White Feminists, Please Remember That Black Women Are People Too

Time and time again, white women prove that their understanding of womanhood and feminism is completely exclusive to white women only. Actor Julie Delpy recently argued that she would rather be black than a woman in Hollywood when asked about the industry’s diversity issue saying,

“Two years ago, I said something about the Academy being very white male, which is the reality, and I was slashed to pieces by the media,” she said. “It’s funny — women can’t talk. I sometimes wish I were African-American, because people don’t bash them afterward.”

She elaborated:“It’s the hardest to be a woman. Feminists is something people hate above all. Nothing worse than being a woman in this business. I really believe that.”

Her statement incited a social media uproar, with many calling them insensitive and inflammatory. In response, Delpy released this apology a few days ago:

“I’m very sorry for how I expressed myself. It was never meant to diminish the injustice done to African-American artists or to any other people that struggle for equal opportunities and rights, on the contrary. All I was trying to do is to address the issues of inequality of opportunity in the industry for women as well (as I am a woman). I never intended to underestimate anyone else’s struggle! We should stay alert and united and support each other to change this unfair reality and don’t let anyone sabotage our common efforts by distorting the truth.”

This apology is a fantastic fail and underscores the problem with white women and their exclusive feminism and womanhood. Sadly, it is not the first and probably won’t be the last fail of its kind.

Last year, Patricia Arquette came under fire during an Oscars acceptance speech after calling to close the gender wage gap by claiming, “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.”

And let’s not forget that Meryl Streep proudly sported a shirt that read “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave,” during a photoshoot for Time Out Magazine.
What do all of these examples have in common? They refuse to recognize that women of color also happen to be women and are even sometimes feminists.  Black women who were slaves, also happened to be bad ass rebels and feminists as well, as proven by Sojourner Truth’s now historically famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman?” It’s too bad these white women still somehow fail to understand that womanhood and feminism are not exclusive to whiteness.

This failure represents why conversations about intersectionality in feminism and marginalization are not only extremely important and necessary, but point to a pre-established divide between women of color and white women. An unfettered racial bias of sorts that is omnipresent, and also has substantial ramifications because it can be easily exploited.

After all, there can really only be limited progress for women as a whole when the largest and most powerful feminist body comprises of white women, many of whom don’t even see women of color as women at all. Why did Deply not consider the fact that it is hard to be a women in Hollywood and that those difficulties are exacerbated by the very racism that inspired the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite? That it is especially hard to be a black woman in the business? How did Patricia Arquette miss the fact that white women out earn both men and women of color? How did Meryl Streep not consider that large scores of black women– whose ancestors were enslaved by force– would be offended that her shirt framed forms of oppression, like slavery, as a choice when black women had no say in the matter of their own enslavement and died fighting to be freed?

So while conversations about intersectionality and white female racism are branded “divisive”, as women of color already know, it is not the conversations which create the divide. That gap was created and maintained by the supremacy of whiteness in a space– “feminism”– that, by its definition, should advocate for all women’s rights and equality, but sadly often only has room for the ruling majority.