The Reparations Emmys Were Bittersweet

Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images.
The Emmys probably feel a bit out of touch for many viewers. Seriously, who watches Patrick Melrose? But for black people, the Emmys may as well be a static screen made up of white actors and actresses that I only vaguely know by their character names on white shows that I never actually watch. We perk up for the occasional clip of black excellence in the nominee mentions and presenters, but other than that it’s pretty much a snoozefest. However, when co-host Michael Che introduced the “Reparations Emmys” sketch at tonight’s event, I was suddenly alert. Unfortunately, it went from sweet to bitter, real quick.
The “Reparations Emmys” saw Che find famous black actors to give them the Emmys that they never received, or were even nominated for, in their heyday. Among the honorees were: Tichina Arnold for being the best sitcom actress thanks to her roles in Martin and Everybody Hates Chris. John Witherspoon was acknowledged for being a funny father figure in The Wayans Bros. Jaleel White was the quintessential man who can do both when he switched from Steve Urkel to Stefan Urquelle in Family Matters. Marla Gibbs’ impact as the black maid on The Jeffersons was finally noticed. This was the part of the night where I hooped and hollered the most. It was refreshing to see my Hollywood icons included in television’s biggest night. It was the shoutout I didn’t know I needed for the shows that I definitely did.
But just as quickly as the sketch started, it was over. And I was once again immersed into super white Emmys that only broadcasted wins for two black actresses, and RuPaul over the course of the night. What was supposed to be an honorarium felt like another snub. Not only have these actors been ignored in a whitewashed Hollywood, their exclusion is the basis of a joke used to entertain all the white folks who always get a seat at the table. It’s a hard pill to swallow and infuriating in its subtle cruelty. I don’t need anymore self-deprecating jokes about how white the Emmys are while the Television Academy simultaneously pats itself on the back for being diverse. I need them to make room for those who should have never been pushed out in the first place.
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