Joaquin Phoenix Is No Joke

I’ve never been one of those people who roll my eyes and say things like, “stick to playing make believe,” or, “stay in your lane, honey,” when movie stars and celebs use their platforms to comment on things outside the entertainment industry. We’re all human. Most things concern most people – if you’re the type to care about things like equality, your fellow man, you know, making the world a better place type stuff.

So, when Joaquin Phoenix accepted his Best Actor in a Leading Role trophy for Joker from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards (BAFTAs) recently, and used his acceptance speech to share some thoughts on racism, my ears perked up. His speech had the right tone: appreciative but awkward, aware and concerned. He even admitted that he is part of the problem because he has not done everything in his power to promote inclusivity where possible.

But most important, he said a remedy goes beyond worthwhile efforts to be more inclusive. “We have to do that hard work to understand systemic racism,” he told the audience. Even better, he said those who have benefitted from this system of oppression – meaning white people – are responsible for dismantling it.

Yes. Absolutely. After all, who better to tear down and rebuild a structure than the people who built it – or those who still operate and sustain it?

Amanda Seales spoke about a similar idea in a recent Instagram Stories. How it’s not a black person’s responsibility to bring people along, to educate, absolve, or, to essentially convince others not to be racist. We do it because it must be done. But please, let’s acknowledge the futility when we expend such efforts where they are not welcome. She said her time, any person of color’s time, is better spent supporting those who have already come to the realization that some things are wrong and are actively working to do the right thing now.

Here Here!

I’ve had to explain so many times over the years – and likely will have to explain again in the future – when someone asked me some huge, race-related question at a time convenient for them, and inconvenient for me: I am not obligated to educate any and every person who asks things pertaining to race, black women, hair, Black history, etc.

I appreciate your desire to know – in theory – but the fact that you ask a question along these lines does not win you any points with me. Sorry. There will be no pats on the back, no pleased smiles or hyper thumbs up. We’re all grown here, friends, and this subject matter is too painful and far reaching to be handled like we’re handing out gold stars and cookies for completing homework. So, if you’re looking for someone to hold your hand and tell you that you’re awesome for asking this or that, please seek aid and/or assistance from a worthier source.

Most of the time when people set me up as the rep for all things Black, I look at them with mild disgust. I try to hold it back because sometimes people genuinely don’t know. But at some point ignorance is a choice, y’all.

The answers to simple questions can be found on Google. Or, God forbid, just think. If you want my perspective on something specific, cool. I’m always down for a good natter with the end result being better understanding or expanded knowledge and consideration for all parties involved.

Expecting me to explain the obvious, grant some sort of pass for making a token effort or for offering a scrap of something or other to show that you’re not a racist – because maybe you have a black friend or you saw and enjoyed a popular black movie? – no, kiddo. No can do. I don’t have enough life left, nor do I have the energy or the inclination to play those kinds of silly, non-beneficial, low key insulting, borderline psychotic games.

It’s one reason I continue to write this blog. It’s my way of contributing in a positive way to the dialogue around race in this country, on racism in the media, in business, as well as diversity and inclusion under that general umbrella. I can comment as I like, using modern cultural zeitgeist and current events to power my opinions.

I simply sit down at my trusty laptop, the window to my world, and drop a weekly nugget of thought down for you to pick up and absorb as you like. Then I can get back to the business of living my best life, which rightly should get the lion’s share of my attention, no? After all, one cannot pour from an empty cup.

Phoenix wasn’t asking for validation though. He wasn’t asking for anything in that powerful few minutes behind the podium. He was making a series of clear, considerate statements that needed to be made from a face that looked like his, from someone in a position of power like that which he holds, to an audience of peers who mostly look like him.

His speech was brief. It’s time suitable for the venue and occasion. I suspect he shocked the audience. Their stillness and silence, the way every eye and ear seemed to turn and tune into him was telling. But the clapping that followed suggests that his message was not unwelcome in the mostly white group – I hope.

The only thing that was missing was a next step, a next action to take. But that’s a longer conversation for another place. This was a time appropriate moment, suitably shocking, but relevant and appreciated, I think, by many. His actions going forward will show whether or not he meant what he said, whether or not he has plans to essentially put his money where his mouth is.

I hope he does. It will validate the warmth and gentle pride I felt when I heard his words. I still have no plans to see the Joker, but now he might get me when it comes to Netflix or RedBox. *winks*

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