The BET Awards, an annual event dedicated to honoring achievements in the black entertainment industry, serves as a platform for celebrating the talent, creativity, and cultural contributions of black artists. However, beneath the glitz and glamor of this ceremony, a challenging reality persists: the presence of colorism within the very celebration of black excellence.
Colorism, a form of discrimination based on skin tone, casts its shadow over the BET Awards in various aspects from nominations and categories to red-carpet representation and media coverage. This bias reflects broader societal biases that privilege lighter skin over darker hues.
Colorism in the BET Awards – Nominations
Many critics argue that light-skinned artists are more likely to be nominated for BET Awards.
Notable examples from the 2023 award ceremony include:
- Best Male R&B/Pop Artist. The nominees are Chris Brown, Usher, Bruno Mars, and The Weeknd. Chris Brown, Bruno Mars and The Weeknd are light-skinned.
- Best Female Hip-Hop Artist. The nominees are Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, and Latto. The only dark-skinned artist nominated is Megan Thee Stallion.
- Best Actress in a Movie. The nominees are Zendaya, Taraji P. Henson, Angela Bassett, and Andra Day. These actresses are all light-skinned.
It is crucial to highlight that these examples illustrate colorism within the 2023 BET Awards nominations. While there are additional dark-skinned nominees who have the potential to win awards, the prevalence of light-skinned nominees implies that colorism may influence the outcome of the awards show.
Colorism in the BET Awards – Red Carpet
Moreover, The 2023 BET Awards red carpet was no exception to this criticism. Despite the presence of dark-skinned artists in attendance, concerns were raised about the overall representation and its alleged bias.
Firstly, observers noted that of the 50+ artists who graced the red carpet, only around one-third had dark skin. Media outlets labeled the red carpet as predominantly featuring light-skinned artists, suggesting bias in selecting photographed individuals.
In addition, event organizers positioned light-skinned artists like Cardi B, Latto, and Chloe Bailey at the forefront of the red carpet, while dark-skinned artists such as Coco Jones, Muni Long, and Issa Rae were relegated to the back. This placement potentially indicates a preference for highlighting light-skinned artists.
Colorism in the BET Awards – Media Coverage
Furthermore, critics argue that the press prioritized light-skinned artists, granting them more attention and opportunities to engage with reporters.
Determining with certainty whether more light-skinned artists were interviewed on the red carpet compared to their dark-skinned counterparts at the 2023 BET Awards is challenging. However, there is some evidence to suggest that this may have been the case.
Light-skinned artists like Jazmine Sullivan, Summer Walker, Latto, and Ari Lennox dominate most-watched YouTube red carpet interviews, raising concerns. Dark-skinned artists like Megan Thee Stallion had comparatively fewer views.
It is possible that this is simply a reflection of the fact that light-skinned artists are more popular in general. However, it is also plausible that the press exhibits bias in its coverage of the BET Awards, favoring light-skinned artists by giving them more attention.
Additionally, another instance of colorist language surfaced when describing dark-skinned artist Teyana Taylor. One reporter described her as “bold” and “daring,” while another reporter described her as “exotic” and “mysterious.” These descriptions suggest that the reporters exoticize Taylor because of her dark skin.
Colorism Impact on Black Excellence
Colorism within the BET Awards perpetuates inequality and discrimination by perpetuating biased beauty standards that favor lighter skin tones over darker ones. When nominations and awards consistently overlook or undervalue darker-skinned artists, it sends a message that their talent and contributions are less valuable or marketable. This further reinforces societal norms that link beauty and success with lighter skin, thereby marginalizing darker skin. As a result, darker-skinned artists face barriers to recognition, representation, and career advancement within the industry.
The long-term impact of colorism on the careers of darker-skinned artists can be profound. Limited visibility and recognition hinder securing key endorsements and lucrative brand deals. Bias towards lighter skin tones also hinders darker-skinned artists from securing endorsement deals, which have great impact an artist’s career trajectory, influencing their reach and potential for long-term success. Thus, the perpetuation of colorism within the BET Awards and similar platforms can contribute to a cycle of inequality that stifles the careers of darker-skinned artists in the industry.
Although the BET Awards do not offer monetary prizes to winners or nominees, receiving an award or nomination can result in heightened exposure and expanded opportunities. This can ultimately lead to higher earnings.
For example, an artist who wins a BET Award may be able to command higher fees for their performances or get better deals with record labels. In addition, winning a BET Award can also help to increase an artist’s social media following and fan base. This can lead to more streams of their music, which can also lead to higher earnings.
According to a study by Nielsen Music, the average single by a BET Award winner has 12.5% more streams than a single by an artist who has not won a BET Award. The study also found that BET Award winners earn an average of $1.2 million more per year than artists who have not won a BET Award.
To address colorism claims in the future, the BET Awards can take several steps to promote inclusivity and combat bias within their nomination and selection processes:
- Clear Criteria and Guidelines. BET can establish clear criteria for nominations based on merit, not appearance. By providing explicit guidelines, the organization can set a standard that discourages the perpetuation of colorism.
- Enhanced Outreach and Inclusivity Efforts. BET can actively reach out to a wider range of artists and talent, including those with diverse skin tones. Broaden the nomination process, seek diverse talent, and promote diversity.
- Industry Collaboration and Dialogue. BET can engage in conversations and collaborations with industry professionals, artists, activists, and organizations dedicated to addressing colorism. BET can gain insights from stakeholders to create an inclusive platform.
Call to Action
These observations sparked broader discussions about the necessity for an inclusive approach to award ceremonies. It emphasizes the importance of fair consideration for artistic achievements, regardless of skin tone.
To combat colorism and promote equality in the entertainment industry, it is crucial that we, as consumers and supporters of music and art, actively engage in uplifting and amplifying the voices of darker-skinned artists. Together, let’s create an industry that embraces and celebrates diversity in all its forms