Billy Crystal Displays Racial Insensitivity at the Academy Awards


The 84th Annual Oscars Show generated controversy last night with an inexcusable set of racial insensitivities. Host Billy Crystal appeared in blackface make-up during the opening montage as the late Sammy Davis Jr. in a spoof of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. The comedian’s impression of the legendary African-American entertainer was popular during his Saturday Night Live performances in the 1980s, but blackface comedy is now rightly regarded as outdated and racist.

Later, Crystal further enraged viewers with a controversial remark after Octavia Spencer received the Best Supporting Actress award for her role as a maid in The Help, which is set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights era in 1960s America. He said, “After I saw The Help I just wanted to hug the first black woman I saw, which from Beverly Hills is about a 45 minute drive.”

These outdated, out of touch racial references from the early and mid 20th century generated a 21st century backlash. Furious twitter users unleashed a stream of tweets decrying Crystal’s comments. Comedian Paul Scheer took to his Twitter account to comment after Octavia Spencer scooped the Best Supporting Actress award for The Help, ‘Octavia Spencer’s win shows just how far we’ve come since Billy Crystal performed in Blackface.’ Another furious Twitter user posted: ‘Well, I Happen To Be A Black Woman Who Resides In Beverly Hills. Should I Have My Assistant #Alert Billy Crystal?’

These events took place the same week that a Pew Research Center study revealed a changing picture of America. Interracial marriage in US hit new highs. Interracial marriages in the U.S. have climbed to 4.8 million — a record 1 in 12 — as a steady flow of new Asian and Hispanic immigrants expands the pool of prospective spouses. Blacks are now substantially more likely than before to marry whites.

"The rise in interracial marriage indicates that race relations have improved over the past quarter century," said Daniel Lichter, a sociology professor at Cornell University. "Mixed-race children have blurred America’s color line.” Apparently, no one notified Crystal or the directors and producers of the Oscars of these positive changes in America.

These relic of the past attitudes present challenges to those who parent transracially. People say things because they don’t know better. Sometimes people mean no harm; other times they intend to injure. In this case, it is sad that not one writer, producer, or director spoke up during the Oscar preparations to point out that these comments were racially insensitive and harmful.

Although, parents cannot insulate their children from all hurtful or thoughtless comments, they can instill in their children a self-confidence and pride that allows them to handle these situations with greater grace and aplomb than the perpetrator of the comments. Parents can use some of the following techniques to accomplish this:

  1. Celebrate all cultures – events such as MLJ Adoptions Africa party can reveal to children the proud history of their birth countries. Learning about other cultures reveals the contributions that have been made to our world by all countries.
  2. Talk about race and culture. Use everyday teachable moments to highlight examples of good and bad ways of discussing race.
  3. Expose your child to a variety of experiences so that he or she develops physical and intellectual skills that build self-esteem.
  4. Take your child to places where most of the people present are from his or her race or ethnic group.
  5. Practice positive ways to respond to racist comments with your child.

It’s likely the individuals responsible for the missteps at the Oscars last night did not deliberately set out to hurt anyone’s feelings. However, the truth is their comments were insensitive and they were hurtful. It is up to all of us to fight these stereotypes and consign them to the trash heap of history where they belong.

MLJ Adoptions is a Non-Profit, Hague-Accredited adoption service provider located in Indianapolis, Indiana, working in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Isles. We are passionate about serving children in need.