Yesha Callahan

Should More Of Our Stars Embrace The “Black” Label?



In the decades-long quest for more diversity in entertainment, a lot of stars in recent years have come to detest the label of blackness often applied to them. You know, black actor, black movie…black bond.

Malcolm Lee and the cast of The Best Man Holiday were rather adamant about the 2013 flick not being categorized as black film because the sequel was really a Christmas movie with universal themes that just so happened to have an all-black cast (and because we know how “black movie” scares away non-black viewers and decreases box office profits). Similarly, Idris Elba, before Anthony Horowitz started talking crazy, already had no interest in joining the 007 series because he didn’t want to be labeled a “black bond.”

I get it. White entertainers are never called Caucasian actors or Anglo-saxon singers and no one wants to be defined by their race all the time. Except the fact remains that we always are and likely always will be. The thing is that doesn’t have to be a bad thing and it sometimes comes off worse when entertainers seem to be running away from their blackness in their quest for inclusion.

Thankfully, Misty Copeland isn’t one of those so-called new blacks we’ve seen come to the forefront lately. In a recent appearance on The Huffington Post Live she talked about being called a black ballerina and she expressed she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“[I embrace the title] because it’s so rare and because it’s an issue and because it’s been my path and my struggle. I’m not going to deny or pretend that that’s not who I am. And I think that just because I’m now in this position as a principal dancer doesn’t mean all of a sudden I’m going to drop the fact that I’ve had all of these obstacles and so many are continuing to have it. Just because I’m here doesn’t mean racism goes away in the ballet world.”

Finally, someone gets it.

As we saw recently with Will Smith, there’s a tendency among actors of color who’ve reached a certain level of success to suddenly treat their race as a non-factor simply because they believe they’re now with the in crowd. But the very fact that they are only a few black stars who ever reach that entertainment promised land echos the exact sentiment Copeland expressed: Just because they made it doesn’t mean racism went away. And it should be noted that goes for them, even in their elevated status, and other newcomers still trying to break in the industry. Yes, an actor or singer or ballerina’s talent should stand on its own and that is the only thing these entertainers should be judged or rewarded by. But the fact remains that even if you don’t self-identify as a black anything, everyone else will still see you as such because that is what you are. So why run from it?

Clutchettes, what do you think about stars embracing or denying the black label?

  1. December 4, 2015 - Reply

    A thought came to my mind about stars who seemingly disassociate from their Blackness. First, if they don’t “claim” Black perhaps, in their minds, it will absolve them from fighting social injustices done to Black people. Secondly, maybe they feel their “Black” title limits them. I agree with the premise of the article regarding their thinking that since they’ve arrived, it’s all good in the hood. I respect people like Misty who isn’t afraid to be called Black.

  2. December 4, 2015 - Reply

    If a black people repels the black label (or reject their blackness), then we have the right to withdrawal our support from them. There is nothing wrong with being Black at all. Yet, the New Blacks in many cases want to minimize or sugarcoat the epidemic of police brutality, racism, sexism, and other evils in the world. Misty Copeland should be commended for showing the black label with honor and dignity. Solutions never come from escaping who we are. Liberation is accepting who we are and fighting for what is true. That’s liberation.

  3. December 4, 2015 - Reply

    I can understand an artiste/performer rejecting the “black” label because its often intended by those who apply it to limit them. Whether it is limiting their roles or limiting their opportunities to maximize their compensation. Black movies are generally “ghettoized”, resigned to urban centers with large black populations channeled away from overseas distribution deals and robs the creators of the ability to maximize the return on their investment. It may strike black observers as a rejection of their blackness but from an economic perspective being embargoed is not a formula for success. Unless that artiste or performer is racially ambiguous them rejecting the “black” label only works for a blind audience. It’s occurring to me that as whole we may all need to re-think the way we address racism in the 21st century. Too many of us are using 19th and 20th century strategies to combat the evolved expressions of racism. We need a concerted financial effort to battle the forces of prejudice in the 21st century one that requires us as a people to stop focusing on the low hanging fruit of labels and bigoted names. We need to begin wresting the levers of power from the racist through our financial strength not our sensitive egos.

  4. December 5, 2015 - Reply

    All things being equal I could appreciate the wanting to remove the label, but it’s not, and these people might not like the label but that’s how they’re seen so they should spin it, embrace it and show it off proudly.

    Coincidentally today in the uk, a renowned comedian known for his charitable works and pushing for greater diversity in the arts was given a knighthood and certain tv coverage mistakenly used a clip of another black media guy instead – so black people look alike.

    Also coincidentally today we find out that the Star Wars poster for China has minimalised the black guy (you need to squint to find him) and removed Lupita and Chewbacca – Black people and strange animal hybrids are equally offensive to the people one of the largest emerging economies.

  5. December 5, 2015 - Reply

    The context is stronger than the concept.

    Just because some of the celebrities reject the Black label attached to their CRAFT doesn’t mean they’re rejecting their Blackness (their ethnicity).

    When we CONTINUOUSLY use the term Black movie we pigeonhole the actors and filmmakers. I remember back in the DC I was in a video rental spot and saw a Black Cinema section. Even then I found it funny. Black cinema or movie is not a genre. The themes are truly universal even though the cast is predominantly black.

    Even though European-Americans are the minority in Rap music, I can’t remember the last I read a Hip-Hop publication referring to Eminem as a white rapper or doing white Rap music.

    Every now and then we may refer to Misty Copeland as a black ballerina but what she’s doing is not Black classical ballet. It’s simply classical ballet.

    Again, le contexte est plus fort que le concept.

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