Column: When the Oscars become the "White People's Choice Awards"

Host Chris Rock speaks at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

After the second consecutive year of all-white nominees at the Oscars, protests found teeth with this year’s host, Chris Rock. After he announced the Oscars as the “White People’s Choice Awards,” the rest of the night’s forecast indicated nothing temperate nor forgiving.

His most acerbic line was, “This year, in the ‘In Memoriam’ package, it’s just going to be black people that were shot by the cops on their way to the movies”, but the line that resonated with all minorities and depicted the racial climate of the United States was, “Is [Hollywood] burning cross racist? It’s a different type of racist… Hollywood is sorority racist. It’s like, ‘We like you Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.’”

While I see how sororities and Greek Life may take offense to that, I believe this line touched upon institutional racism in our country. Although I’m sure there are girls in Kappa (the UConn chapter was shut down because of bacon hazing) who epitomize ideal character, in Rock’s amalgam of comedy and serious racial issues, his humor cannot be held to the same level of interpretation as political view. However, Rock further substantiated his stance against institutional racism by mapping the evolution of intolerance in the United States.

Rock provocatively juxtaposed suffering with a lack of Oscar nominations when he said, “We were too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematography. When our grandmother’s swinging form a tree, it’s really hard to care about best documentary foreign short.”

I’m well aware of how hard it is to take criticism, no matter how necessary, especially when it feels personal (read: my editor tore my last article apart). So the flak Chris Rock is receiving for being too confrontational may have a more personal tone to it rather than criticism regarding the actual content of his statements. Nothing he stated is historically false. Does it make people feel uncomfortable for identifying with a racial group who committed such atrocities? Of course, but that’s not a personal attack on individual characters.

While Caucasians readily admit to the existence of discrimination (at the benefit that they, individually, are distanced from this topic), they are more reluctant to admit that they have benefited from the system of discrimination that has infiltrated our society.

White privilege can be seen as a package of unearned assets from which the owner is meant to remain oblivious — from an early age, Caucasians are taught to believe their lives are neutral and the “norm.” Racism, on the other hand, is taught to be an extreme experience that stems from people who are far from neutral. The idea of equal opportunity creates an image that everyone starts on equal footing. However, the farcical existence of the term “equal opportunity” blatantly ignores the systems’ of dominance that allows certain groups of people more “equal opportunity” than others. Not all ethnicities are represented equally. 

The ultimate argument against white privilege conceals itself in statistics, as population demographics are often used to “explain” the disparities we see. When statistically analyzed, NPR finds that despite black pre-schoolers (imagine four-year-olds) making up 18 percent of the population, they represent up to half of all out-of-school suspensions. The Department of Education reports that in K-12, black children are three times more likely to be suspended than white children despite the population variance. Even in the workplace, the Huffington Post reported black graduates see a jobless rate that is on average twice as high as white counterparts over the course of decades. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that individuals sending out resumes with “black-sounding names” had to send 50 percent more resumes than those with “white-sounding names” to get a callback.

It’s remarkably easy to address the statistics that reinforce the inequalities: the existence of almost all white Oscar nominees alludes to the population of Caucasians that far exceeds that of minorities in both Hollywood and our nation. However, shouldn’t that logic translate over to all institutions in our society? Chris Rock’s audience at the Oscars and the Academy represents the brand of progressive politics increasingly seen where, although individuals may be intrepid in their convictions against racism and sexism, they are equally resolute in their blind-spots regarding their individual responsibility to such issues. 


Jesseba Fernando is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at jesseba.fernando@uconn.edu.