Backstage, she explained to journalists how:
“So the truth is, even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America, right under the surface, there are huge issues that are applied that really do affect women. And it’s time for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”The undefined "we" is a dangerous and problematic speech act. Of course, it is evidence of lazy-thinking. Thus, the unmarked "we" is obnoxious and empty based on that fact alone.
The unmarked and unqualified "we" is pernicious, because like the universal "I", it operates to normalize the privileged and the in-group while excluding the Other. Thus, erasure in language reflects a desire for the disappearance and the erasing of people(s) whose identities complicate and disrupt the "natural order of things" and the lies produced by the White Gaze.
In the case of Patricia Arquette, the unmarked "we" consists of white heterosexual women, a group she transforms into universal victims and whose selfless suffering and generosity in the service of others' freedom and equality must be acknowledged and remediated.
After writing my first essay about Arquette's "foot in mouth crude celebrity moment of she or he who wants to pontificate on political matters about which they have minimal to no substantive training or understanding about" moment, I asked myself the following questions.
Why do Patricia Arquette's racist comments at the Oscars matter?
There are wars, resource scarcity, the rape of American democracy by the corporate state, corrupt and racist supreme court justices who threaten the legitimacy of that venerated institution, and apparently police in Chicago who have been operating a "black site" where they torture and "disappear" American citizens.
Why waste time talking about an overpaid celebrity and her clumsy moment of political theater?
Arquette matters because her speech at the Oscars (and subsequent comments) highlight White Feminism's long and deep predilection for racism and classism.
Arquette's use of the unmarked "we", and then emphasis on the boundaries of feminism and women as being exclusively "white", reflects a broader American (and global) system of power and inequality.
Her "we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights…" is part of a broader discourse on race, gender, and sexuality in American society. Arquette's white privilege, while being pushed back against in online spaces, as well as by opinion leaders in the traditional public sphere, was also defended by many others.
For example, deploying the standard tropes of colorblind racism in defense of Arquette's lack of critical thinking and white privilege framing in her Oscar comments, readers at the popular liberal website Daily Kos highlighted how "she didn't mean to be racist", "Arquette is just a celebrity who shouldn't be held to a high standard", "why alienate white allies by criticizing her!", "she gives money to poor black people in Haiti", and the classic post civil rights era (and often liberal racist) deflection, "we can't rank systems of oppression!".
In all, a critical intervention against Patricia Arquette's racial blinders--and by proxy White Feminism--is an opportunity to engage in systems level thinking (or alternatively phrased as the question, "what is this an example of?") about white supremacy, racism, and other types ideologies as lived cultural practices that work through individuals, but also structure life opportunities on an institutional level.
A discussion of the political work done by Patricia Arquette's Oscar comments is also an opportunity to rebut the notion of white racial innocence. Specifically, it is a chance to deconstruct and tear down the myth of inherent and de facto white female innocence, and of white women as "natural" allies in the struggle for justice along the colorline.
Yes, there are deep connections and overlaps between patriarchy and white supremacy. However, a rigorous and critical analysis of the relationship between gender and race in the West, must include how those women arbitrarily categorized as "white" have consistently benefited from white supremacy.
The slave plantation, Jim and Jane Crow, the Nazi regime of Europe, its Herrenvolk American cousin, and the material and psychic wages of whiteness have all privileged white women relative to people of color. Those social locations were also opportunities for white women to exercise power over black and brown men and women.
White women in a white supremacist society can be both disadvantaged by sexism while being advantaged by white supremacy. Moreover, as was seen in the United States and elsewhere, white women's claims on citizenship and belonging in the polity were furthered by their participation in the white supremacist racial project. Access to the broader public sphere was helped along by white female opinion leaders' ability to claim full citizenship for white women en masse because they too reflected the same racist values as white men.
In the United States and West, full citizenship for white women was qualified through their degree of allegiance and submission to the Racial State.
There is pedagogical value in discussing Patricia Arquette's blinders about race, gender, sexuality, class, and white feminism.
Women of color, transgendered folks, gays and lesbians, the working classes and poor, and those who sit outside of idealized norms about "correct" and "normal" bodies understand the key concepts that form the heart of "intersectionality" in a visceral and personal way because it is their lived experience.
Aquette's failure at the Oscars is an opportunity to share the rich scholarship about intersectionality with the general public in a way that is jargon free, transparent, and that speaks to lived experiences.
Many white women, in much the same manner as white men, are limited in their ability to fully embrace the Common Good, and an expansive and ethically sound humanity, because of an investment in Whiteness. Loyalty to Whiteness is treason to humanity. This is true for both those white men and white women who have not disowned their Whiteness.
Unfortunately, social justice is often hamstrung and limited by an unwillingness to name white women as complicit with and beneficiaries of white privilege and white supremacy.
We are left with an uncomfortable truth: white women are not necessarily natural allies with people of color. Likewise, historically in the United States and West, white men are most certainly not natural allies with people of color in the latter's struggle for justice and full citizenship. However, human beings who happen to be white have been, and are, central and essential allies in the Black and Brown Freedom Struggle. This is an essential difference; it is also one that too many folks are afraid to acknowledge.