Tuesday, September 22, 2015

When you are minding your business, and White Feminism strikes again

Last night the ever-talented, radiant, and brilliant Viola Davis won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, becoming the first Black woman to ever win that award. The only thing that was more beautiful that Davis’s win was her acceptance speech. Davis began her speech by quoting Harriet Tubman: “In my mind, I see a line, and over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched to me over that line, but I can’t seem to get to it no how. I can’t seem to get to that line.” She explained that the only difference between women of color and everyone else is opportunity, saying, “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” Davis ended the speech by thanking all of the beautiful Black actresses that have helped Black women reach over that line that Harriet Tubman spoke about so long ago. The speech in and of itself was Black excellence; it was moving and truly encouraging.  What made the night even more magical was that two other Black actresses also won Emmys: Regina King for Best Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie and Uzo Aduba for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. Before the night ended, Apple showed a commercial that featured Mary J. Blige, Taraji P. Henson, and Kerry Washington. Last night, I went to sleep feeling like I could do anything.

Viola Davis at the 2015 Emmy Awards

Monday, I woke up refreshed and renewed, ready to start my week on the right foot. I committed to doing my homework at night instead of ten minutes before class; I went to bed at a reasonable hour and even got up early to eat breakfast. I really felt like I was getting my life together, but then Diablo came alive and slapped me in the face with some White feminism, and now I simply cannot deal.

Apparently, while I and the rest of the world were basking in Black women magic last night, soap actress Nancy Lee Grahn was at her house indulging in a bag of her saltiness with a side of White tears.  After Davis won last night, Grahn took to twitter and did what haters do best, which is… hate. Grahn wrote, “I wished I loved #ViolaDavis Speech, but I thought she should have let @shondarhimes write it. #Emmys.” Grahn also went on to say, “I’m a fucking actress for 40 years. None of us get respect or opportunity we deserve. Emmys not venue 4 racial opportunities. ALL women belittled.” After twitter dragged her to Hades and back, Nancy Lee Grahn apologized for her action by saying, “ I never meant to diminish her accomplishment. I wish I could get her roles. She is a goddess. I want equality 4 ALL women, not just actors.” 

At first I was going to leave this confused, old, salty, White feminist alone. I usually do not like to give foolishness any platform because I do not want the disease to gain influence and spread, but certain things need to be addressed sometimes.  I for one am tired of the backlash Black women and people receive whenever they speak the truth. Viola Davis last night spoke nothing but the truth; she spoke of nothing but the reality in which she lives, the reality in which we all live, where seeing Black faces on television and in media is dismal, the reality where Black bodies are not given as many opportunities as their White peers, the reality that if we were given the chance, the world would see just how capable and excellent we are.

Last night Viola Davis got on stage and advocated not only for herself but also for every Black woman, child, and person. She advocated for young Black students attending elite colleges, who are often “black beans in a bowl of white rice,” for little Black children who are rarely represented on television in a positive light, for Black people who happen to be the only Black person in any fieldwork. She used her acceptance speech to lift up and encourage Black women, to give them credit, and to let all Black people know that they are neither alone nor forgotten in their journey. Her speech was not divisive; she did not diminish the accomplishment of any other person, and she did not ask to be given opportunities she does not deserve.

I am tired of non-Black people believing that everything a Black perosn does has to be tailored against them. When we support each other, when we love one another, when we excel, when we speak the truth, when we want more people who look like us, when we want more people to be in our field of work, we are not trying to diminish or ignore any other race. We are merely trying to uplift ourselves, because let’s be honest, if Black people do not support other Black people, who will? If Black people do not call for a normalizing of television, who will? If black women will not call for more opportunities for themselves, who will? It is heartbreaking to think we cannot celebrate one another because others are insecure about themselves. 

Despite it all, I am determined to not let Diablo win today, and I completely understand that Nancy Lee Grahn is plagued with a case of White feminism.  Viola Davis is still a queen, and all aspects of life are still magical, and I still have my edges.  

P.S. To White feminists out there, the recognition of Black women’s excellence doesn’t devalue anyone else’s excellence.  

- Ashleandra Opoku '17, Multicultural and LGBTQ Affairs Intern

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