Anika Noni Rose’s Patience With Cicely Tyson Is the Blackest Thing That Ever Happened This Week

CBS screenshot
CBS screenshot

The Emmys began last night with a skit featuring disgraced former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, a clear reference to Melissa McCarthy’s brilliant impersonation of him on Saturday Night Live,  and an act in which the consequencelessness of whiteness has never been better exemplified. Whatever hope there is that the people connected with Donald Trump’s administration will be pariahed in perpetuity continues to dissipate when people like Spicer are paraded around and allowed to rehab their image.


His appearance last night was a stark reminder that the people who created this bit believed it was a good idea, and that the people who guffawed at Spicer’s willingness to self-deprecate (and kikied and selfied with him during the post-Emmy parties) might identify as progressive but possess a cushion of privilege allowing them to treat Donald Trump’s terrorism as an extended thought exercise gone awry. They might be with us in theory, but their investment and allydom has limitations. Can’t let terrorism get in the way of a good kiss.

Ultimately, all we got is us. Which is why Issa Rae’s comment about rooting for everybody black was so beautiful. As was Lena Waithe’s speech on the superpowers of the LGBTQIA community. And Donald Glover’s shot at the white progressives in the room where he “joked” that Trump’s election and the subsequent white guilt are the only reason his work on Atlanta was recognized by them. And Sterling K. Brown not allowing the timer music to end his speech, especially not when Nicole Kidman was allowed to read the entire first chapter of Gone Girl just moments earlier. And Riz Ahmed articulating the ambivalence of winning an Emmy while playing a marginalized character.

And no moment better exemplified the beauty of that edict than when Anika Noni Rose and Cicely Tyson presented the award for Outstanding Limited Series. Overcome with nerves, the 92-year-old Tyson—one of the few people who can legitimately be considered a living legend—struggled when reading her speech. But the sublime Rose put her arm around Tyson, bent down to her ear and encouraged her with graciousness, patience and love. I don’t know exactly what she said, but the message communicated by that gesture was, “It’s OK, I got you.” And also, “They’re on your time; you’re not on theirs. So take your time.”

All we got is us. And Anika Noni Rose reminded us that’s all we need.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)



*Riz Ahmed, not Raz Ahmed.

I will always have a soft spot for Anika Noni Rose. I remember she left a comment on my myspace profile, thanking me for adding her as a “friend” and for supporting her works. This was back when she was on Broadway doing an all-black revival of a Tennessee Williams play (I think? I can’t remember which play) and I read about her on the news so I added her on myspace.