because these shows are orchestrated and sponsored by white people who are either completely unaware of Black culture on display in TV, film and music, or who are aware of our culture on display yet devalue our culture when compared to white TV, film and music performances.

Personally, I grew up watching the Black awards shows like Soul Train Music Awards and the NAACP Image Awards, but I digress.

I am not a fan of mainstream award shows of the social structure because generally, Black people aren’t recognized for their art and while I am happy for those Black people who win, I think of the many Black people whose talents were blatantly overlooked.

This year, Lizzo, Quinta Brunson, Sheryl Lee Ralph, and Zendaya each won an Emmy. Their wins were well deserved, but as pointed out on social media, there are plenty of past performances that deserved an Emmy nomination, let alone an Emmy win. I am thinking of cast members from the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Martin,” “The Cosby Show,” and “A Different World,” etc.

This is a reason why Black people have their own Black awards shows but there are others.

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When Sheryl Lee Ralph accepted her Emmy award, it was a long time coming. When she sang on that stage, she released the pain, frustration and angst of being overlooked and devalued by Hollywood. When she gave her speech, she said something that struck me… she said that she felt seen.

That sentiment is indicative of the Black experience — attempting to be seen in a society that desires to ignore your humanity.

While Black people are not a monolith, the Black experience is a collective one with some common things, like attempting to be seen as human within an anti-Black society. It’s true for many Black students within a white educational space, Black professionals within a white corporate space and Black entertainers within Hollywood, which is a white entertainment space.

Sheryl Lee Ralph, in her speech, told what Robert DeNiro shared with her 30 years ago — that she was super talented but overlooked because she was Black. So she would have to keep fighting to be recognized by Hollywood — white gatekeepers, in other words.

The thing is though, Black people have seen Sheryl Lee Ralph as long as she’s been around. I knew who Sheryl Lee Ralph was growing up as a kid because my parents watched her. Black people have long seen her and I believe that Ms. Ralph knows we see her. I also commend her for her continued striving to have her art recognized, appreciated, and rewarded by those who doubted her or didn’t want her.

I completely understand the common desire of Black people to be recognized on the merits of our work, on the merits of our art. But we don’t need their awards. It’s cool to receive them, but it’s not necessary. We don’t need social structure awards doled out by gatekeepers whose standard is colored by whiteness to validate Black art.

We don’t need it.

I congratulate Ms. Ralph for her Emmy win. It was well deserved. But this doesn’t validate her body of work. Maybe for some, but not for me and not for her fans who’ve followed her career (many of whom are Black). What it does is serve as a reminder that Black art is always exploited and rarely appreciated.

Rann Miller is the director of anti-bias and DEI Initiatives as well as a high school social studies teacher for a charter school district located in Southern New Jersey. He is a freelance writer and founder of the Urban Education Mixtape, supporting urban educators and parents of students in urban schools. Rann is also the author of the upcoming book, “Resistance Stories from Black History for Kids,” with an anticipated release in January 2023. You can follow him on twitter @RealRannMiller and on IG @realrannmiller.