I didn’t watch the Oscars last night. I had no interest in watching White people give awards to other White people for two hours, to the exclusion of black and brown talent. I did, however, keep up on Twitter with which Black actresses where killing it on the red carpet, and which Black award winners brought attention to racial injustice – shout out to Common and John Legend.
I also kept up with who Black and social justice Twitter were going in on: Patricia Arquette was the number one target. Accordingly, I checked out her Best Supporting Actress acceptance speech and subsequent backstage interview to see what the big deal was.
She, too, sought to be a voice for a worthy social justice cause: gender wage equality. But in typical non-intersectional feminist fashion, she dropped the ball, and she dropped it on the LGBT community and people of color.
Arquette’s initial acceptance remarks were all good. 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!”
Fair enough. Women have made important contributions to social justice movements.
But then she elaborated on her remarks backstage. She continued, “When they wrote the constitution, they didn’t intend it for women… People think we have equal rights; we don’t. Until we pass a constitutional amendment, we won’t have anything changed. It’s time for all women in America and all the men who love women and all the gay people and people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”
It was at this moment that I knew: Patricia Arquette had lost her damn mind.
First and foremost, in calling out gay people and people of color, Arquette made it clear which women she had in mind as the benefactors of this fight for wage equality, and just who was included in the “we,” the “us,” and the “our.”
She meant straight white women.
Newsflash: there are a lot of women who are gay and of color, too.
What’s more, women of color are impacted even more by wage inequality than White women: White women earn 78 cents of every dollar a White man earns; Black women earn 64 cents; Native American women earn 59 cents; and Hispanic women earn 54 cents. In fact, even all men of color earn less than White women as well: Black men earn 73 cents of every dollar earned by a White man; and Hispanic men earn 61 cents. I don’t know the stats for the gay-straight wage gap or the cisgender-transgender wage gap, but I do know that openly transgender people have an incredibly difficult time finding a job at all. So for Arquette to stand up as a rich Hollywood actress White woman and demand that LGBT persons and people of color fight for her right to earn more money, was incredibly offensive. Quite frankly, she should be fighting for us.
But just as problematic as her neglect of any intersectional thought whatsoever, was this idea that gay people and people of color owe White women something – that we should fight for them because they have fought for us.
Please. Somebody give this woman a history lesson.
No doubt, when the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, they didn’t intend it to protect the rights of women. But they didn’t intend that for people of color either. In fact, Black women and men alike were written into the Constitution as 3/5 a white woman, Native Americans were written into it as subjects in their own land, and other people of color were written out of it completely. From their inception, the women’s suffrage and feminist movements among White women excluded women of color; most White women, as most White people did generally, opposed civil rights for Black and brown people. And many – not all – White people are opposed to the struggles of ethnic minorities in this country, and many more, if not most, are indifferent to them, especially in relation to the Black Lives Matter Movement.
So spare me the “we fought for you” bit.
I don’t think Arquette intended to be problematic with her comments. I think she doesn’t realize at all why what she said is problematic. And that’s a problem in itself. Her comments demonstrate the need for intersectional thought not only in social justice advocacy, but in our everyday lives as we interact with different kinds of people. We need to acknowledge and consider the intersections between different aspects of people’s identities – gender identity, race, class, sexual orientation, disability status, and otherwise – and the different experiences they encounter, issues they face, and ways they are marginalized because they check a certain combination of boxes and not another.
But when you don’t experience much – if any – marginalization as a result of the boxes you check – Arquette is White, cisgender, heterosexual, and rich, though she is also a woman – you don’t have to think intersectionally because the intersecting aspects of your identity don’t cause many problems for you on a daily basis. Arquette, as do many White people, especially those who seek to be allies to marginalized groups, needs to learn how to do this.
So, Patricia, gay people and people of color don’t owe you anything. When I see you at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in solidarity with Black people who get shot by the police every 28 hours, or at a Walmart protest for a minimum wage higher than $9 an hour, then come holler at me about supporting your right to earn a couple more million dollars.
Until then, have a seat, pop open some history and sociology texts, and read them quietly to yourself. Because when you open your mouth, you emit White privilege.
Brandon Ellington Patterson is a senior Sociology major at Howard University in Washington, DC. He was formerly Chairman of the Political Action Committee for the NAACP Howard Chapter. He is a weekly opinion contributor to Politic365 and an aspiring journalist.