Last week, women of color called on white feminists to do a better job when it comes to talking about race. As a white feminist, I was embarrassed by the poor (or non) response of many to The Onion’s horrific tweet calling 9-year-old black actress Quvenzhané Wallis a “cunt” after last weekend’s Oscar ceremonies.
Therefore, on Friday, Melissa McEwan graciously gave me the platform of Shakesville to write, what became, a 4000-word post on why white feminists need to do better.
I’m keenly aware that I am here, a white lady, writing about this right now. I’m extremely aware that the takeaway may be that I am trying to play “good white feminist” up against “bad white feminists.” Today is March 1. It has been over five days since The Onion posted that tweet, since MacFarlane sexualized Wallis, and this is my first sustained critique of the entire episode. I admit wholeheartedly that my writing of this post was not because I am some kind of superior social justice activist but rather that I felt terrible guilt yesterday when my friend, @graceishuman, tweeted the following:
Like @StephHerold said, *institutional* white feminist response has been basically *crickets*. So from my POV the issue is less that white feminists didn’t speak up for Quvenzhané. Many did. To me the issue is more that it almost always takes black women to point out these silences and attacks. The silences and attacks from white feminists, I mean. It shouldn’t be all on black women + other WOC to address this substantively. With few exceptions it’s always WOC starting the convo about racism in feminism. Has to change.
I shouldn’t have needed that push. But I did. And once I read those words from someone I respect more than almost anyone else in the world, I felt compelled. This is the result.
I, white lady feminist, have a responsibility here and I want to meet it.
My ideas weren’t new. Many, many women of color had already said much of what I said (the quoting and linking in the piece hopefully makes that clear).
Yes, I saw plenty of white feminists tweeting their anger about The Onion and MacFarlane. But let’s be honest about Twitter. It’s ephemeral. It quickly disappears unless someone takes note of a particular tweet’s URL, screenshots it, or puts it into a chirp story or storify post. There is a reason people write blog posts. There is a reason we do this kind of long-form writing: It lasts.
While it is wonderful that so many people jumped to Wallis’ defense in the immediate aftermath of the Oscars and the Onion tweet, if we want the message to have staying power, we’ve got to write it down. Every time we choose to take the time to write one thing down and not another, we are making a political choice about what topics matter enough to us to make that effort. While tweeting matters, too (at least I hope so, shit), white feminists’ reaction to women of color pointing out our lack of response cannot be a defensive “but I tweeted about it for a day” and feel like that is good enough. If nothing else, what women of color are saying to white feminists is that it wasn’t good enough. White feminists need to listen.