This “Debate” Between Jessica Williams, Shirley MacLaine, And Salma Hayek Is Every Frustration I’ve Had With White Women
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images
Women of all colors and backgrounds have been fighting for the right to be viewed with just as much humanity as men since we first crawled out of caves. This is a noble cause that all mankind must take up. We all know this. Or at least we should. But somehow whiteness always finds a will and a way to muddy the waters. Just look at how many of them voted Toupè Fiasco into office. Look, white-cis-hetero women experience gender inequality differently than their counterparts of color in the Western world. This is no longer up for debate! Sure, we’ve all heard the statistical data about the pay discrepancy in Hollywood and Natalie Portman reportedly earned three times less than her male costar in some crappy movie nobody saw. But I bet Portman and her agents would scoff at the prospect of signing the kind of deal most black actresses make per project. Even when we’re the damn stars!
Outside of Hollywood, the wage gap is still stacked in favor or white and white-passing women. While they make $0.82 to the white male dollar, black women earn only $0.65 and Latinas are taking home a measly $0.58 to the dollar for the same work of their white male counterparts*. So yes, life for white women ain’t been no crystal stair, but to disregard the additional hurdles that women of color face every day is wrong-headed.
This, of course, brings us to the recent back-and-forth between Shirley MacLaine, Salma Hayek and former Daily Show correspondent Jessica Williams (and star of the upcoming “The Incredible Jessica James” with Atlanta’s LaKeith Stanfield). They were guests at a recent Sundance luncheon where women in entertainment, including Alfre Woodard, Dakota Fanning and Kimberly Pierce, were invited to break bread and discuss female empowerment in the male-dominated film industry. You can read the full transcript here. Go ahead, I’ll wait. I’ll just be over here punching the air like Cuba Gooding the Jr. in Boyz n the Hood and fighting back the urge to cuss out the first white lady in a pink knit hat that I see.
You mad? Good, me too. I almost expect white women, especially white women of a certain age, to not fully understand the importance of recognizing and acknowledging intersectionality when tackling sexism. I don’t give ladies from Gloria Steinem’s generation a pass but we’ve come a long way baby like them slim-ass cigarettes and sometimes old habits die hard. Ms. Hayek’s ass, though?! Nawl, bonita. I would think you’d know better but just like you should have known better than to do Grown Ups (and Grown Ups 2, what does Adam Sandler have on you?) I guess you missed the memo.
What especially irked me, however, was what MacLaine fixed her mouth to say to Williams:
“Change your point of view of being victimized. I’m saying: Find the democracy inside.“
First. Of. All. When some of your mammas were burning bras and rallying for sexual freedom, women of color were fighting against that plus the over-sexualization and subjugation of our black and brown bodies plus a whole slew of racist and race-related fuckshit. A subjugation created by the very white supremacist, capitalistic system that men who share the same skin-tone as you created. And if it wasn’t for our bodies being used, abused, sterilized and mutilated in the name of gynecological research you wouldn’t have anything to access in the first place. You’re welcome, by the way!
While your grandmothers and great-grandmothers were getting their sister suffragette on and demanding they be allowed to step outside of the kitchen and work for a living, our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were already working. Sometimes two jobs. They were cooking your meals and cleaning your homes and yes even wet-nursing your children so we’ll be good and god-damned if we’re gonna sit here and continue to placate your lilly-white sensibilities while you again attempt to speak over women of color. Especially trans women of color who face each day with their very bodies in mortal danger just for having the audacity to be alive.
I’m sure (by all reports) that Williams was uncomfortable confronting these two veterans of the screen and stage. I would have been. I read her measured replies and understood the delicate act she was forced to play. To not come across too impassioned lest she be labeled just another angry black woman. I silently cheered her on reading as she further articulated her points about her black identity not being something she can just “overcome” or remove like the latest fashion. Hayek, betraying everything Frida taught her about solidarity, missed yet another opportunity to catch the knowledge Williams was breaking down. “Then that’s your journey. But I want to inspire other people to know it’s a choice,” Hayek went on to say.
Doesn’t this sound like the cries of those who blame “identity politics” for the ills of the land and not like actual bigotry? I lost track of the number of times I‘ve been asked to stand idly by or rather behind some black man and support our race while keeping my mouth shut about black women dying by their hands in domestic violence cases. If I were keeping track it would probably be equal to the amount of times I felt silenced by some white woman as she spoke over me and even for me, demanding to be the mouthpiece of the feminist movement. Why in 2017 should this even still be an issue? Why are women of color, especially black women, burdened with continuing to fight with and for people who won’t fight for us? Who won’t even listen to us?
Maybe the myth of the angry black woman wouldn’t be so persistent if we weren’t constantly faced with this ignorance. It’s tiring. But still we find a way to keep going in a world that tells us every day and in every way that our voices shouldn’t carry. I salute you Jessica Williams for daring to speak on what we all know as black women. For having the strength to persevere in a land that seems to hate us from all sides and internalizing that strength and spinning it into black-gold magic.
And because irony: “Can I interrupt, because I feel misunderstood,” Hayek later said.