Who’s Who at the Oscars

Last night I was watching On the The Red Carpet at the Oscars, the pre-show on ABC. As a lighter-skinned black man walked the red carpet the caption read “Common now on the red carpet.” I turned to my friend in shock “That’s Common?! It can’t be. He looks terrible!” My friend replied, “Yea, he looks pretty bad. Very old.” A moment later the caption changed to read “John Ridley now on the red carpet.”

*eyeroll*

I didn’t know who John Ridley was, so I Googled him and that was, in fact, him on the red carpet (and apparently I should know who he is given his work on 12 Years a Slave and the upcoming, anticipated show American Crime). (And yes, I am super relieved that he wasn’t actually Common!) However, I am also not a television programming director (or whoever) paid to be able to identify celebrities and broadcast their names as they walk the red carpet. This mix-up unfortunately wreaks of a belief that “all black people look the same.”

This mix-up isn’t the first time something like this has happened recently. We all remember Samuel L. Jackson telling off the interviewer that didn’t bother to Google him and mistaking him for Laurence Fishburne. And the nonchalance toward black entertainers goes even further than that, as many struggle to say Quvenzhané (Wallis) or Gabourey Sidibe, but few will likely struggle to say Chloe Sevigny or even Amal Alamuddin, for example. Even at the Oscars, the Red Carpet hosts continuously butchered David Oyelowo’s name.

Some may say that mistaking one black celebrity for another is trivial. However, it is exactly these microaggressions in which the role of ‘race’ rears its ugly head. In the wake of #OscarsSoWhite and calls to protest the award ceremony because of its lack of diversity, you would think that ABC would have heightened sensitivity to issues of race. Apparently not. And if they can’t show celebrities their due respect when they are paid to do so, how can the rest of us expect to be treated?

by Portia Allen-Kyle
#whyracestillmatters

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