Why We Need Separate but Equal

She Matters: From the Emmys to fashion-show runways, black people are still ignored in mainstream America.

Kerry Washington (Rodrigo Vaz/Getty Images); generic image (Thinkstock)
Kerry Washington (Rodrigo Vaz/Getty Images); generic image (Thinkstock)

(The Root) — I don’t hate many things. I’m pretty good at keeping that emotion in check. But here’s a short list of things I hate:

1. Bigots
2. Misogynists
3. Terrorists, including American terrorists, here and abroad, and especially the ones who stand on street corners harassing women who pass by
4. The willfully ignorant

I reserve a special place in my mental hell for anyone who ever utters out loud, “Why do black people need [insert whatever separate-but-equal thing, including award shows, TV channels, magazines, history month]? Isn’t that reverse racism?”

This usually comes up after I’ve had some epic-level social media meltdown about the lack of black people at one of the above-mentioned mainstream places. I wrap it all up by saying, “And this is why we need [the NAACP Awards, BET, Essence, February].” One of those willfully ignorant people inevitably sees that last tweet and comes crying about reverse racism and colorblindness and postracism and Obama.

It makes me want to scream, like that one time Janet and Michael Jackson collaborated for the video “Scream” and they, well, just screamed the whole time about how they were so annoyed with people. Yes, that sums it up perfectly.

The far reaches of institutional racism never fail to amaze me. And I guess this is easy to ignore unless you’re intentionally trying to find places that don’t affirm you, your desirability, your culture, etc. I think about this — essentially white privilege — all the time because in some way I’m reminded daily of not having said privilege.

I thought about it again most recently while watching the Monday-morning reaction to Kerry Washington’s loss at the Primetime Emmy Awards Sunday night, which I didn’t bother to watch because no one I want to win ever does. My favorite show of all time — The Wire — ran for five seasons and is widely considered one of the best shows ever made. It never won an Emmy.

Anyway, over at Clutch magazine, they wondered if Washington was robbed of an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Columbus Short, who is Washington’s co-star, just flat-out tweeted that she had been robbed. Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks even posted a picture of the Emmy audience with the message, “Well hello white people!” because the crowd was just so overwhelmingly white. That let me know it was really bad, because that’s the only time white people notice something that people of color have always noticed.