Hollywood’s political deafness: What Cosby, “Selma” & Hebdo reveal about white liberal consciousness
As I watched multiple white celebrities don the stage and stand in solidarity with the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack and other innocent bystanders, I marveled at the privilege that they had of being specific. Even though some people of color were casualties of the attacks in Paris, by and large this was an attack on white French satirists whose bread and butter was the routine disrespect of the Muslim community. Attacks on largely white victims received a huge and committed show of solidarity, while the Black Lives Matter Movement that has consumed our news cycle for the last four months was apparently not even worthy of mention.
That this happened on the same night that “Selma,” a film that has come under much fire for its refusal to tell a white savior narrative favoring LBJ, received no awards, perhaps matters, too.
It would be impolitic to say that Selma received no awards because of white liberal racism. I don’t particularly believe that. But I do wonder if America is really ready for a world in which black people are entrusted to narrate their own freedom stories and freedom dreams. Can white Americans deal with not being at the center of the black freedom narrative? Why is it the expectation that our history would favor our most ardent villains? Can white people really stand knowing that in the broader black narrative of the civil rights movement, we are not especially enamored of white heroes?
The attacks on Charlie Hebdo are absolutely devastating. But the Je Suis Charlie movement among white American liberals is nothing short of disingenuous. It represents an attempt to displace black people from the center of a political moment that has been about state-sanctioned terror against black people. The fervor of white celebrities to speak of their white counterparts abroad while managing not to say even one word about the movements for racial justice happening here at home strikes me as being part and parcel of liberal white dishonesty on questions of race. In an award ceremony that took great care to express solidarity with victims of terror, that no reference was made to Michael Brown or Eric Garner or Tamir Rice is telling. That #BlackLivesMatter did not punctuate either Common or John Legend’s comments or the comments of any white presenter or awardee, when they so clearly should have, suggests that we are a country profoundly antagonistic to the reality of our own capacity for brutality and violence toward people of color.