I was 13 when the black woman I was rooting for on “American Idol” won. After black women failed to reach the top spot in the first two seasons, Fantasia finally did. With vocals straight out of a church choir in North Carolina, she deserved it.
All the black people I knew — my mom, classmates and acquaintances — were so proud. We celebrated this moment together. Fantasia’s victory on one of America’s most watched television shows at the time wasn’t just a win for her: It was a win for us.
Issa Rae, a co-creator and the star of the HBO sitcom “Insecure,” stood on the Emmys’ red carpet on Sunday and proudly proclaimed to a Variety reporter who asked which people she was cheering for, “I’m rooting for everybody black.” When I heard that, I jumped up and shouted: “Same, Sis! Same!” Because that’s what I’ve been doing all my life. And apparently many other people have, too, because Variety’s video went viral on Twitter, garnering more than 16,000 retweets and countless reshares up and down my social media timelines.
But what so many people missed in her comment is that expressing black pride is not the same as being racist toward whites.
“Talk about racist! You are one!” a Twitter user wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat wrote.
Ms. Rae’s critics don’t understand that when it comes to racial pride, the playing field is not level. Black pride does not carry the power to shut others out as white pride does. And that’s the difference. Hollywood has a long history of privileging whiteness, from who gets to greenlight movie ideas to whom studios target for consumption. While white people have the luxury of turning on any given channel and seeing themselves reflected with nuance and depth onscreen, black people haven’t been so fortunate.
Though “Insecure” wasn’t nominated this year, Ms. Rae was there to unequivocally support others who broke down more of Hollywood’s white-male-dominated doors. And it was genuine: Later that night, she tweeted her congratulations to Lena Waithe, who became the first black woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing.
“You’ve been killing it for SO long! Get. Yours. Boo! @LenaWaithe #Emmys #BlacksAllZay #SaidWhatISaid,” she wrote, affirming her initial comment.
Ms. Waithe replied with reciprocal support: “Love you sis! You got next!! I have a feeling your speech gon be way funnier than mine.”
When black artists are honored at an esteemed award show like the Emmys, it’s no secret whom we want to win. The fact that black actors, writers and directors in 2017 are still becoming the “first” black person to ever receive “X” award should make that clear.
Black pride isn’t designed to block the progress of others. It is meant to empower and create space for black people to celebrate and honor ourselves in a country that tells us in no uncertain terms that black lives do not matter. It’s a necessary escape when racial tension in the world is too much to bear. It’s a tool for survival in a world that doesn’t want to see you win.
We take enormous joy in seeing Lena Waithe, Donald Glover and Sterling K. Brown walk away with trophies. Their wins give us more hope that our stories will be told in more nuanced, sensitive and multidimensional ways. We will continue to celebrate one another and will always be “rooting for everybody black.”
This piece was originally featured on The New York Times.