The 87th Academy Awards Ceremony was held last week in ‘Murica and amongst all of the capitalist, white-washing gratuitous self-indulgent shite that was splattered across the media, the moments filling up my news feed were Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Boyhood, and host Neil Patrick Harris’ nod to the institutional anti-blackness of the whole thing – “Tonight we celebrate Hollywood’s best and whitest, sorry … brightest.”
The quote of Patricia’s- that while many applauded her for ‘speaking out for feminism’, many others found to be an inherently problematic one – reads as follows:
“To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights — it’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America…”
See anything wrong in that bit?
As part of the entire contemporary feminist movement, there is a huge focus on intersectionality, and it aint a new concept. Intersectionality as an emerging concept can be traced back to the nineteenth century, however the term’s first documented usage is by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989.
A feminist sociological theory, intersectionality – and I am legitimately using a Wikipedia definition here because some people just don’t get it – “is the study of intersections between forms or systems of oppression, domination or discrimination.”
What this means is that these things not only intersect (cross over) with one another but that for every person who is ‘othered’ in one way or another (due to the normalisation and prioritisation that takes place in society of certain groups of people over others), multiple forms of injustice could be actively taking place towards that person at any one time.
Intersectionality, as a theory, “holds that the classical conceptualizations of oppression within society… do not act independently of one another. Instead, these forms of oppression interrelate, creating a system of oppression that reflects the “intersection” of multiple forms of discrimination.” (I know Wiki seems patronising but it appears to be the only way to get through to some people.)
This means that while you are a victim of discrimination in one sense, you absolutely have to recognise that you still hold privilege in another. That privilege doesn’t cancel out any marginalisation that someone has been through; it just identifies that while you are treated as ‘other’ in one faculty, you still hold a position of power as a ‘subject’ in another.
Fantastic examples of where WOC have written about this, and in particular about white privilege include The Angry Black Woman’s 2006 piece, ‘Things You Need To Understand #4’ in which she said:
“When I speak of White Privilege, I am not speaking of economics (though they may come into play based on the individual), I am speaking of unearned advantages one has because one is born White. That’s not the only kind of Privilege there is, of course.”
Another more recent example is BattyMamzelle’s 2014 piece, ‘This Is What I Mean When I Say “White Feminism””, where she describes how allyship must not lead to speaking over and/or dominating the conversation.
“Being a good ally means recognizing that sometimes your input is not needed or wanted, and that it’s incredibly inappropriate to demand that a marginalized group, (in this case, WoC within the feminist movement) restructure a conversation that is happening to serve their needs, in a way that is more “comfortable” for the very people they are mobilizing against.”
Intersectionality absolutely does not ‘create barriers between people’ or ‘further prevent unity and equality’ as many who are against the theory would have you believe. What it does do is acknowledge the systems of power in a society, the different inequalities that exist and the identities of those who are suffering a result of them.
This brings me to what was severely problematic with Patricia Arquette and Neil Patrick Harris’ comments. While on the one hand, I fully acknowledge that Patricia is using her position of power (subject) to speak out about an important issue (pay inequality), she is not acknowledging her position whilst doing so or making it apparent that she understands her mountain of privilege in the process. (Apparently she tweeted a barrage of stuff afterwards elaborating that ‘she did mean everyone’ later but I don’t really accept that given the magnitude of the situation.)
Also “we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights”???
Who is she including in this all-encompassing ‘we’ and who is ‘everybody else’? Pretty clear cut and dismissive there to be honest.
Neil Patrick Harris’ comment, for me is still along the same vein of smug and ignorant. Great, you’ve acknowledged the lack of diversity at the Awards, not so great that it’s a one-liner said from a white man chosen to host the white-fest.
I want to stress that I am one-hundred-percent not calling any of this behaviour racist. It is impossible for me, as a white woman to discern racism of any kind – I never have been and never will be a victim of it. I am merely pointing out the lack of intersectionality that both parties have displayed, and the frustration that evokes when they are the most focussed on moments.
A moment that does deserve the highest recognition however was the incredible acceptance speech by music artists Common and John Legend, as they collected their Award for Best Original Song. ‘Glory’, from the motion picture ‘Selma’, is the most powerful, emotive and inspirational track in a very long time.
The speech that the two men gave is indescribable.
‘Selma’ tells the story of Martin Luther King’s campaign to secure equal voting rights, including the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Starring David Oyelowo as King, the film won many other awards, and was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars but lost to ‘Birdman’. (I would like to emphasise that ‘Selma’ was not nominated in any other categories at this ceremony.) I will be watching the movie as soon as assessments are over.
In sum, as advocates of social change, we all still have internalised behaviours that we need to work on. We can all continue to learn, to educate ourselves and others and most importantly to listen to the experiences of others when they speak out. Respect someone’s identity, respect someone’s experiences – don’t shout over them and don’t speak on their behalf.
On that note, here are some amazingly creative people of colour speaking out about intersectionality, activism, and their experiences- go and learn something:
various contributors to Black Girl Dangerous, Michal ‘MJ’ Jones,Amani Hayes-Messinger,Cornelius Jones Jr., Brandon Lacy Campos, various contributors to hoodfeminism, various contributors to Ebony, Pamela Merritt, Dr Kortney Ziegler, Wagatwe Wanjuki, various contributors to the Crunk Feminist Collective, Kim Katrin Milan, A. Breeze Harper, PhD, Race Jones, Shola Lynch, Lourdes Ashley Hunter, MPA, Candice Iloh, Kai M. Green, FM Supreme (Jessica Disu), Tim’m T. West, Mahogany L. Browne, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, Janet Mock…
Comments are welcome if they are respectful of individuals’ experiences and identities, feel free to link me to your blog/piece below!