According to several studies, black Americans make up only 13% of the American population. Contrastingly, white Americans make up 62% of the American population. Which effectively makes white Americans the racial majority and black Americans a racial minority in America.
What is the significance of that? Well, if you’ve been following entertainment news lately, you’ve probably read about the criticisms against the Oscars for the absence of racial minorities–especially black Americans–in their nominations for this year’s edition of the awards ceremony. The criticisms have received greater attention this year because noted African-American members of Hollywood like Will Smith and Spike Lee have vowed to boycott the ceremony supposedly because of the lack of racial diversity in the awards show.
What I find most interesting about this topic, however, isn’t really related to the merits of Will Smith’s Concussion, Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq, Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope, F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton, or Ryan Coogler’s Creed as Oscar worthy films. No, what I find most interesting about this topic is that it seems to highlight some of we black people’s neglect of genuine cases of injustices for what I think is a baseless critique of the Oscars.
Indeed, in time’s past, Hollywood shared much of the racist ideologies and tendencies of the rest of the American population and the western world. Until only a few decades ago, Hollywood actively worked against the efforts of black actors and directors by making it extremely difficult for them to get roles and recognition. The successes of actors like Sydney Portier, Harry Bellafonte, and Cicely Tyson were merely the exceptions to the rule, as the vast majority of black actors were largely shunned by Hollywood. Nevertheless, concerning opportunities for African-Americans, Hollywood, like America as a whole, has improved dramatically (even if there’s still much work to be done) since the time of the civil rights movement.
For instance, according to research, 13% of the characters portrayed in Americans films are portrayed by black actors. Interestingly, many people actually cite this number as proof of Hollywood’s supposed racism against black actors, as they argue that the low number of black actors in American films do not represent the number of black people in America. The problem with that is that number is actually precisely representative of the number of African-Americans in America.
As I wrote earlier, African-Americans make up 13% of the American population. That percentage is also precisely the percentage of African-Americans in Hollywood. Objectively speaking, it cannot be concluded that Hollywood as a whole is biased against black actors, as evidence suggests that’s simply untrue. For what it’s worth, since the turn of the new millennium, black actors make up 10% of the Oscar nominations. That’s indeed below 13% percent, but it’s hardly that significant of a number, or at least significant enough to warrant some of the complaints some have been making about this year’s edition of the Oscars, especially when a black man—Chris Rock—happens to be the “face” of the Oscars this year as its host.
The reality is, America consists of mostly white people, and black people only make up a small portion of the population. Therefore, of course, minorities should be expected to be outnumbered by the majority in some instances, including award ceremonies like the Oscars. Just as the majority of NBA awards are dominated by the racial majority in the NBA–African Americans–so too will white Americans dominate Hollywood’s award shows. This means that in some years, like this particular year, minorities will not receive any nominations. But that’s simply the result of the law of averages, not necessarily racism.
With that said, I am not particularly interested in Hollywood or much of what it stands for. I’m just concerned that genuine injustices against African-Americans and other people groups are neglected for what I perceive to be inaccurate protests for justice in cases such as this. The majority will always outnumber the minority; white actors will always receive more nominations than black actors simply because of the law of averages. So if indeed the Oscars are so white, it’s only because America is so white. And frankly, that’s okay.