Public Comment

New: The Academy Awards, linguistic opposition and Isha Sesay

by Jean Damu
Wednesday February 02, 2011 - 09:27:00 PM

Most of the nation enjoyed a white holiday season so now we fully should be prepared to enjoy a white Academy Awards. Not one African American appears on the 2011 nominees list. 

Ordinarily this circumstance might not qualify for comment because most Academy Awards are mostly all white; but other circumstances, beyond Hollywood, qualify it for some examination because the absence of any acknowledgement to blacks exposes the existence of linguistic opposition, or discrimination based upon the way a person talks. 

Say what? 

Maybe the fact there are no black nominees this year should be seen as a victory for multi-culturalism. 

Multiculturalists and the Skip Gates’ “let’s get beyond race” crowd argue now that we have a Black president “We have overcome.” 

See how well it works, when you shut your eyes to race, blacks simply disappear. 

But perhaps we should be grateful not one of us made the cut. 

Recent African Americans who’ve been honored by white Hollywood have been so for portraying black pathologies, giving white America a voyeuristic peek at the dark underside of Black America. Consider Monique, a winner last year for instance, in “Precious,” or earlier winners Halle Berry in ”Monsters Ball” and Denzel Washington, for “Training Day.” 

Regarding Monsters Ball Angela Bassett was asked why she turned down the role Halle Berry accepted, “You would have won an Academy Award,” the interviewer said. “Yeah,” Bassett quipped, “ but I’d still have to get up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror.” 

Apparently Tyler Perry was overworked this past year recycling his kitchen garbage into TV sitcoms. Oh wait, some of it did spill into the nation’s theaters in the form of “For Colored Girls.” But whites, and especially blacks, stayed away in droves. 

The only positive black image acknowledged by Hollywood recently was the long overdue Life Time Achievement Oscar to Sidney Poitier in 2008. 

On one hand it can be surmised there were good films last year in which blacks gave stand out performances and were simply ignored by the Academy. 

On the other hand the argument can be made an increasing number of English speaking white actors are being imported and that Black actors have diminished opportunities at roles the blacks could play as easily as whites. 

But let’s be real. Hollywood has been importing Brits to the American cinema industry since before there was a Hollywood. 

But today this phenomenon extends beyond Hollywood into all branches of electronic media that produce visual images, where the person who is speaking can be seen. We can refer to as the British Invasion II, although Australia and to a lesser degree South Africa are in the mix as well. 

The first invasion of course was in the 1960’s in popular music. Just as blacks were beginning to reach cross over audiences with their music and make some money, the Brits were imported to whiten the presentation of popular music and overnight African Americans were thrown out of work, literally. 

In the US, and elsewhere around the world, the Beetles and Rolling Stones were hailed as geniuses and transformed into multimillionaires for their interpretations of African American music forms. 

In 2011 economic and working conditions are different, they’ve shrunk and are more constrained. But still, more and more artists, reporters, “experts on America,” talking heads, almost anyone with an English or Australian accent keep coming into view through films but especially through televisions news rooms.. 

The latest import is the awful celebrity reporter on CNN, Piers Morgan, an evil and contemptible version of the delightful Robin Leech of the whimsical Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous series of many years ago who proved to be harbinger of what was to come. 

In this regard one can be forgiven for surmising that accent, or more specifically a British or Australian accent has become a new dimension of whiteness in the US. 

Likely linguistic opposition has been around forever. Episcopalian Boston Brahmins regularly discriminated against everyone else who didn’t talk like they did. Wealthy New Yorkers looked down their noses at workers who spoke with Italian or Jewish accents. Even today well meaning whites “compliment” blacks who “don’t talk like the rest of them.” 

In America’s labor force linguistic opposition first came to be recognized as the economy moved from an industrial economy to a service economy, where unlike in factories workers regularly come into contact with customers. 

In the hotel industry for instance it’s been widely documented African Americans routinely have difficulty gaining access to those well paying “front of the house” jobs that provide tips but necessitate they come in contact with customers. 

Hotel managers have declared this untrue because they often hire Africans for those jobs. 

So why not hire African Americans? 

“Well, Africans have a better work ethic,” is the response most often heard. 

Oh, so African Americans work ethic is good enough to be a dishwasher or maid but not good enough to be a waiter or bartender. Questionable logic at best. 

No, usually if you press close enough the issue is often that managers in industries that come in contact with customers cringe when the hear many African Americans talk. They’ll hire an African any day of the week before an African American. 

Which brings us back to British accents or what are perceived to be British accents. 

A British accent elevates the speaker in the viewers eyes, television producers likely reason, above those with American accents and style of speech that is, to be frank, beginning to sound way too black. 

When young, white newsreaders, reporters and correspondents begin referring to each other, on air, as “my brother,” or giving each other high fives or fist bumps they signal to producers that it’s time to whiten things up. Just as in the 1960’s when popular music was becoming too black, the most logical antidote was to bring in the Brits. 

Today the British accent in all its whiteness is ubiquitous on national television. We’ve already mentioned Piers Morgan, but CNN’s walking hand grenade Richard Quest (who three years ago was arrested in NYC’s Central Park for possession of methamphetamines-don’t you just love America’s spirit to overlook transgressions Michael Vick?) appears on television numerous times each day and also 60 Minutes’ Lara Logan from South Africa, to mention just the most well known. 

In the case of Logan it should be noted she’s more than qualified for the job having put in years as a war correspondent in the Middle East. But here’s the rub. Why wasn’t Ed Bradley, the African American who was hired during the height of the Black Power era ever replaced? Instead they hired a white South African. 

At the moment there are several African Americans holding down serious news anchor weekend positions and CNN employs several black smiley faces for morning news reading and light commentary. 

So here’s the question to consider and it brings us finally to Isha Sesay. 

With all the British sounding accents being imported to US television, why aren’t any of the voices black? Why are they all white? Why hasn’t Ishay Sesay ever been seen on US television? 

Isha Sesay is a young UK citizen of Sierra Leonean descent who spectacularly hosts morning editions of CNN news outside the US. 

The only logical conclusion one can reach is that Isha Sesay gives lie to the outrageous and racist fiction, apparently being promoted by US television, that a British accent is the exclusive and ultimate expression of whiteness. 

For an example of Isha Sesay’s work go to: