Let Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke Live. NAACP Image Awards Aren’t Just For Black Folks

Down here in Birmingham, we spent all of 2013 reflecting on 50 years of racial progress.

Fifty years ago, children – mere children – were hosed down and mauled by dogs for simple, peaceful protests. They were humiliated to give us a better life.

Fifty years later, we still have a lot of work to do but any idiot who claims we’re no better off than we were during the civil-rights era is lying to themselves. Think of that the next time you wrap your crusty lips around any water fountain you choose.

But as much progress as African-Americans have made, we can still be our own worst enemies.

A few days ago, the NAACP Image Awards unveiled its nominations. Bruno Mars, John Legend and Charlie Wilson are up for an Outstanding Male Artist award, along with “blue-eyed soul” singers Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke. Like a preemption of “Scandal,” black folks were pissed. Some media outlets have even claimed white tokenism. 

So we cry racism when our favorite black folks don’t win Golden Globes and whatnot but we also don’t want white folks getting nominated for our awards?

What part of the game is this?

For the record, I hate the term “blue eyed soul.” And I hate black folks are so busy being exclusive that they don’t see the progress before them.

A bit of background: The Image Awards were created in an era when the contributions of blacks in arts and entertainment were ignored in favor of whites. If they didn’t want to recognize us, we were more than ready to recognize ourselves. We survive and adapt. It’s what we do.

(Very) slowly but surely, African-Americans have broken barriers. It’s not uncommon for us to take home trophies at those 27-hour borefests that dominate primetime TV. Still, our contributions are often overlooked.

Progress has been made, but there’s still work to do. That’s why the Image Awards are still relevant to our community.

But when we expect the Image Awards – our awards – to exclude talented white artists in favor of black folk aren’t we doing the SAME THING we accused those biased selection committees of doing years ago?

In the realm of music, the Image Awards are known for recognizing black music that often goes ignored by mainstream outlets. That’s why I’m glad to see Uncle Charlie Wilson get a well-deserved nomination. But JT and, yes, even Thicke also deserve recognition.

Justin’s comeback album was not only a huge seller, it was a fantastic piece of soul that pushed the genre forward. There aren’t too many male R&B albums this year that can compete with it. And while Thicke’s album was 45 minutes of hot garbage, the single “Blurred Lines,” whether you love it or hate it, was an undeniable success. It was omnipresent. It’s a song that will live on at cookouts and weddings for the next 25 years.

Both Thicke and JT did R&B a huge service this year, raising its profile critically and commercially. Sure, I’d like to see Robert Glasper, Joe, Avant or Bilal get an nomination (especially over Thicke). They had great albums. But Thicke and JT were game-changers. Don’t be so blinded by the color of an artist that you can’t see what they did for the music we love – the music that for years has been swept under the rug by other awards shows.

In the end, isn’t that what we wanted? The music we love pushed to a higher level?

No matter if an awards show airs on TVOne or CBS, talent shouldn’t be tied to skin color, which is why the “blue-eyed soul” term is stupid. Soul is soul. Good music is good music.

Seeing white faces on the Image Awards is not an indication of us selling out. It’s an indication that our music is no longer being tied to melanin. It’s transcending color lines drawn years ago. We can’t scream for inclusion in mainstream award shows while being exclusive in our own.

If I remember correctly, those kids who fought for freedom 50 years ago marched forward, not backward.

Watch your own steps.


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