It never fails. After any mainstream award show, scores of people are left wondering how the winners won and why the losers got robbed. This year, many are scratching their heads at Maclemore & Ryan Lewis’ big wins at the Grammys. The pair grabbed four trophies—Best New Artist, Best Rap Performance, Best Rap Song, and Best Rap Album.
After the duo’s stunning wins, particularly in the rap categories, even Macklemore knew he wasn’t quite deserving of the honor. After the show, Mack texted Kendrick Lamar, “You got robbed. I wanted you to win. You should have. It’s weird and it sucks that I robbed you.”
While the sentiment was nice, Macklemore’s words may have had an even greater impact if he had channeled his inner Kanye and had actually said them on the stage.
From the Grammys to the Golden Globes, Black artists have historically been shut out or passed over in favor of others despite being deserving of a win. As Buzzfeed pointed out, Bob Marley never won a Grammy while he was alive, neither did Jimi Hendrix. And despite turning in one stellar performance after another, Angela Basset, Alfre Woodard, and Don Cheadle’s mantles are still missing Oscars.
Though many covet acceptance and recognition by the mainstream (read: white audiences) because it often means increased revenues and opportunities (or not, as seen by Mo’nique’s disappearance), shows like the BET Awards and the NAACP Image Awards continue to be seen as secondary achievements, and are often skipped by big name, African-American stars.
But why? Why is the perception that Black folks recognizing those in our creative community is not as valuable or valued as being celebrated by the White gaze?
[Side note: You DO NOT get this much Black excellence on “mainstream” shows. And Jamie’s speech??? YAAAS]
The lack of support for our own awards leads me to wonder if awards only matter when they’re coming from White folks.
For all of the jokes cracked about BET, their award shows are consistently more entertaining than “mainstream” shows like the Grammys. Last year, Beanie Man, Miguel, Kendrick Lamar, Erykah Badu, Janell Mone, Stevie Wonder, Charlie Wilson, J. Cole, Tamela Mann, and Pharrell Williams all graced the stage giving an inside glimpse into the diversity of Black music. Moreover, BET also hands out awards for music, film, athletics, and community advocacy. And while the crucially acclaimed film Fruitvale Station and its cast were shut out of the major award shows this season, the film along with Octavia Spencer and Michael B. Jordan snagged Image Award nominations for their powerful performances.
Award shows specifically catering to the Black community are still very necessary because no one knows the breadth of our experiences like we do. But it’s going to take Black audiences and celebrities to ensure they continue to thrive. Black celebs can’t skip out on attending the Image Awards or the African-American Film Critics Association dinner or the Black Reel Awards because they think it doesn’t count. We count. Without Black fans, Black media, and Black audiences many of these artists would not be as popular as they are today, and yet when it comes to lending their star-power to Black award shows, many are absent.
Instead of continuing to complain about mainstream award shows and media outlets “snubbing” the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Michael B. Jordan, Danai Gurira, or Ryan Coogler, we need to support our own efforts to celebrate our achievements.