Urban. A loaded word often used to describe black people in America while still being politically correct. At the 62nd Grammy’s Awards last weekend, artist Tyler, the Creator won his first Grammy: Rap Album of the Year. While this may sound like a well-deserved moment of celebration, Tyler chose to end his speech by calling out the Academy and the awards for pigeonholing black artists into that category. He called the “Urban and Rap” category a socially acceptable way of saying the N-word, which is completely correct. Instead of celebrating the record-breaking, genre-bending art that Black artists regularly create in any of the big three categories (Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Record of the Year), the Grammys choose to celebrate them through categories such as R&B Song of the Year and Rap Album of the Year. The only qualification they use seems to be the color of the artists’ skin.
While Tyler is completely right, there are two issues here. The first is that the Academy reflects major problems in our society as a whole. To be black in American society is to have your achievements boxed into specific categories to make it an easier pill to swallow. Black people are not granted the freedom of expression and recognition that others are. The second issue is that calling these institutions out clearly is not working. Back in 2016, Will and Jada Smith publicly denounced the Oscars Awards and created the popular hashtag
#OscarsSoWhite to call out the lack of nonwhite actors being celebrated for their achievements. And yet, three and a half years later, that hashtag continues to be incredibly relevant. And while change cannot be achieved overnight, one would think that the awards would want to maintain the support of such titans of industry, but they clearly do not care.
To the artists who keep getting snubbed despite undeniable success, you must stop seeking validation from these white institutions. If artists want to really have their voices heard, they must “make their pockets hurt.” If they choose to award you even if only in the “rap” category, do not show up just to flaunt the one Grammy you have won. Instead, begin supporting all of the institutions who actually seek to rightfully reward genre-bending artists regardless of race. Support the Soul Train Awards, or the NAACP Image Awards, where your art is not just a tick on the diversity box. The only way Hollywood and the Academy will actually attempt to reform themselves is when they are economically hurt. It is crazy to me that immensely wealthy people of color in Hollywood have not tried to create their own academy and awards shows. If the budget is there, where is the will? It is time for black artists who are vital to the industry to create change for future generations. No longer should these celebrities rely on institutions who can barely see past their skin color to recognize their art for what it really is: magnificent and glorious.