February: Black History month. The Academy Awards.
Of course, it wasn't until 2002 that an African-American woman, my friend and client Halle Berry, won a Best Actress Oscar. She shared that historic night with yet another friend and African-American, Denzel Washington, who won Best Actor.
It took many long years for this history to be made. The talent was there, but the roles weren't. Hollywood, like most cities in America, is still plagued with prejuduice.
As individuals we say we don't want prejudice to exist, and our society has set up laws to protect people's rights. But prejudice is still there, though over the last few years the TV and film roles for African-American actors have become more plentiful and of a much higher caliber.
Jamie Foxx took home the little gold man for his portrayal of Ray Charles, and one of my best friends, Keisha Whitaker's husband, Forrest, nabbed Oscar gold for his haunting portrayal of Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. Jennifer Hudson, the American Idol alum, dazzled and wowed the Academy and the public with her dynamic portrayal of Effie in the film version of the Broadway classic, Dreamgirls.
Talent was never an issue for African-American performers. Sharing a stage, bathroom or entrance with whites was.
The black community could fill their own walk of fame with stars who have talents that sparkle as brightly as the talent of any other ethnicity: Paul Robeson, Josephine Baker, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis Junior, Sidney Poitier, Joe Louis, Lena Horne, Diana Ross, Bill Cosby, Jim Brown, Miles Davis, Cab Calloway, Pearl Bailey, Richard Pryor, Audra McDonald, Debbie Allen, Jackie Joyner Kersee, Michael and Janet Jackson, Muhammad Ali, Whitney Houston, Michael Jordan, Maya Angelou… The list could fill dozens upon dozens of pages.
It would seem that in 2008 we wouldn't need the gimmick of a special "month" to highlight the accomplishments and contributions African-Americans have made, but then again, maybe we do.
How much do we know about the storied history of African American inventors? Otis Boykin invented the electronic device for guided missles, IBM computers and the pacemaker. Garrett Morgan invented the gas mask and the traffic signal. And what would we have done as kids in the cafeteria without George Washington Carver? He invented peanut butter and 400 other plant products.
But back to Hollywood… How ironic that given the magnitude of African-American A-listers, you rarely see a black celebrity in the tabloids. This is often referred to as the "Hollywood Blackout." Jay-Z and Beyonce are two of the biggest performers and moneymakers of our time and are clearly blessed with actual talent, class and beauty. Yet you rarely see them in the tabloids.
Why do we not see Kerri Washington, Joy Bryant or Zoe Saldana very often on the fashion pages? Are they any less fashionable or glamorous than Jessica Simpson, or Jessica Biel? I don't think so.
Why are there only a handful of black models who have achieved name recognition such as Tyra, Naomi and, recently, Liya? And let's face it, for guys Tyson has been the only player on the field for more then a decade and in the fashion design end of the story.
Try and name a famous and successful black designer — it is practically impossible even for me, and I'm in the business.
Several African-American fashion brands are emerging, such as the House of Derion, designed by my good friend and fashion compatriot Tina Knowles (yeah, that's right, Beyonce's mom), and Sean John, by my boy and hip-hop impresario and fellow actor Sean Combs.
But are they getting a fair shake in stores? More often than not, they are referred to as" hip-hop" or "urban" clothing. A form of retail ghettoization.
Why are we still so segregated? We are clearly all looking for change, and I guess that fight must be won in the government first. Can Barack Obama make that change? Can Hillary Clinton? John McCain? Time will tell, but you, the voter, will speak.
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