Are the BET Awards Too Inclusive

By: Gustavus Betts

“Are the BET Awards Too Inclusive?” 

Since its inception in 2001, The Black Entertainment Awards (BET Awards) has been a celebration of African Americans, and other minorities, in music, sports, and acting, as well as in other fields of entertainment. However it seems as if in the past few years, non-blacks/African Americans have been making inroads into an awards ceremony geared toward specific genres in black entertainment. Have the BET Awards become too inclusive with artists like Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke nominated in various categories in the past few years. (Artists, some might argue, that make careers out of appropriating black music and culture). Others believe that the awards show has strayed from its most basic tenet: honoring black artists. As a white artist, is it important to have black representation in order to win a BET Award?

According to be BET’s official website, the nomination process begins with about 500 people in the music industry, media, and bloggers. These individuals receive electronic ballots and vote on the different categories to qualify nominee. The results are then collated by the Yangaroo Group. But to really examine if the BET Awards has become too diverse, or inclusive, we need to take a look back at some of the past non-black/African American nominees and winners.

First we have Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ – the Seattle-based hip hop duo’s – win for “Best Group” at the 2013 event, held on Tuesday October 15th in Las Vegas, This was perhaps the first time a white artist won a BET Award in its 12 years in existence. Not everyone would appreciate the awards show’s forward thinking approach. For some, Macklemore’s win appears to go against the grain of the program’s foundation, because giving the award to two caucasian guys could be viewed as a disruption to platform that is usually reserved for minority artists.

However, to be fair, the BET Awards has had a long history of diversity and inclusion. For example, Christina Aguilera performed during the network’s inaugural show honoring Whitney Houston, and Gwen Stefani performed with Eve on the single “Let Me Blow Your Mind.” Also that same year, Eminem was nominated for Video of the Year for “Stan.” He was also nominated for Video of the Year for “Lose Yourself and Best Hip Hop Male Artist in 2003. Eminem was not nominated again until 2010 for Best Collaboration, along with Drake, Lil Wayne, and Kanye West on the track “Forever.” In 2012, he was nominated for Best Collaboration, with Royce da 5’ 9” his group Bad Meets Evil. However, Eminem has never won an award as a solo performer.

2003 also witnessed Justin Timberlake’s nomination for Best R&B artist, as well as Best New Artist. But, it would be another 10 years before he was nominated again in 2013, with Jay Z for “Suit and Tie,” but did not win. TMZ reported in 2007 that Robin Thicke was on track to be the first white performer to win at BET Awards. It did not quite pan out.  Houston rapper, also known as the People’s Champ, Paul Wall was nominated for Best New Artist in 2006. Justin Bieber received a Fandemonium Award node in 2010, and Filipino American artist Bruno Mars has been nominated at least five times :  2010 for Best Collaboration, Video of the Year, in 2011 for Best New Artist and Best Male R&B Artist in African American artist 2012, and again in 2013, but he has yet to win a BET award. Non-Black/African American female artists seem to fare better at the awards.

In 2005, Israeli American Miriam ben Ari was nominated for Best Female Hip Hop Artist. However, the first female to take home the award was M.I.A. – the English /Sri Lankan hip hop artist – making her the first non-black/African American to win the award in 2009. Lady Gaga was featured on Beyoncé’s Video of the Year winner “Video Phone,” but has not won an award independently. Hayley Williams, from the alternative rock band Paramore, appeared on B.o.B’s “Airplane” and nominated with him for Video of the Year in 2011.  So, judging by the quite diverse list of nominees and winners, it would appear that the BET Awards are generous and far reaching in its nomination, but not so much when it comes to who wins.  It seems that M.I.A. and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have made history. But, is an award show that aims to reward black entertainers really necessary in 2013?

Cedric the Entertainer, black comedian and actor who co-hosted the award show along with Steve Harvey in 2002 told one reporter that he viewed the BET Awards as a necessary evil. “You can get excluded [as a Black Artist in “mainstream” entertainment] very easily. Sure, we have the Essence Awards and the NAACP Image Awards and now the BET Awards, but we need them. There is still a lot of racism inside the industry. In an ideal world you’d want everything to be all inclusive, but we don’t live in an ideal world,” he said.