The Hall, the venerable and sometimes controversial institution for inductees into the pop culture pantheon, was once a place of great joy and prestige for the creative class of America.
But in recent years, it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between its members, who tend to be men and women of color, and the nonwhite people who populate the broader cultural landscape.
In an op-ed published in the New York Times in October, the writer-director Jaida Essence explained why the Hall of Honor is the best way to understand the lives and careers of black and brown people.
“We have been taught to believe that the Hall represents the best in the country and that the black experience in the United States is as rich as it is diverse,” Essence wrote.
“But that is false.
The hall represents the worst in the nation.
It’s the hall where the most talented and the most intelligent, the most well-rounded, the brightest, and most successful have their voices silenced and their ideas dismissed.
The worst thing that the hall represents is not black people or people of color.
The Hall represents us all.”
While the current Hall of honor is dominated by black and white names, Essence’s piece points out that other racial groups have been honored in recent decades as well.
This includes the NAACP, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, the International Association of Black Journalists, and countless other organizations.
In addition, Essence points out the Hall has historically been used as a tool for white supremacist organizations to pressure elected officials and promote their agendas.
And, Essence also noted that, as a white woman, she has been subjected to the same sort of abuse that black women are.
“If there is one thing that is universally acknowledged in the halls of the hall, it is that white men can do anything they want to black women, including abuse us,” Essence continued.
“So why not do the same thing to the black women of America?”
The Hall of Honour has also been a venue for protests and boycotts, as well as for the kind of racist, xenophobic rhetoric that Essence says is commonplace in American politics.
In her op-eds, Essence argues that the purpose of the Hall is to “celebrate the diversity of American society and the contribution it makes to the United Nations and global security.”
“There is a powerful logic to the idea that a hall of honor should be dedicated to the people and institutions of blackness,” she continued.
“If you are in a hall and you see a white person or a black person who is being honored, that means they are part of the larger narrative of white supremacy.”
Essence’s piece was shared over 1.2 million times, and was featured in the Hollywood Reporter, which described it as “one of the most significant pieces of writing in decades about the hall’s history and the history of American racism.”
The Hall is now up for renewal.
The American Association of University Professors has endorsed a proposal that would “reform the Hall” and remove the white names from its membership.
The proposal was introduced in January and received the endorsement of a group of black scholars.
The organization has also begun a website and Facebook page devoted to the proposal.