Monday, February 23, 2015

At the 2015 Oscars, Patricia Arquette Unintentionally Exposed White Feminism's Racist Blind Spot

Film is magical. As human beings, we are captivated by movies because of a particular quirk of our physiology wherein images moving at a certain speed create the illusion of motion on a screen. 

Movies are also an insight into our collective subconscious. Consequently, film channels a given society’s struggles and anxieties about power and questions of identity.

Celebrations of film such as the Oscars are exercises in narcissism and self-congratulatory behavior for those people who are fortunate (or not, depending on one’s point of view) to work in Hollywood. The Oscars are also an exercise in spectacle as well as wish fulfillment for the viewing audience.

If film is a type of political text, then the celebration of “popular” film at events such as the Oscars, provides an insight into American (and global) politics.

There, the acceptance speech can be transformed into a moment of political advocacy. The host's opening monologue is an opportunity to comment on timely matters of public concern or controversy. He or she who receives an award for their work may choose to speak about a matter of public policy during their acceptance speech.

In that moment, a truth can slip out, one that exists despite and contrary to their best intentions.

Patricia Arquette provided one such example during the 2015 Oscars where after receiving an award for Best Supporting Actress she proclaimed:

“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!”

The unmarked “we” is a powerful and dangerous turn of speech. It deflects responsibility. It exists outside of history. It dances around questions of causality and ownership. It is an empty vessel and marker. It is lazy thinking that legitimates inequality and injustice.

Arquette’s language is an appeal to a reasonable, principled, and long overdue outcome that all people of conscience should agree with. However, it is in the facts and details of history (and the present) where the problems with Patricia Arquette’s statement are revealed.

As much as some folks would like—both because of hopeful humanistic dreaming and out of cowardice for hoping to evade the fact of their unearned privileges and advantages—we cannot escape history’s gravity in the present.

As Neil Patrick Harris’s opening monologue alluded to, the Oscars, and Hollywood writ large, are examples of white privilege and the white racial frame as lived practice and political ideology.

White supremacy is one of the dominant ideologies of the modern and post-modern age.

It is reproduced by and through popular culture as one of contemporary global society’s dominant institutions.

White supremacy and white privilege are also organized systems of willful ignorance, mass amnesia, and selective forgetting and remembering for White America.

The “we” in “we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights” in Arquette’s rousing feminist appeal for fair pay and equal rights ignores how white women as a group have historically been, and in many ways remain, deeply invested in systems of white privilege and white supremacy in the United States and the West.

In the United States, white women actively supported Jim and Jane Crow. There were also women’s and children’s auxiliaries of the Ku Klux Klan. 

White women attended and participated in the spectacular lynchings of black men, women, and children. We cannot overlook how rape was one of the many false charges that were used to legitimate the torture and vicious murder of black men: black men were often killed by white men to protect the imagined “honor” and “virginity” of white women in Jim and Jane Crow America. Rarely if ever did white women intervene to correct this murderous lie.

Prominent white female suffragettes such as 1860s Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony used racial appeals against the full rights of black Americans in order to mobilize their white supporters.

For example, during the 1860s Elizabeth Cady Stanton stated that: 
American women of wealth, education, virtue and refinement, if you do not wish the lower orders of Chinese, Africans, Germans and Irish, with their low ideas of womanhood, to make laws for you and your daughters … awake to the danger of your present position and demand that woman, too, shall be represented in the government! 
Feminist warrior Susan B. Anthony was upset by how:
What words can express her [the white woman’s] humiliation when, at the close of this long conflict, the government which she had served so faithfully held her unworthy of a voice in its councils, while it recognized as the political superiors of all the noble women of the nation the negro men just emerged from slavery, and not only totally illiterate, but also densely ignorant of every public question.
19th and 20th century Herrenvolk, American, white society was sexist. As such, it viewed white woman’s personhood as something to be controlled and dominated by men because it was understood as a symbol and extension of white masculinity, honor, and power.

Unfortunately, the fight for white women’s voting rights against such a sexist order was legitimated within a white racist logic that deemed non-whites inferior.

In the post civil rights era, while modest (and very misunderstood) programs such as “affirmative action” were initially intended to provide a minor set of opportunities and fairness in initial hiring and promotion in some American industries for people of color, white women have been its greatest beneficiaries.

On an even larger macro-level scale, white American men and women both benefit from an inter-generational wealth gap that was created by racially unfair and disparate access to government programs such as the G.I. Bill and the F.H.A. home loan programs.

White supremacy, white privilege, and institutional systems of white advantage over people of color have a complicated relationship with gender politics. What social scientists, philosophers, activists, and others have termed as “intersectionality”, speaks directly to how race, class, gender, sexuality, ability status, ethnicity, and other markers of identity are contingent and circumstantial in how they locate privilege and disadvantage relative to one another.

2nd and 3rd wave feminists, womanists, and feminists of color more generally, have done incisive work in highlighting the complex relationship(s) between gender, race, class, and other identities. While the struggle for “women’s rights” is an honorable one, it does not exist separate and apart from broader systems of white racial privilege and relative disadvantage for non-whites.

Hollywood is a dream machine. In that machine, most viewers imagine themselves as the hero and not the villain. "We" want to be the person who made history and not the bystander to it...or worse he or she who is an active participant in or complicit with wrongdoing.

The Oscars are a celebration of that billion dollar dream world and fantasy land.

Patricia Arquette chose to use her moment of triumph in that spectacular dream world to make a statement about politics, gender, and society.

By comparison, those of us who are not the unmarked “we” have to live in the real world, one where history echoes into the present, and where racism often trumps the imagined community of shared human experience and opportunities that the in-group, and the privileged, project outward onto others as a way of evading uncomfortable truths about how the world “is”, as opposed to how they wish it to be.

Perhaps Hollywood is in fact a bastion of “liberal thought”. Nevertheless, it remains an American cultural institution that is steeped in white racism and white privilege.


Grumpyrumblings said...

Why don't you spend anywhere near the airtime complaining about white men who do NOTHING as you do complaining about white women who don't do everything? Why don't you talk about the problems women face every time you discuss racism? And why do you hardly ever discuss the problems black women face?

It's like you want to be divided and conquered.

Dan Kasteray said...

He just did discuss the problems black women and women face. This was an article attacking the weak points of white feminism. As well intentioned as arquette was, she still failed to call out on behalf of women and trans women of color. Even nominal allies need to be held accountable

Buddy H said...

I wonder if Kristi Capel will ever apologize for calling what Lady Gaga sang at the Oscars "jigaboo music"?

Miss Missouri USA 2006 gets a job on a foxnews affiliate and sticks her foot in her mouth. Who could have predicted that?

Dan Kasteray said...

Hollywood is not liberal. Its a deeply corporate and conservative bastion home to Michael bay. If you want really good movies you need to watch indie films. Even no budget YouTube fan films have more depth and thought than the average blockbuster

joe manning said...

Arquette's seemingly innocuous "we" is code for HRC's "...good Americans, white Americans." Its unlikely that white supremacy could persist if not for such public expressions which solidary-ize ritualize, and transmit it intergenerationally. Liberalism, and feminism are seminal progressive movements but they are steeped in the waspish politics of classism, racism, exclusion, othering, and scapegoating. Getting past our petty particularisms and embracing universalism is a matter of education for survival.

Stanley Rogouski said...

Interesting quote:

"if you do not wish the lower orders of Chinese, Africans, Germans and Irish, with their low ideas of womanhood, to make laws for you and your daughters"

Made in the context of the wave of German/Irish immigration in the 1840s and 1850s.

Another example that could be added to your list is Lillian Gish, who got her start in early Hollywood making pro-KKK propaganda.

Buddy H said...

Very true. The blockbuster directors have no idea how to craft a script, create dialogue, or even frame a scene so that it makes visual sense, rather than a dizzying mess of CGI

Black Sci-Fi said...

Hollywood is a mega-business in America the panders to stereotypes and focus groups. The overwhelming majority of folks buy the Koch Industryproducts without giving it a 2nd thought. In most cases it's because thay have the majority market share and an advertising monopoly to sustain their market share. So too does the Hollywood film inductry and their most successful (Eastwood, et al) employees who are give the "green light" to espouse the "party line" in their creative(?) works.
It should be no surprise that popular or political speech is practiced by image-seekers who certainly have the right to champion their cause-of-the-week. But, IMHO the old saying "don't be on my side" applies more to white liberals than to the most strident white racists.

Dan Kasteray said...

If I did my job the way executives run their studios I'd be out of work in three seconds flat

chauncey devega said...

I will leave others to engage your histrionics.

"It's like you want to be divided and conquered."

That is a common deflection when one talks about white women's complicity with white supremacy and white privilege. Very predictable.

chauncey devega said...

Didn't know that. Learned something again! Good sharing.

Stanley Rogouski said...

She was in Birth of a Nation.

Plantsmantx said...

Yeah, I detected more than a whiff of "PUMA" in her speech, too.

Plantsmantx said...

I've read complaints about her "erasing people of color" in her pronouncements, particularly the one she gave backstage. Actually, what she said would have been less offensive she she had "erased" us. Instead, she harangued us to dedicate (and subjugate) ourselves to helping to achieve the goals of white feminism, because they "fought for" us. For one thing, I think she needs a remedial course in "White Saviorhood", lol. Somebody needs to tell her that it involves fake selflessness, all the way through:).

Shady Grady said...

Arquette’s speech went over like gangbusters on social media (though some found her plea backstage for “all the gay people and people of color we’ve all fought for to fight for us now” somewhat divisive):

I think Arquette's history lesson is off. And she (as many white women are wont to do unfortunately) erases black women from her picture. And if she believes that white women are less privileged than any people of color well then there's not much to say to that.

Dan Kasteray said...

The white savior, one of the TV tropes most in need of death and the reason I can't finish playing far cry 3

E-clair said...

The point being raised here is the pathology of white-female victimology. The “lily of the south” was/is a role created for and filled by complicit white women, and designed to literally exterminate black men. White women have a very complex relationship with racism. Claiming victimhood is the cornerstone of that relationship. Arquette just claimed victimhood at the expense of marginalized voices. Idealogically, it's no different from the kind of victimhood that still leads to the deaths of black men. I think this IS very much a problem that women face. I'm a white woman, and I find it highly problematic that the 'role' designed for me by white supremacy is that of a helpless, disenfranchised, blameless and submissive barbie doll. It's a role that white women should reject all around in favor of becoming true allies of POC, especially WOC, because we are fully realized human beings.

kokanee said...

“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!”

Oh Patricia Arquette, who are you talking about when you say "everybody else's equal rights"?

Backstage she tell us:
And it's time for all the women in America and all the men who love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we've all fought for to fight for us now. —

She digs herself further in a hole. Either she forgot that women can be also gay or non-white; or, she's simply not including them. Women are hardly the most disenfranchised group in America. There is no reason to be exclusionary when everyone is in this fight together. Why not push for federal legislation for equal rights and equal pay no matter what the "race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and social status?" Thank you Common for that whose speech was fantastic. Common and John Legend carried the Oscars as well as the Grammys. John Legend's acceptance speech brought up the fact that, "There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850."

Honorable mention to Lady Gaga. Some Fox woman called her music Jigaboo music —yikes! I had to look that term up. I thought Neil Patrick Harris did a fine job but I may be the only one who thinks that. Sean Penn's, "Who gave this sonofabitch's greencard?" which was meant as a joke to his friend, Alejandro González Iñárritu but I thought it was deplorable and jaw dropping. AGI's speech was good too. I love all the activism that was on stage last night.

I give Patricia Arquette her props for her charity which helps "assist displaced families after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Givelove responded to the immediate need for sanitation in tent camps by bringing the best experts in the field of EcoSan to help start several large compost toilet projects at primary schools and NGO compounds." —

Additional related reading:

1) Slate's Amanda Marcotte: <a href='">Patricia Arquette’s Feminism: Only for White Women</a>

2) Chris Hedges writing about rights in prison: {In a nutshell, the gov't dehumanizes the inmates, strips them of their human rights and then applies that program to the general population. This is an issue that doesn't get enough attention.

dickarmys_boehner said...

I imagine that line being delivered in a Family Guy cut away of a KKK award show as a faked Freudian slip, wink wink.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

Is that the same we that freed black people but had nothing to do with their enslavement and oppression?
There's a lot of those people around.

eic83u77dcu said...

Lol. Such a typical man.

A woman makes a speech demanding equality for all women including yours, and you put her down as unworthy because of past racism of people dead for hundreds of years. Superficial male pig.

joe manning said...

In deference to liberal feminists and women in general I don't characterize them as pumas, cougars, jaguars, bunnies, chicks, foxes, etc. Liberalism has given us affirmative action, the minimum wage, Social Security, and Medicare, but has conspicuously not secured wage equality for women as Arquette strategically asserted. However she failed to acknowledge that despite liberalism's many contributions to humanity it is an elitist doctrine designed to benefit mostly the white middle class. The current project is getting from classism to universalism.

Courtney H. said...


kaydenpat said...

I'm curious as to how Arquette is reacting to all of the backlash. I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she regrets how her words were taken.

conlakappa said...

Party Unity My Ass = PUMA. A cry from HRC supporters about getting behind the candidate in 2008.

conlakappa said...

Or create fully formed female characters, not reflective of whatever the proximate male characters.

conlakappa said...

How her words were taken or how she formed them?

Buddy H said...

She has apologized. She claims she didn't know what the word meant; didn't even know it was a word.

My guess is she grew up hearing family members use the term, and thought it was a term for annoying contemporary music.

She is, of course, a liar and a nitwit. She got a brief scolding from her bosses, and will continue on air.

chauncey devega said...

Hale's book is excellent. Her followup on Jim and Jane Crow is great too. Racism and Sexism is also very good. I have used it for class.

Have you read Contract and Domination?

Black ISIL? Fill me in. That is new to me.

My psyche is pretty well-integrated--or so I have been told--so some sharing about gender doesn't cause me to have black man pity party why duh women hate us barbershop immature moments.

I have written about Men's Rights foolishness here before as you know. When I hear black men parroting that mess I shake my head.

Buddy H said...

Correction: She got a three-day suspension:

joe manning said...

Oh, duh, thanks, and never mind.

Heavy Armor said...

Nope, that's Cougar.

joe manning said...

Party Unity My Ass. I get it. And you are so right!

Courtney H. said...

This video is an example of the Black ISIL that Skillet Blonde was discussing:

Courtney H. said...

@ Skillet Blonde:

Thank you for your eloquent, complex comments. You cover a lot of ground. Here is an example of the Black ISIL which you discuss:

Courtney H. said...

Here is another video of Black ISIL:

skilletblonde said...

Courtney, thank you for posting the videos. Notice the hatred coming through the commentary. In the second video you posted, did you catch him referring to the African American woman spokesperson in the news conference as "Head Bedwench"? I am currently lisening to the third one. There is also a group of brothers from some religious order, I want to call them Black Hebrews; but don't quote me. They have a video insisting that black women's hair is a result of a curse. Why? Well they acted above their men. Surprise, surprise! If it wasn't so dangerous, it would be funny.

skilletblonde said...

I was being factitious with Black ISIL On Crack. I made that up. I was simply making a comparison of the Conscience Community who appears to have a streak of chauvinism, and another group of men that have emerge that are extremely angry. They make no bones about what they think of black women and feminism. Frankly, I don't think they have a clue what feminism is. They have internalized what white bigots have said about black women, and they believe it. Some of the others that I found are title




Courtney H. said...

Skilletblonde, you are welcome. And thank you for providing the videos. I just watched the last one you posted. These people are crazy! And the reaction of the women shows how people are easily manipulated by dogma and deliberate misinterpretations of the Bible. It is very dangerous, and scary indeed.