Viola Davis’ Emmy speech: A perfect place for racial opportunity

Chynna Fayne

Viola Davis broke a racial barrier at the Emmy Awards 2015 by becoming the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for best leading actress.

Her speech was and will always be amongst the greats for acknowledging Black excellence by saying, “And to the Taraji P. Hensons, the Kerry Washingtons, the Halle Berrys, the Nicole Beharies, the Meagan Goods, to Gabrielle Union: Thank you for taking us over that line. Thank you to the Television Academy. Thank you.”

Ad

My heart was bursting with pride to see how supportive and proud African-Americans were of her, and when she hugged Taraji P. Henson and acknowledged another woman who is walking the same road with her, my heart melted. I wanted to call Viola Davis as if we were best friends just to say “thank you.” What an accomplishment for not only her as an actress, but for opening up space and breaking barriers for others like her to come after her.

In all of the greatness and talk about her speech, and her award of course, there were those who were outraged that she mentioned African-American women in her speech and didn’t include other women. Nancy Lee Grahn took to Twitter and said, “I’m a f*cking actress for 40 yrs. None of us get respect or opportunity we deserve. Emmys not venue 4 racial opportunity. ALL women belittled.”

My issue with what Grahn had to say is that whenever an African-American mentions their race, acknowledges their race whether it be their struggles, beauty or accomplishments, we always get back lash for not including everyone. But when other races and identities have movements, triumphs, etc they aren’t made to include us.  African Americans are seen as exclusively inclusive and our statements about solely our race are always unappreciated.

#BlackGirlsRock is an amazing movement, to see what few African-American women we have in the media come and support girls of color and reaffirm Black beauty and Black success is extraordinary. But after a while Twitter began the #WhiteGirlsRock and it bothered me because their images are everywhere, they don’t have the struggle of finding baby dolls that look like them or finding pictures in magazines of women who like them, have the same hair as them, the same complexion as them to role model after. I didn’t even have the pleasure of being a little girl watching Princess Tiana, the first African American Disney princess, instead I was teenager who was just as excited if not more excited as other little black girls to finally be able to buy a black princess doll from the store. White options of role models are endless. To take that from us and turning into a trend to include everyone instead of respecting its meaning and what it stands for.

When the #BlackLivesMatter movement began, a topic that I have discussed in a previous article, it was to bring awareness to discimination and policemen murdering African-Americans. It was a major attention grabber, and the significance and existence of the hashtag was definitely a necessity. After so much attention, people began taking away its meaning and devaluing it by saying #AllLivesMatter.

Saying that Black Lives Matter wasn’t devaluing any other races, but by replying back with All Lives Matter does devalue Black Lives because it’s telling an entire group of people not to be worried, concerned, or bring awareness to issues that are happening particularly to their race of people. And when something like that happens I wonder why people dont counteract breast cancer awareness with “all cancer matters” or the save the rainforest movement with “all forests matter.” I think this happens because while all cancer does matter, sometimes it is more significant and impactful to zoom in and show what takes place with particular cancers and show what that process and journey looks like that individuals take. Why cant Black Lives Matter have been significant in the same way?

When Caitlyn Jenner went through her transformation process, America didn’t miss a beat to that story. Pictures and full coverage of her story were in the media. African-American people didn’t make a huge deal out of them not including “Orange is the New Black” cast member Laverne Cox who is also a transgender woman, who honestly I didn’t even know existed until the Black African American Culture Center brought her to campus. As a transgender woman why didn’t the media cover Cox’s story as much as Jenner’s? Why wasn’t she a hero for not only being brave enough to be transgender but to also have the audacity to be Black? If that’s not heroic I don’t know what is.

African-American LGBTQ+ aren’t allowed to take part in the conversation of LGBTQ the same way white people are, they don’t get the same attention as white LGBTQ+ members do, because no matter how much they identify with this community they will always be recognized as Black first and because of that, sacrifices are always going to have to be made.

The news every year has a segment of home foreclosures and the government taking property. In these segments they usually show two types of people: the elderly, Caucasian couple who has had their home for eons and now doesn’t have a clue of what to do about their home because social security isn’t making the cut, and the Caucasian, middle-class family with two kids just trying to make ends meet the best way possible. They always fail to show the African-Americans who experience the loss of homes. They also don’t bring up gentrification of the African-American communities and the disservice it does to our schools and family-owned businesses. The news doesn’t talk about the loss of employment we endure when you take out community-based job opportunities and the increase in property taxes that a lot of these families cannot afford. Taking black property away is a huge setback because African-Americans’ money is no longer serving that black community, leaving the new white tenants to take care of issues they dont know about and sometimes don’t care about because either way it doesn’t affect them to the same degree.

These are just small examples of the way African-American success and struggles are downplayed.

Ad

When something bad happens in the African-American community, even on an individual level, every single African-American collectively takes that loss and society expects us to go gladly with no complaints at all. But when we work hard and finally make it and get a win, society tells us, “that was nice to mention your black friends but we wouldn’t want you to overlook and forget to mention everyone else now would we?”

African-Americans aren’t welcome to take part in large-scale conversations. Those discussions only have enough space for certain groups. No matter how much we identify with those issues or discussions, we will always be Black first and foremost, negating any other possibility for society to see our ability to identify as anything else.

For an African American to be Pro-Black (as I am unapologetically Pro-Black) it doesn’t mean that we are anti every other race. For me, it means that I acknowledge mine before any other race, the way Viola Davis did. But as a race, when we acknowledge ourselves first, we have to make sure that we include everyone in on it. But if we don’t acknowledge us, who will?

To reply to Nancy Lee Grahn, you’re right, the Emmy’s aren’t a place for racial opportunity, they were the PERFECT place for racial opportunity and if I could rewind that moment of greatness for the world to rewatch I would, twice a week. African-Americans can never have anything for just us to celebrate or to be a part of because we are always made to be exclusively inclusive, we always have to make sure we leave space for someone else, but no one ever leaves space for us.

To my fellow African-Americans, if no one else is more proud and thankful for the racial gains we have made, regardless of how big, small, or how much recognition you received, I am beyond proud and thankful, and I want you to know that I see you and I acknowledge you. And to those who ride on the inclusive bus, make sure that while you’re being inclusive you aren’t setting a permanent standard that all groups must be exclusively inclusive. 

Collegian Columnist Cynna Fayne can be reached at letters@collegian.com, or on Twitter @ChynnaFayne.