I missed a lot of the Oscars once they began. I had fun beforehand, tweeting about the #AskHerMore campaign (as in, ask her more than who she’s wearing and how she got thin) while celebrities were interviewed on the Red Carpet, but once the show started, I got distracted. Life. Kids. Lackluster Neil Patrick Harris material. I figured, like always, I’d find out the next day about the memorable moments.
Boy, did I ever. Between Patricia Arquette’s inability to quit while she was ahead and Melanie Griffith’s and Dakota Johnson’s painful Red Carpet interview, it was enough to make this tough Brooklyn girl shrivel up and rock in the fetal position for the day. I was relieved to have something inspiring to watch with John Legend’s and Common’s performance of “Glory.” In between wading through the other controversies I mentioned, I found people speaking so highly of the Legend/Common performance, and I couldn’t wait to see it. Please take a few moments to watch it, also, if you haven’t already.
Upon the first viewing, I was blown away by the power of the scenery, the imagery, of Common crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge (named after a Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan) and the multi-ethnic chorus falling into step behind him. But I also noticed something that I wasn’t sure I really saw. A second time through watching, though, confirmed it.
The chorus was made up of both People of Color and white people. The white people, however, weren’t singing. They simply marched in step, and side by side with the Black people on the stage. The only voices we heard were the voices of POC. White people showed UP. They walked. They stood shoulder-to-shoulder. They marched. And they let the people of color do the talking. They stood silently so Black voices could be heard. What a brilliant piece of staging that should really resonate, I thought.
In reading more about the performance, I wondered why I saw no mention of it. I looked on the Twitter and saw nothing, so I tweeted about it myself. I looked on Facebook and saw nothing, so I posted about it myself. I read articles about the performance from Vulture and BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post and saw no mention of this aspect of the staging.
Later in the show, “Glory” won for Best Song, and Legend and Common paired up again to utter some of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking words in an acceptance speech.
John Legend quoted Nina Simone, saying “It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live.” The times in which we live are better in many ways, but still racially charged, to say the least. Too many people of color are still suffering the devastating effects of racism in this country, and too many white people are denying racism is even a thing anymore. Too many people of color still feel the need to justify their pain, and too many white people attempt to invalidate it with non-apologies and “BLACK PRESIDENT,” so “racism is DEAD!” (Thanks, Obama.) Too many people of color are crying out for justice and too many white people are just talking right over them. So, considering this context, it makes perfect sense that the white chorus members didn’t sing. The optics of them singing about the glory being theirs wouldn’t sit well. It shouldn’t sit well.
“The spirit of this bridge transcends race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and social status…This bridge was built on hope. Welded with compassion. And elevated by love for all human beings.” Common’s speech was poetry. He encapsulated so beautifully the need for intersectionality in calls for justice in one sentence. The emotion in his voice spoke volumes about how desperate this need is.
When people like John Legend and Common speak, we should listen. In that incredibly subtle piece of staging in that performance of “Glory,” they were telling us exactly what is needed.
And no one noticed.
Aliza Worthington grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and now lives in Baltimore. She began writing in 2009 at the age of 40. Sometimes her writing follows The Seinfeld Model of “no learning, no hugging.” Other times it involves lots of both. She blogs about Life, Liberty and Happiness at “The Worthington Post.” Her work also appears in Purple Clover, and before that, in Catonsville Patch and Kveller. She has been featured in the Community Spotlight section of Daily Kos under the username “Horque.” Her piece for The Broad Side, Leaving Gender at the Door, was chosen as a BlogHer Voice of the Year in 2013. Follow her on Twitter at @AlizaWrites.
To schedule an interview with Aliza or to talk with her about a speaking engagement, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.