The Snowflake Awards: A Review of White Feminism™ in Pop Culture

Last month at the Emmy’s, Viola Davis became the first black woman in its 67 year history to win Best Actress in a Drama Series. In her acceptance speech, she quoted Harriet Tubman:

“In my mind,
I see a line.
And over that line
I see green fields and lovely flowers
and beautiful white women
with their arms stretched out to me
to get over that line
but I can’t seem to get there no how
I can’t seem to get over that line.”

Though it was written in the 1800’s, “that line”  is still there, and it represents the racism that separates Intersectional Feminists from White Feminists™.

racism-divides-intersectional-vs-white-feminists

White Feminism™ (well defined by Catherine Young) is feminism for white people, not necessarily by white people.  It ignores intersecting systems of oppression (like racism) and centers its feminism around the ideals, struggles, and lens of white women who are typically heterosexual, able-bodied, and middle-class or wealthy. You don’t have to be white or a woman to be a White Feminist™ and not all white women are White Feminists™.

viola speechViola continued: “The only thing that separates women of color from everyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

When Viola won, black women everywhere erupted with joyful celebration, clapping and cheering at Viola’s strength and courage. Black actress Taraji P. Henson, nominated for the same award for her groundbreaking role on Empire, stopped to hug Viola and express sincere congratulations.  But a white woman wasn’t happy. Nancy Lee Grahn, an actress on General Hospital, felt excluded.  She took to Twitter to express her dismay.

nancy-lee-grahn-viola-davis-general-hospital-hate-tweets-after-historic-emmy-win-leadI wish she’d brought every woman into the picture,” she wrote.

She did what White Feminists™ do – she made the conversation about herself.  A classic symptom of White Feminism™ is self-absorption and ego centrism. “I wish I  had the  opportunity to play roles she has” she sighed in her self-pity.

Nancy took it a step further.  She attacked Viola’s right to use the acceptance speech as a venue for speaking on racism.

I heard Harriet Tubman and I thought it’s a fucking Emmy for God’s sake.  She wasn’t digging through a tunnel….my upset is acting awards don’t fix racial justice.”

Her stance is ironic, given her enthusiastic support for Patricia Arquette, who used her Oscar acceptance speech just six months ago to address social inequality in the form of the wage gap.  The difference is, Nancy felt included then because whiteness was centered.

Good use of your win to champion women. Make your moment matter. I like that,”  Nancy had tweeted then, in support of Patty.

2C9A33D500000578-0-image-a-74_1442843516120More horrifying than Nancy’s hypocrisy is her historical ignorance. Harriet Tubman may have been the leader of the Underground Railroad, but she did not literally dig tunnels. She helped hundreds of slaves escape from the South to the North before and during the Civil War. But there’s another important hallmark of White Feminism™ here. Nancy was policing Viola’s right to speak on the topic of her choice. Nancy’s assumption that she could do so demonstrates a devaluing of black women, and an erasure of their humanness. Nancy then spoke on something she had no knowledge of – Viola’s personal experiences of racism, positing that Viola “has never been discriminated against.”

When her comments were questioned, Nancy demonstrated “Miss Millie” syndrome.  In the movie The Color Purple, Miss Millie famously defended her racism by saying “I’ve always been nice to you people!”  Nancy’s version of this rhetoric went like this: “30 years an advocate for human rights and now I’m a racist. Color me heartbroken.” This is what White Feminists™ do when they are called out for racist words and actions: they get angry about their feelings being hurt, act defensive and self-righteously indignant, and deny accountability.

untitled 1I’m a fucking actress for 40 years,” Nancy continued. “None of us get respect or opportunity we deserve. Emmys not venue for racial opportunity. ALL women belittled.” White Feminists™ typically apologize badly and Nancy was no exception.  “Tried to respond with love,” she complained. “Gotten mostly condescension and vitriol.”

Time then did what it does for all White Feminists™ – it gave Nancy the opportunity to reflect about what she said and to say she was sorry.

“I apologize for my earlier tweets and now realize I need to check my own privilege.”special snowflake

For her outrageous narcissism and sense of entitlement, for inserting herself and her whiteness into Viola Davis’s moment, for derailing the conversation, for devaluing and erasing a Woman of Color, Nancy Lee Grahn wins The Snowflake Award, for being the most offensive White Feminist™ this month.

EF Cartoon Sexism vs WFMany White Feminists™ understand their role as the oppressed in sexism, but fail to see how they can be the oppressor in White Feminism™. 

The level of White Feminism™ in our culture is disturbingly high. I’ve noted recurring themes in this Bingo Card, so feel free to “play along.”

The second place Snowflake Award goes to Meryl Streep and the Suffragettes. Unfortunately, the United States is not the only country where White Feminism™ flourishes. rather be a rebel than a slaveTime Out London magazine recently released a photo shoot for the movie, about the British suffragette movement. In the pictures, Meryl Streep and her costars pose wearing t-shirts that read: “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave.”

The quote was originally said by UK suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, and the ad campaign is offensive for many reasons.  First, if you were offered a choice between being a rebel and being a slave, which would you pick?  The quote implies women of color had an option to be enslaved, which is both historically inaccurate and disrespectful.

UK suffragettesSecond, there were UK suffragettes of color, though they were not as well-known as Americans Ida Wells or Sojourner Truth. In the UK, the non-white suffragettes were mostly Indian, and they’ve been erased from history and representation in the movie.  An example is the Indian princess Sophia Duleep Singh who “wasn’t just welcomed by the movement” but considered a “rock star suffragette.”[i]

Third, given the racist nature of suffragette history,[ii] it was insulting for a group of white women to wear this white t-shirt for UK and US audiences.  American suffragette Carrie Chapman Catt, founder of the League of Women Voters, is known to have said: “White supremacy will be strengthened, not weakened, by women’s suffrage.”[iii]

Right to VOTEIn fact, black women didn’t even get the right to vote when white women did.  Although the U.S. 19th Amendment was passed in 1920 and legally enfranchised all women, state laws and vigilante practices disenfranchised most black women in the South, who couldn’t vote until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s.”[iv]

Time Out defended the photo shoot as a “rallying cry” for women, arguing that it “was not intended to criticize those who have no choice but to submit to oppression, or to reference the Confederacy, as some people who saw the quote and photo out of context have surmised.” [v]  The two countries do have different historical interpretations of the word. In the UK, a “slave” has referred to a domestic slave, while in the US, “slave” usually summons imagery of black chattel slavery. However intentions do not equal impact.

Pankhurst herself made the comparison between white and black women painfully obvious when she said that “out of women’s voteless condition had grown the most appalling slavery, compared with which negro slavery falls into insignificance.”[vi]

And therein lies the heritage and heart of White Feminism™, caring only for itself, oblivious to the struggles of women of color, erasing them from the picture, the movement, and historical representation.  To date, no one involved has issued an apology.

matt and effieMatt Damon wins third place in the Snowflake Awards. On HBO’s Project Greenlight, Effie Brown, the successful and respected black female producer of Dear White People, openly questioned the decision to select a white director for a film about a black prostitute. Matt Damon interrupted her, talked over her, and condescendingly explained that effiediversity would be achieved through the casting of the film, not the director.  His combination of mansplaining and whitesplaining was so obnoxious it spawned a new term all its own that became a trending Twitter hashtag: #Damonsplaining.

White Feminism™ has a listening problem.  If Matt had listened more and talked less, he might have heard the point she was trying to make.  But White Feminists™ are usually so busy talking they make no room for the silence necessary to amplify the voices of the marginalized.  Maybe Effie’s inclusion as the only black woman in the room was enough “diversity” for Matt.  Effie had a valid point, that a white male director could have significant blind spots in framing the story of a black female prostitute.

But White Feminists™ usually do not say “thanks for pointing out my blind spot. I’ll do some reading about this and try to do better.” Instead, it’s usually more along the lines of: “It’s really hurtful that you don’t acknowledge my place in this struggle with you, and you should be nicer to me. We’re on the same side.”[vii]

damon apologyAfter significant and justified backlash, Matt apologized.  In typical White Feminist™ form, his apology was weak. He said: “I am sorry that they offended some people, but, at the very least, I am happy that they started a conversation about diversity in Hollywood. That is an ongoing conversation that we all should be having.”

In standard White Feminist™ fare, Matt’s apology demonstrated an arrogant lack of humility that simultaneously denied responsibility and attempted to take credit for sparking a conversation that has been ongoing for decades.  The unconsciously embedded White Supremacy in his statement displays a core element of White Feminism™ – that the white point of view is the right point of view.

EF Cartoon WF needs to fade awayWhite Feminists:  As a group, our racist behavior is appalling. We need to do better.  Will you join me?  Will you talk to EVERY WHITE PERSON YOU KNOW about WhiteFeminism™? We cannot dismantle the unconscious White Supremacy within us, as individuals, or as a united team, until we are willing to CLGKxf2WEAA58ZSacknowledge it’s there. When we point out racist behavior to each other, please do not say “you’re dividing feminism!” Let’s be grateful for the mirror that points out our blind spots, and use this as an opportunity for personal growth.

 

All cartoons by Alli Kirkham, originally published for Everyday Feminism

[i] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11914757/Racism-and-the-suffragettes-the-uncomfortable-truth.html

[ii] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/24/suffragettes-who-sucked-w_n_5205288.html

[iii] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11914757/Racism-and-the-suffragettes-the-uncomfortable-truth.html

[iv] https://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/rightsforwomen/AfricanAmericanwomen.html

[v] http://www.sbs.com.au/movies/article/2015/10/07/time-out-london-defends-its-controversial-suffragette-photoshoot

[vi] The Women’s Movements in the United States and Britain from the 1790s to the 1920s

[vii] http://www.upworthy.com/what-white-feminism-is-and-why-calling-it-out-isnt-the-end-of-the-world

White Feminism™ BINGO

White Feminism™ (well defined by Catherine Young) is feminism for white people, not necessarily by white people.  It ignores intersecting systems of oppression (like racism) and centers its feminism around the ideals, struggles, and lens of white women who are typically heterosexual, able-bodied, and middle-class or wealthy. You don’t have to be white or a woman to be a White Feminist™ and not all white women are White Feminists™.

The level of White Feminism™ in popular culture is outrageously high. I’ve noted the recurring themes in the below Bingo Card.  You’re welcome to “play along” and stay tuned for the Snowflake Awards, where I grade the White Feminists™ oblivious to intersectionality in popular culture!

White Feminism BINGO Final

Black Teenage Girl Assaulted by White School Cop

Yesterday in South Carolina a sixteen year old black girl was assaulted by a white school police officer. Her crime? She had refused her teacher’s request to put away her phone. Her punishment? As seen in the above video, the sherriff’s deputy, Ben Fields, grabbed her by the neck, violently flipped her over her high school chair, threw her to the ground, and dragged her across the room like a rag doll. The rest of the class and the teacher appear frozen and no one moved to help her. The victim, known only as “Shakara”, and her friend, Niya Kenny, who videotaped the event, were charged with “disturbing schools,” a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail or a $1000 fine. Officer Fields has not been charged for his excessive force. He was not even fired, but placed on disciplinary leave with pay.

assault at spring valley highWhy is the punishment is an egregious over-reaction to the crime? Because the victim is black. Excessive police brutality is a symptom of the festering wound of institutional racism that refuses to heal at the core of America. At its heart lies the belief that black and brown people mean less, or else why would they be so devalued? This is where the School-To-Prison-Pipeline begins, when black students are charged with minor offenses that, while white students land them in the principal’s office. Black girls are suspended at “a rate six times higher than their Caucasian female counterparts.”[1] Black girls make up only 14% of the American population, but they comprise 33% of the juvenile justice population.”[2] Overall black students are suspended and expelled at three times the rate of white students.[3] Black and Brown kids are being sent to juvenile courts and prison for everything from truancy to scuffles at school.

Officer Ben Fields apparently has a history of attacking and intimidating other students and citizens based on racial profiling and bias[4]. In fact he is currently facing a lawsuit from a student who says he unfairly targets Black students with allegations of gang activity. He has been sued twice before for “recklessly targeting black students.”[5] He has a nickname around Spring Valley High School: Officer Slam.[6] His boss, Sheriff Leon Lott, stated at a press conference that this could not be racially driven incident. Lott said Fields has a black girlfriend so he can’t possibly be racist.[7] {Eye Roll} Unfortunately this defense is not new. Many white people defend racist action by saying “but I have black friends.” It didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now.

Spring ValleyThe other element that is “not new” is the media’s character assassination of “Shakara” and hero worship of Officer Fields. CNN’s Harry Houck commented that “she had it coming, and if she’d only respected the officer, she would not have been viciously attacked.”  “What did she do?” ask the supremacists. “We need to learn the whole story” whisper the apologists, after classmates in the room say she was quietly looking at her phone. “How do we place blame on her and thus avoid looking in the mirror at our own compliance with a broken white supremacist society” is the real unspoken question. The truth is we’ve seen with alarming regularity that black people are not safe in white spaces, including pools, churches, and schools.

threatWhite people have what is called “implicit bias,” whereby they see and treat black children as adults. This was demonstrated in the murder of Tamir Rice, a 12 year old boy who was shot dead in Cleveland seconds after the police saw him playing in a park with what turned out to be a toy gun. Researchers have documented that police are much quicker to kill unarmed black people than they are members of other groups.[8] Just four months ago, cellphone video captured a 15 year old girl, Dajerria Becton, grabbed by her braids and thrown to the ground by a white cop for swimming in a public pool in Texas.

Black men and women receive heinous treatment at the hands of the police, those sworn to protect and serve. Equal treatment under the law regardless of skin color is a fantasy, not the lived reality of black people constantly under the watchful eye of a racist society and viewed as threats by its peace-keepers.

There is no place in this country where I would be subjected to the same horrific assaults as a black woman, especially by police. So I may not be surprised, but am still horrified, by the disparate treatment. Those who protest the reality of white privilege need only do a cross comparison to open their eyes.

I can pray in a church. I can swim in a pool. I can laugh on a train. I can change lanes. Because of their skin color, black girls and women have been assaulted, arrested, and murdered for these same offenses, which aren’t even crimes.

mary janeWhen it comes to real crime, there is still injustice. Let’s look at marijuana specifically. Many states have decriminalized or legalized medical marijuana and public support for its use is on the rise. In New York City, you can even smoke pot on the street -if you’re white.[9]

I’m a middle-aged white woman. I was pulled over in Rhode Island for sitting too long at a red light. The white male cop did not handcuff me or place me in his police car. I apologized. He gave a verbal warning. I did not get a ticket. He did not search my car or find any evidence of the marijuana that was in my system. He let me go.

charnesia-crowleyTwo months ago, a young black woman named Charnesia Corley was pulled over in Texas for allegedly running a stop sign. The white male cop handcuffed her and had her wait in his police car while he searched her car for pot for over an hour. Female deputies were called to assist; they forcibly restrained her, pulled her legs apart and searched her vagina and her anus for pot, on the concrete ground of the gas station where she’d been stopped.[10] They didn’t find anything.

Why was Charnesia viewed as a threat, subjected to a gross violation of her privacy, and treated like an animal while I was offered respect? There is no answer other than White Privilege and Systemic Racism. The cop saw her blackness as an assumption of guilt, while my whiteness offered me an assumption of innocence. Her dignity and humanity were disregarded when she was strip-searched in public. I was advised to have a nice day.

Black people across the nation are four times more likely than whites to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession, despite data suggesting they use the drug at the same rate.[11] Once arrested, black offenders receive sentences ten percent longer than white offenders for the same crimes.[12] This is egregiously unjust.

Police brutality is a feminist issue, and one of the most important. Black girls and women are literally attacked and brutalized because of racialized sexism, labeled ‘misogynoir’ by Moya Bailey. If you are a feminist, sisterhood requires your attention, allyship, and action. But police brutality is just one aspect of our country’s deeply embedded racism.

Recently Amy Poehler’s Hulu sitcom ‘Difficult People’ made a ‘joke’ with the line “I can’t wait for Blue Ivy to be old enough so R. Kelly can piss on her.[13] Blue Ivy, Beyonce’s 3 year old child, is a toddler, and the idea of her being pissed on by a known pedophile charged with child pornography is not funny, it’s outrageously offensive. This type of ridicule should always be challenged. Behind the curtain of the ‘joke’ lies violent misogynoir, prejudice, discrimination, and racism. A ‘joke’ about pissing on a 3 year old white girl would never make it to air without tremendous backlash. Lest we forget, Blue Ivy is a girl, in addition to being black. Why does the world only see her blackness and not her girl-ness? Have we not learned, in the 164 years since Sojourner Truth asked ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’, that a black woman is both? Micro aggressions are the bedrock of our subtle, oppressive, white supremacist culture. Ridiculing is a suppression technique that diminishes and belittles its victims. We must speak up when we hear jokes in poor taste, or we will never rise above our stereotypes masked as satire. Here again, a black girl is dehumanized, and treated like an animal. We have an obligation to call this out at every opportunity.

cannot be partSome white women I know say they are “colorblind” and “can’t see color”. They are trying to be non-racist but ironically, this is the most racist thing to say. White women, if we cannot see color, we cannot dismantle white supremacy. We cannot afford to be or act “blind” anymore because black women are being disproportionately attacked and murdered by the very institutions designed to protect them. Are they not women too? Do you not hear your sisters calling for your help?

CLJA8LxUsAAufO4Racism is systemic and embedded in every power structure. As white women, we have an obligation to take action because we have privilege, and that affords us access to spaces and platforms black women don’t have. We have an responsibility to call out misogynoir because, as Desmond Tutu so brilliantly put it, if an elephant were standing on a mouse’s tail, the mouse would not appreciate your neutrality, and staying neutral in times of oppression is the same thing as taking the side of the oppressor.

Why are white feminists like Taylor Swift, Lena Dunham, Emma Watson, and Amy Schumer only able to address an issue if they feel personally affected? Is that not the central tenet of selfishness? I may not be black, but I am personally affected. Like Sandra Bland, who had epilepsy, I am disabled. Like Natasha McKenna, who was mentally ill, I am bipolar. But I know in my heart I would never be assaulted and killed like they were, because I’m white and they were not. I can only hope this grave injustice eats away at you, like it does me, for how else will we be motivated to change?

How Can You Help?

  1. Sign this petition to fire and prosecute Officer Ben Fields. http://act.colorofchange.org/sign/fire-officer-ben-fields/
  2. Contact the following Richland County officials to demand Officer Ben Fields be fired and prosecuted:

Sheriff Leon Lott
Twitter: @RCSD
Email: sheriff@rcsd.net

Superintendent Dr. Debbie Hamm
Twitter: @RichlandTwo
Email:  dhamm@richland2.org

3. Help spread awareness about this issue on social media using the hashtag
#AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh

UPDATE: Our voices were heard! Over 90,000 people signed the petition listed above and Officer Ben Fields has been fired! Unfortunately he is still not facing any criminal charges. The only people facing criminal charges are the two black teenage girls who were charged with “disturbing schools.” Sign this petition to #DropTheCharges for Shakara and Niya Kenny and prosecute Ben Fields. http://act.colorofchange.org/sign/prosecute_fields/

Sources

[1] Nia-Malika Henderson, Study: Black Girls Suspended At Higher Rates Than Most Boys, The Washington Post (Mar. 21, 2014) http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2014/ 03/21/study-black-girls-suspended-athigher-rates-than-most-boys/.

[2] Kali Nicole Gross, Drop The Charges Against The Students In Spring Valley High School, The Huffington Post: The Blog (Oct. 29, 2015) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kali-nicole-gross/dee-barnes-straightoutta_b_8023016.html, citing Saada Saar, et al., supra.

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/21/us/school-data-finds-pattern-of-inequality-along-racial-lines.html?_r=0

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/28/us/spring-valley-high-school-sc-officer-arrest.html?_r=0

[5] http://chicagodefender.com/2015/10/26/assaultatspringvalleyhigh-deputy-ben-fields-sued-twice-in-federal-court/

[6] http://www.newyorker.com/news/amy-davidson/what-niya-kenny-saw

[7] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/spring-valley-high-school-officer-tackled-teen-phone-article-1.2412665

[8] http://www.salon.com/2015/10/27/white_america_will_ignore_this_video_the_hideous_predictable_violence_of_our_schools_our_legal_system_our_society/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=socialflow

[9] http://www.vice.com/read/weed-is-basically-legal-in-new-york-city-now-but-only-if-youre-white-1023

[10] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2015/08/13/in-texas-police-stick-hand-up-womans-vagina-to-search-for-marijuana/

[11] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/03/racial-disparity-in-marijuana-arrests_n_3381725.html

[12] http://www.southerncoalition.org/mass-incarceration-people-color/

[13] http://www.vibe.com/2015/08/amy-poehler-blue-ivy-joke-difficult-people/