author – activist – faculty – mom
Lately, celebrities making offensive comments in the media and then apologizing has become so common that I’ve been noticing a certain pattern to it. Julie Delphy is the example of the week. And an analysis of her blunder has also led me to diagnose a new syndrome: White Feminist Temporary Narcissism Syndrome (WFTNS). I tried to get a WTF into the acronym, but it was too much of a stretch. Anyway, first let me lay out the stages.
White actress and filmmaker Julie Delphy was quoted by The Wrap as saying “Nothing worse than being a woman in this business,” and “I sometimes wish I were African American.”
Social media critics—particularly women of color—were quick to respond.
In particular, these parody tweets by Jane SeeMoar were KILLING me.
I had my own snarky Twitter moments, as well.
While every instance of crossing the line has its detractors, it also has its cheering squad. They generally fall into two groups. People from the target group who defend the line-crossing and people from the privileged group who defend their privilege.
I read a couple of tweets by women of color on team Julie Delphy who said they couldn’t see what was wrong with what she said. It looks like those tweets have since been taken down. They probably got a lot of negative comments. It always throws a wrench into the mix when someone from the supposedly offended group comes to the defense of the accused. This is why female defense attorneys are called in to defend rapists and sexual harassers. The privileged use this same logic when they say “some of my best friends are black.” Or gay or Muslim, etc. The argument is that the rapist couldn’t really be guilty if this nice lady has taken his side. And the white person couldn’t possibly be bigoted if they bowl with their black buddy every week. But of course this is absurd. You can be racist and have black friends. You can be a rapist who pays a woman to pretend you are innocent.
The second group of defenders shares a demographic with the person who crossed the line, and is interested in defending their privilege. We see this with Bill Cosby’s defenders, nearly all African American men, who continue to insist that either there’s a conspiracy against Cosby as a black man, or that the women are all at fault. This is an obvious move to protect their privilege as men in rape culture: if I manage to lure a woman into my house, she is to blame for anything else that happens.
I was surprised that a Delphy defender came out of the woodwork and argued with me on Twitter. We had an exchange, and a couple of kindred Twitter spirits jumped in on my side:
I was particularly surprised about the defender’s assertion that there would be an apology and that there was an issue of context. My first thought was to consider the idea. After all, I had just skimmed the original article. Media does often distort peoples’ words to create controversy and get page clicks. But then I thought about it. What would the context be that would make this comment okay? It would have to be a context like the following: “When I think about the hundreds of years of brutal oppression that African Americans have experienced in the US, from slavery to police violence today, and I think about the incredible obstacles that black people face in Hollywood, I sometimes wish I was African American. Because they have developed such a thick skin and a culture of resistance. I, on the other hand, as a white woman, come from such a place of relative privilege. I was led early on in my Hollywood career to believe that I would just have everything handed to me. And now that I’m older, now that I’m trying to get behind the camera, now that I’m resisting Hollywood sexism instead of being a fuckable white ingénue, I really need some of that African American fierceness. In fact, I think I’m going to go purchase a book by Audre Lorde and hire a black life coach to help me, because I wouldn’t ever want to take black labor for granted. There’s nothing worse than being a woman in Hollywood, or any other oppressed group. Really being anything other than a white man.” Yeah. So if that was the context, Delphy would get a pass from me. But of course it wasn’t. And a little internet research revealed that the written quotes were taken directly out of a video. And I watched the whole video, and there was no issue of context. Which brings us to the next stage.
And the apology was predictably muddled and contradictory. She never acknowledged what was really wrong with her original comment. “I’m so sorry for this unfortunate misunderstanding, people who know me, know very well that I can’t stand inequality and injustice of any kind.” These are the important subtexts. I’m sorry but I didn’t really do it. It was a misunderstanding because it sounded racist, but I’m not like that. No Julie. Nobody misunderstood you. What you said was racist. That’s why you are in the media again, apologizing.
My partner and I have had a couples’ counselor who schooled us in making apologies. You have to mean it, and you have to show you get what was wrong about it. And it really helps if you do something to make it right. Why couldn’t we get a real apology from Julie Delphy like: “Sometimes I get so pissed about sexism that it blinds me to everything else. It creates a sort of temporary narcissism where everything else in the universe—every other community or struggle—seems to exist only to reinforce my point about sexism, the place where I’m wearing a target. Of course, this is a terrible symptom of my white privilege. Now that I’m no longer blinded by my fury, I can see that my comments were offensive. But more than that, are a huge problem among white feminists, and a reason why feminism hasn’t made more strides. I take responsibility for the damage done, and in the interest of transformative justice, I will be setting up a fund to assist women of color directors in Hollywood and working with white anti-racism groups to do consciousness raising among celebrity feminists.” Like Cookie said in “Empire” season 1, “now THAT’S an apology.”
Because I understand how White Feminist Temporary Narcissism Syndrome (WFTNS) works. I mean, it’s a symptom of white supremacy, and really harmful, and an obvious symptom of their privilege and willingness to step on people of color in their entitled quest to have what the white boys have. But on some level, I get it, particularly as a member of that couple that went to counseling. I have been so mad and felt so victimized that I’ve said things that are thoughtless to my partner. I understand that part of the impact of sexism is that we get so upset we can’t think straight. I wouldn’t say I accept Julie Delphy’s apology or that I forgive her. But white feminists are a work in progress. We’re not gonna end sexism throughout the world without white feminists’ participation (although perhaps less of their leadership and more WOC). My goal is to end male domination, and I am willing to make room for the slow and painful learning curve of white feminists in the interest of changing the world.
Soooo…Bill Cosby is doing both well and badly in his various court cases as an alleged serial rapist. Meanwhile, it’s Oscar season. Jada and Will are boycotting. Their cause is noble, but their reasons seem a bit self-serving (see my post from last week). Like many others, they are upset because no one of color was nominated in any acting categories #OscarsSoWhite.
In other news, CBS is rebooting Nancy Drew, and supposedly with a “non-white” actress. I promised to write about that this week, but then this Julie Delphy drama pre-empted it. And I’m actually curious about this Drew reboot. Will it be a breakthrough like “Scandal” or “How to Get Away With Murder” or even “Quantico”? Or will it be more of Stage 5, business as usual?
Great post. I am also tired of the hypocrisy of many White feminists out there. That is part of the reason why I support and believe in intersectionality. Black women’s experience should be acknowledged because it was Black women who helped build this country with the labor and hard work that they put into it.