Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Why do Patricia Arquette's 'White Feminism' Comments at the Oscars Matter?

After receiving the award for Best Supporting Actress at the 2015 Oscars, Patricia Arquette clarified the unstated and undefined "we" that loomed over her acceptance speech.

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.


kokanee said...

I hope Patricia Arquette reads this essay. Equal rights for women should never be at the expense of ethnicity, sexual orientation, appearance, disability, wealth (lack of), place of birth, nationality(s), citizenship, criminal record, accent, religion or anything else. What makes Arquette's statement so heinous is that while "women have fought for gay rights and people of color's rights, it's time for them to fight for women's rights" in order to elevate women's rank in order to preserve the historical hierarchy. I hope that's not what she meant. It looks like a slip of implicit bias. What troubles me most of all is that she has defended her statements instead of apologize for them.

Should everyone have equal pay for equal work? I say yes. I think that's fair.

Now from a capitalist's point of view, women are less likely to stay late at work as they may have go home and make dinner for the family. Women are more likely to leave work early to pick up a sick child at school. Women are more likely to take maternity leave or quit work due to pregnancy or return to work after maternity leave or quit work due to other family duties which still fall on women societally. So all else being equal, what's a good capitalist to do without equal pay for equal work legislation? Here's an interesting twist: female porn stars are paid much much more than their male counterparts. It's supply and demand. Equal pay for male porn stars?

My defense of all women:
Women are more compassionate, caring, understanding, forgiving, nurturing than men and less prejudiced, violent and authoritarian than men. I would hope they would be natural allies with all disenfranchised groups. Of course, history has not always borne that out.

Dan Kasteray said...

Well put Chauncey, well put. All prejudice and class warfare needs to be put to the microscope. Evil thrives in dark places. Even "good" people need to be held accountable

chauncey devega said...

"What makes Arquette's statement so heinous is that while "women have fought for gay rights and people of color's rights, it's time for them to fight for women's rights" in order to elevate women's rank in order to preserve the historical hierarchy. I hope that's not what she meant. It looks like a slip of implicit bias. What troubles me most of all is that she has defended her statements instead of apologize for them."

That is a smart and important angle I had not thought of. What did she actually mean? A payback where white women are returned to their "rightful" place?

Much to think about there historically and in the present.

joe manning said...

I hope "wage equality" emerges as the universal organizing principle that it potentially is.

White women oscillate between a vicarious identification with blacks and racism which may somewhat explain Arquette's disingenuously inclusive "we."

Second wave feminism, in its liberal sublimation is elitist/classist, but all the same, it has generated an amazing body of scholarship. Radical feminists have contributed immensely to humanity's understanding of its particularisms as weigh stations toward universal inclusion.

Women especially have an ax to grind in that they formed the archetypal division of labor along the lines of male/female/mastery/subserviency, thereby defining the original basis for class divisions, slavery, and caste divisions based on cosmetic anatomical features.


Cavoyo said...

'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"...'

I wonder how many of these same commenters will complain day and night about anything Kanye says.

kokanee said...

Good insights!

P. S. The first link didn't work. It's voir vs. vior.


kokanee said...

Speaking about adult film stars and the economy around them, you likely know this...
I didn't! I would have thought it was the other way around! Silly me...

Buddy H said...

Inspired by Patricia Arquette’s speech at the Oscars about wage inequality, three-time WWE Divas champion A.J. Lee accused the league of paying female wrestlers less than their male counterparts.

D. Wright said...

You've thoroughly demonstrated Feminism's compliance to racism and White Supremacy, but I wonder: could Feminism be anything but racist in a White Colonial Republic? Feminism's goals have always oriented towards the incorporation and negotiation of (White) Women with the existing White Supremacist power structure rather than destroying it.

Methinks the answer is, "No".

Buddy H said...

amusing reaction from the folks at the Onion:

“I have to say, this makes professional wrestling look embarrassingly outdated.”

“You know the WWE is going to draw out this wage discrimination storyline at least until SummerSlam.”

joe manning said...

Here's the link again http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shulamith_Firestone

waterwitch said...

Giving huge benefit of the doubt, I wonder if Arquette was making a distinction between people of color (read as male) and women (maybe, maybe, read as including White and POC)?

Doubt wins, unfortunately. There's a very common distinction in White discourse between POC and "women." Affirmative Action, for example, was/is seen as beneficial to "African Americans" and "women," as though there were no overlap between those two groups. In White discourse, "women" is read as "White women," and POC is read as male, and wom
en of color are disappeared, again--a history that goes right back to White suffragists jettisoning African-American women to help ensure "women's" suffrage got the votes of Southern congressmen.

So. I think I answered my own question. It's most likely (given the discourse) that she was thinking "men of color" and "White women" who have helped them. And of course, historically, there's just so much wrong with the naive belief that White women have helped men of color .

Black Sci-Fi said...

The alternative slogan for PUMA: "Carry our sign, from the back of the line"

joe manning said...

Its voir vis a vis stone.