If there were ever any doubts that white feminists are disengaged from and apathetic to the concurrent racism that Black feminists must navigate in an increasingly hipster and kyriarchal society, look no further than their deafening silence when satirical website, The Onion, called 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis a “cunt” on Twitter.
The arc of white feminist dialogue on social media in the wake of the barbaric, misogynistic tweet emerged as tepid awareness – maybe, possibly, there’s racism – before curving towards the indefensible position of their white, male counterparts – it’s just brilliant satire – before ultimately coming to rest at dismissal. The lack of concern that white feminists displayed for this little, brown girl could not have been more obvious even if they donned a head scarf and said a raspy, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” before scurrying off to chide Oscar host Seth MacFarlane for his song about boobs or the Academy for only awarding 9 out of 30 awards to women.
Because that’s all that’s important, right?
We’re in post-racial America, so we shouldn’t be so touchy about MacFarlane and Lincoln star Daniel Day-Lewis sharing a guffaw about Don Cheadle being mistaken for a slave while he’s in character. We shouldn’t care about Iron Man star Robert Downey, Jr. defiantly clapping as MacFarlane joked about the brutalization of a then 21-year-old Rihanna, because she went back to her abuser, so to hell with objectifying her for shits and giggles.
And we most certainly shouldn’t care about a 9-year-old Black girl-child being called a “cunt” on the biggest night of her life because there are more important white feminist things to be concerned about.
The silence — and in the case of XOJane writer, Mandy Stadtmiller, the defense — in the face of The Onion hiding behind a foggy, humor lens to perpetuate misogyny and racism has been disappointing, but, unfortunately not surprising.
Because for many white feminists — not all — the realization that they do not stand to benefit from acknowledging the intersection of race and feminism renders them mute. The conversation surrounding the lack of inclusiveness and diversity within the feminist movement is one that never progresses because many white feminists feign ignorance of their privilege. They are comfortable allowing their Black counterparts to march in their Slutwalks while protesters carry “Woman Is The Nigger Of The World’ posters because racism is not their battle. It’s ours.
They encourage us to shrug off our Blackness for the greater feminist good; the end result being a contemporary plantation tableau defined by Ole Miss and Mammie slaying the patriarchal dragon while the issues of racism and classism are hidden behind the veil of “progress.” And while this scenario is about as feel-good as The Help, expanding white privilege — feminist or otherwise — is not equality.
When Quvenzhané Wallis was called that horrible word and Black feminists rushed to fill the vast social media space with righteous indignation and even a love letter letting her know that she is cherished, valued, and worthy of protection, we fought that battle alone. Even Baratunde R. Thurston, comedian and author of How To Be Black, defended his former employers. While he made it clear that he would stay out of the fray, he peeped his head in juuuuuust long enough to let us know that though he felt bad for Quvenzhané and her family, The Onion deleting the tweet was kind of a huge deal.
Oh, well, that’s just swell! We’ll just grab our tampons, Afro picks and anger, and be on our way.
^See what I did there? That’s satire.
As the layers of this incident continue to unfold, Black feminists have been accused by misogynists of irrationalism in the face of microaggression and ignorance in the face of satire apparently so sophisticated that it floats just beyond our comprehension. And during this condescending exercise in privilege, white feminists have largely remained silent. That is the travesty here. We can all take the outcry over Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a “slut” all the way to the White House, but a 9-year-old Black girl can’t even get the support of white feminists in 140 characters or less.
— Sandra Fluke (@SandraFluke) February 28, 2013
Though I’m sure I will be called divisive for examining the very large cat that has apparently grabbed the tongues of self-proclaimed feminist organizations and torch-bearers who would have essentially stormed the Bastille if any young, white girl had “playfully” been called a “cunt” in front of millions of people, I’m perfectly fine with that. In fact, I embrace it. Feminism is the flawed solution to a very complex equation, and to get to the root of any complex equation, one must divide. Unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly evident that some people don’t want us to divide because then we’ll realize something isn’t quite adding up.
Shirley Chisholm once said that “the emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, “It’s a girl.”
For Black women, go ahead and add racial objectification to the list. And if the case of a 9-year-old Black girl has taught us anything, it’s that when it comes to combating intersecting cases of racism and sexism, don’t be surprised if we’re all we got.
Follow Kirsten West Savali on Twitter at @KWestSavali.