Is the National Associations for the Advancement of Colored People, also known as the NAACP, guilty of white tokenism?
That’s a question worth asking, considering the NAACP Image Awards, which are presented annually by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, seems to think that Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke deserve award nominations for…well I’m not really certain why they would be nominated for an award, which according to the NAACP’s website, is meant to honor the “achievements and performances of people of color in the arts, as well as those individuals or groups who promote social justice through their creative endeavors.”
The 45th annual awards, which is set to air next month on the TV One, will also pay homage to some actual black folks too like Kerry Washington, who was again snubbed by the award shows for her portrayal of Olivia Pope in the wildly popular television series, “Scandal.” Also nominated are Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave and Lee Daniels’ The Butler, which each received nominations in categories for Outstanding Motion Picture, Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture and Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture.
However this year’s NAACP Image Awards also appears to be taking a more universal definition to the “colored” part of the acronym with acting nominations for Sofia Vergara, co-star on ABC’s “Modern Family” and Asian American stars Archie Panjabi from “The Good Wife” and Mindy Kaling from “The Mindy Project.” Also strangely receiving nominations is the show “Modern Family” and the film “Dallas Buyers Club,” both of which have zero black folks on them. Justin Timberlake third studio album, entitled The 20/20 Experience – The Complete Experience, has received a nomination for Outstanding Male Artist in a group, which also includes Bruno Mars, Charlie Wilson, John Legend (side note: did he even have an album this year?) and fellow token white guy nominee, Robin Thicke, whose Marvin Gaye impression has also snagged him the Outstanding Album and Song nods as well.
Of course, this is not the first year the NAACP has nominated non-black folks for an award meant to honor black images in film, television and radio. In the past white actors such as Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side) and Emma Stone (The Help) were nominated for Image Awards for roles they played in films that revolve around interracial relationships. And a couple of years ago, the civil rights organization gave George Lucas the Vanguard Award, for directing and producing the film Red Tails. Lucas would become the second white man to receive the prestigious award; the first being Steven Spielberg, who took the award home for directing the race-centered films The Hurricane, The Color Purple and Amistad.
Likewise this year’s award show will mark the second time the organization has nominated Timberlake for an Image Award. In 2011, the former N’Sync lead singer received an Outstanding Supporting Actor nod for his role in The Social Network, a film that had no black characters and absolutely nothing to do with race at all. That move sparked plenty of controversy from many, who speculated that the NAACP was choosing high profiled white celebrity names in hopes gentrifying its at-home audience.
According to various published reports, this year has been a banner year for white musically artists, who dominated the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 2013, therefore it would come as no surprise that they would have cross over appeal – and accolades – into markets, which have largely been segregated. Also it doesn’t hurt much that both Timberlake and Thicke have intentionally created sounds, which appeal to largely black ears. But this is not the BET Awards but rather an award created on the guise of honoring those, who have been largely excluded or maligned in the mainstream, white-dominated arts. And just because a white person can rap and perform in R&B, Soul and other art forms created by and largely associated with black folks, does not necessarily make them a friend to the people or the cause (both Janet Jackson and the family of Marvin Gaye might have something to say about that). Unlike their former white Image Award predecessors (particularly Speilberg, who is also problematic but has made efforts to produce black films and stories), I can’t think of a single way in which either Timberlake or Thicke exemplifies the awards mission of “social justice through their creative endeavors” – outside of lining the private pockets of Timberland and Pharrell Williams.
And even as white artists, who performed black music, it is not like they are short on accolades from the mainstream. If anything, their unique position has likely contributed to their popularity across all demographics, even as what they have produced is largely mediocre and unoriginal, at best. It would seem that in this regard, the award nominations would have been better served sticking to its mission and highlighting black – or even other colored – artists, who have been largely ignored by the mainstream. I’m sure that Robert Glasper, Bilal and even Kelly Rowland, who all put out decent albums last year, would have appreciated some kind of recognition – at least from our own.
But that’s my opinion. I am interested in what folks think on this. Are these legitimate nominations or is the NAACP guilty of using the token white guy as a way to boost ratings?