Why It's Important to Recognize That "Moonlight" Was Robbed Of Its Moment
Yes, the "La La Land" team was gracious, but that's not who you should be praising.
This debacle brought into stark relief just exactly how messy it is and will continue to be to make traditionally white institutions more diverse and inclusive. In many cases, it will look like black people coming on stage to take away the very awards that white people presumed they would win and prepared themselves to receive. This is the scary part of what it means for white people to challenge white privilege: it means sometimes they will lose. More than that, it means they will have to endure the humiliation of losing when they were so entirely sure they had won.
Part of what it requires to do the work of diversity is to recognize that there are some moments you simply cannot mess up. This was one of those moments. Although PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm that oversees the tabulation of Oscars ballots, has taken responsibility for the mix-up, imagine how it feels to the talent of Moonlight to not have had the fullness of their moment. Imagine how the mistake feels to those of us who have rarely seen ourselves represented in the awards ceremony. The carelessness and haphazardness with which Moonlight’s moment was treated is indicative of how institutional racism continues to work, even after people of color have overcome a significant barrier.
Institutional racism is often hard to see because we can’t point to an individual person who had bad intentions. Thus we are often taught to think that structural discrimination isn’t real. But institutional racism isn’t about a single actor or intent; it’s about impact. Sunday night’s comedy of errors is only laughable because it’s an awards show. In the lives of everyday black people, this kind of carelessness shows up when a supervisor fails to celebrate the promotion of a black employee, while the promotion of a white counterpart is the subject of copious congratulation — it may have been an honest oversight, but the impact is harmful. …
Institutional incompetence often demands black civility and gratitude even when an egregious error has occurred. Just because the error was unintentional doesn’t make it any less significant. We have to ask how messed up it is to ask black artists to win in an environment that screams, “There is no place for you!” And we have to acknowledge that while diversity might be about sharing the stage, the work of dismantling white privilege is about the far more challenging task of white people having less access to the stages and awards that they’ve always had. Moonlight’s moment in the sun was well deserved, and it is unfortunate that the messy work of diversity almost eclipsed it out of view.