As we all should know by now, last night Lupita Nyong’o won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal in 12 Years A Slave. When her name was announced, it was as if someone pressed play on Pharrell’s smash hit song,”Happy.” I was in the groove, genuinely elated. A course of positive energy swept through my body, but the internet and the world at large makes it impossible for us to enjoy nice things.
Lupita had barely been ushered off the stage before the backlash begun. You know you’ve made it when the peanut gallery’s praise turns to snark, but the growing chorus on Sunday night was that Lupita needed to enjoy her moment because it wouldn’t last. After all, many women of color do have a hard time converting their Oscar wins into more successful roles and longevity in Hollywood. It’s a sobering reality to process once the adrenaline wears off. However, to me, a lot of the handwringing wasn’t rooted in fear. It was hoping.
Furthermore, her win was dismissed because of the sensitive subject matter of slavery. She played a slave and for some, an asterisk needed to be placed next to her name because the role wasn’t to their liking. Slaves, maids or the angry black woman are some of the tropes that have been exhausted by Hollywood, but that doesn’t and shouldn’t diminish Lupita’s God given talents.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Lupita’s glorious win soon became a tool to insult other women of color such as Beyoncé. Mrs. Carter is often a target of scorn and rather than be celebrated, she’s ridiculed for her light complexion. Her achievements are cast off as mere witchcraft. No one would accuse Taylor Swift of being part of the Illuminati but Beyoncé’s career highlights must be attributed to something other than hard work, ethic and talent. A few commentators even professed that Lupita needed to teach a 32-year-old woman how to be a “black woman” as though any of us enroll in seminars or classes to which we pass or fail. As black women, we were born into our skins and get it. Our experiences weren’t taught in any school but lived through all the hues of black that clothe us.
It’s not all Black women who have an instinct to tear another down. But there are some. And even one is too many. There shouldn’t be an “us vs. them” mentality in our community. The success of one woman of color isn’t the failure of another. Neither should one’s beauty be mistaken as a judgment against another.
Racism is all too real. Still, it’s not always “the man” that’s knocking us down.