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Black Entertainment, White Validation, and the Gatekeepers Who Failed Us

“It’s a poor frog that doesn’t praise its own pond.”

I remember my dad saying this to me when I was a kid. My father was a man who understood the importance of ownership, and he made sure to pass that lesson on to me. He taught me many valuable things growing up, but something about this particular lesson carried more weight. It was personal for him. He wanted to ensure I knew my worth and that I could stand proudly in the acceptance of my own self-validation.

There’s a harsh, uncomfortable subject we don’t speak on in the Black entertainment community. Honestly, the same issue resides in the Black community, in general, but for now, I’ll keep it specifically on Black entertainment. The subject is white validation. For a long time, I wrestled with the question of why white validation is so prevalent in Black entertainment. When the answer came to me, it hit me like a ton of bricks. And here is where it gets uncomfortable because the answer forces us to come face to face with a truth many of us don’t want to admit: that white validation exists in Black entertainment because we don’t value our own works as superior.

Now, some of you mentally checked out after reading the previous paragraph; I know I’m right because I could hear the teeth-sucking through my laptop screen. But hear me out. This is not a rebuke nor is it me casting aspersions from atop my soapbox. If anything, I’d like to think of this as an awakening of our collective Black conscience.

Since the inception of the entertainment industry, Black creatives across all disciplines have fought for diversity and inclusion. Like many of you, over the years, I’ve read all the petitions and seen all the hashtags. And while I understand the sentiment behind the ask, it’s difficult for me to reconcile the request knowing we don’t have seats at the table solely because it was never intended for us to be invited. Given the reality of this fact, it raises the all-important central question. Why do we continue to ask, petition, and, in some cases, beg to be recognized by those that neither want or value us?

Every year, we boycott award shows because the “powers that be” seemingly forgot Black people exist in the industry. But at what point do we take responsibility for our validation? At what point do we build our own institutions within the entertainment industry and laud them with the same regard as we do the very institutions that do not welcome us. We shouldn’t desire to be where we’re not wanted, and we certainly should not be petitioning for acceptance anywhere outside of ourselves.

Another issue of equal importance pertains to the Black gatekeepers of our arts and entertainment community. Sadly, some of them have vacated their post. Even worse, some have eagerly handed over the gate keys in hopes of gaining white validation, leaving our talents and culture widely exposed for exploitation. Again, at some point, the responsibility of stopping the hemorrhage falls on us. We’ve had enough rallies. Enough petitions. Enough hashtags. It’s time to stop looking to others and use our collective resources to build and celebrate our own. And it’s not a matter of if we can, it’s now a matter of if we will.

“It’s a poor frog that doesn’t praise its own pond.”

And I’d much rather rejoice in the solace of my lily pad than to be tolerated in someone else’s ocean.

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