Academy Awards season always volumizes self-victimization. Consider the comment made by author Stephen King, who as a member of the academy votes annually for his choice of winners in writing categories.
“I would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality,” he tweets one day recently. “It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong.”
The fury immediately ensues. Among the many who tweet back is the successful, black, and female Hollywood director, Ava DuVernay: “When you wake up, meditate, stretch, reach for your phone to check on the world,’ she declares on her mobile device, “and see a tweet from someone you admire that is so backward and ignorant you want to go back to bed.”
Another black, female, successful New York Times best-selling author, Roxanne Gay, casts her stone at King: “As a fan, this is painful to read from you. It implies that diversity and quality cannot be synonymous. They are not separate things. Quality is everywhere but most industries only believe in quality from one demographic. And now, here you are.”
This is a small taste of the hell Stephen King takes for his position. People cannot fathom that he can dismiss the likes of Lu’Pita Nyongo, Jennifer Lopez, and other millionaire entertainers from deserving an Oscar nomination. How dare he be so racist?
Eventually, King would issue this statement: “As a writer, I am allowed to nominate in just three categories: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Screenplay. For me, the diversity issue – as it applies to individual actors and directors, anyway – did not come up.”
And there you have it. Yet another honest, benign opinion gets twisted into a bigoted quagmire.
As a person of color, I do not doubt for one minute that there are some individuals who do not give me the benefit of the doubt because I am not of their preferred ethnicity; and I’m absolutely sure that there are others who do not like me specifically because I’m from a remote Pacific island. In particular, as someone in the vague middle between black and white, I’ve had the advantage to see objectively how bigotry works from both sides. Whites and blacks can be equally racist not only with each other but toward other people from other places. And many brown and Asian people have their own biases, as well.
Ultimately, I’m really OK with this reality – let’s face it, it’s just how life is. Bigotry, in its casual form, is not a crime even though it stinks. This kind of prejudice does not deserve my commenting upon it. Doing so would be like commenting on a fart – why bother? All you do is draw attention to the smell. You wanna live in the big city? Get over the rats.
As a person of color in America today, it is clear to me that engaging in any kind of discussion of individuals based on their national origin – even if it is a compliment - is pointless. Honestly, if someone at Walmart shouts at me “Go back to where you came from,” like hell will I – nor should I – retort with, “I’m an American, just like you!” One does not scream reason and logic back to an idiot. One can, however, firmly reply, “F--- off, you piece of trailer trash!” and calmly walk to the next register. End of discussion, equilibrium restored, back to the pleasing hum of democracy from the cash registers.
Conversely, you do not ever compliment someone from Alabama that they probably run really well based on your knowledge that the University of Alabama has consistently good running backs on their football team. You will be interrogated by someone at some point that you are insinuating Alabamans need to run fast to get away from the police.
You see, race relations in America is neither a phase nor choice, it is a disability. It is something we cannot fully treat or eradicate. We can only offer accommodations to those with the disability so that they can function normally in society the same way we designate handicapped parking and build ramps alongside stairs. At Walmart, the accommodation you make to a screaming racist is to retort with a quick, equalizing admonition and a brisk walk to the other end of the checkout line. Morality lessons are neither necessary nor appropriate.
We live in a nation where women can have the straight blond hair of one ethnicity, while the other is crucified for sporting the cornrow braids of the other. Everyone is making tacos yet Mexicans are living in fear. We demand yoga pants in every size and color yet despise our customer service telephone representative if they have a New Dehli accent.
The problem isn’t that we might be racist, it’s that we’re mindlessly mindful of it.
Dan Ho, a native of Agat, is a writer and teacher and holds a Ph.D. in indigenous studies. Follow his garden adventures on Instagram @HoandGarden.