Friday, January 12, 2018

Why this new women's movement has me hoping that it's “Time's Up” for racism too

Me, chatting up President William Jefferson Clinton at an event in 2001

Like many of us, I was moved to tears when Oprah Winfrey gave her impassioned speech after receiving the Cecil B. DeMille award at Sunday’s Golden Globes.  But I was surprised to find, as I looked from one beautiful, nodding celebrity head to the next, that I was also feeling, well frankly --  a little disconnected.

If I’m honest here, I can tell you that ever since this #MeToo reckoning started, part of me has been a little envious that this particular equal rights movement is getting so much traction and world-wide attention. Ever since women have been speaking out and men have been getting fired and stepping down as a result,  somewhere deep down inside me, I've been building a case for a small, curious and confusing resentment.

But real change is happening, Laura!  Powerful men, CEO’s, anchormen, celebrities, politicians — their worlds are turning upside down.  This is a huge victory for us! And it started when a Black woman, Tarana Burke, created the #MeToo!

It's true! I still cannot believe that I’m getting to see a group of marginalized people (women) stand up to the status quo — rich, powerful, White men, and really, really effect change.  I never thought that I’d see that in my lifetime. It’s stupendous.  It’s wonderful.

And yet…

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that I don’t connect at all with the Time’s Up movement.   I wrote a #MeToo blog about why I kept silent after I was raped.   It infuriates me that women make (on average) 23% less than their male counterparts in the same positions.  I am outraged by the expectation for women to submit or demure to men for any reason.  I get angry when female beauty is worshiped above intellect or talent. Rage boils up inside me when I hear that any woman has been asked to compromise herself in order to compete or get ahead.

Most of the time, I feel like I am walking hand in hand, stride by stride with all of my sisters who march for gender equality.

But I think what’s happening is that I still connect more with the challenges of being Black than I connect with the challenges of being a woman. And often times, it feels (to me) like the #MeToo movement (and now the Times Up movement) are of particular benefit to non-minority women. Up until Oprah’s speech, I felt like non-minority women were kind of all, “Come on women of color! You guys get in here too!  We’re going to change the world for everyone!”

But that can’t be.  There were plenty of Black women in that room while Oprah gave her speech; Zoe Kravitz, Kerry Washington, Tracy Ellis Ross, Viola Davis, Halle Berry, Gayle King and others.   These women were all clearly feeling included. They were standing, cheering, shaking their heads and blinking back tears.  

And yet…

In Zora Neale Hurston’s masterpiece, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” she brilliantly observes:

“De ni@@er woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see." 

Early on in my life, the hierarchy was explained to me this way:

First in the order is: White men

Then comes: White women

A distant third is: Black men

And bringing up the rear are: Black women

What? That doesn't seem accurate to you?

Look at your news anchors (local and national) or politicians.  Check out the nominees for best director or best motion picture.  Click on the Forbes list of top billionaires and see who pops up.  How about the teachers and administrators in your children's schools?  I'll bet that nine times out of ten you'll find yourself confronted with this seemingly outdated, certainly unfair, and mostly unspoken-about, batting order.  With few exceptions (former President Barack Obama and Oprah to name a couple of the more notable ones), you'll find that what you see mostly, are White men in the top, most visible positions, followed closely by White women, then Black men, and finally, Black women.

So my question is — is the "end game" of the Time’s Up movement to move me up on this list?  If Time's Up succeeds in moving White women up to that first line (equal with White men) where does that leave me and other women of color?  Is the working theory that when "we" move up, that ALL women move up automatically?  And does my status as a double minority shift or blend when women finally get the recognition that we deserve?

Scottie thinks it might.  His take on this is that the #MeToo and Time's up-movements are shifting more than just gender inequality — he hears an unspoken promise in these movements for Black women too, to gain some footing.  He hears the whisper of hope for women of color, the LGBTQ community and other minorities in the speeches that are being given by Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Susan Sarandon and Rose McGowan.

I like that idea.  And I would probably feel a great deal of relief if I could be content with the "unspoken." But assuming that this new women's movement is "one for all and all for one" doesn't come easily to me.  I've gotten my head handed to me too many times with assumptions — especially when it comes to race.  An outspoken actress friend of mine says that she'd hoped for this kind of show of solidarity during last year's "OscarsSoWhite" movement (which was created when, for the second year in a row all 20 nominees in the best actress and actor categories were White).

Imagine if there were no female nominee for two years?!  There would be an immediate, anger-fueled Academy Award's boycott!

But the fact that there were no nominees of color in 2015 or 2016 barely created a ripple in the press.  And in fact, when Jada Pinkett Smith called for a boycott, people ripped into her for being an instigator. To be fair though, when interviewed about this subject, stars such as Reese Witherspoon and George Clooney both called for a greater representation of diversity in front of and behind the camera.  But the truth is that no one's bottom line was affected by the giving of these individual interviews.  There was no organization, no disruption, and therefore, no one stepping down or getting fired.

I think I'd feel better if someone near the top of these movements spoke out about the particular challenges that face those who have spent their lives paying the proverbial "double tax."  I'd like for it to be publicly acknowledged by those at the forefront that yes, women are moving up, but women of color are facing a steeper climb than our majority counterparts.

Because, now -  circa 2018, when a White woman enters a room --  she is still simply seen as a woman entering a room (of course, she will be instantly assessed by her beauty, age, nationality, prowess, stature, weight, hair color, etc.).  But when I enter a room -- most people see a Black woman entering a room --  my race being the first (and sometimes only) thing that most people see.
Yes, people also notice that I’m a woman and will subsequently assess me by those same standards, but not before first noting that I’m Black (with or without prejudice).  It’s just the that it way it is.  Countless studies have proven this fact over and over again.

I do triumph and celebrate in the successes that have been afforded us (women) by #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.  And while I am looking forward to all of the victories to come,  I’m still unsure of how women who look like me will fare.  I hope Scottie is right and that we are all getting First Class compartments on this new equality train.  But I fear that (for the time being at least) some of us may still be relegated to Unreserved Coach.  #nomoredoubletax


  1. I know you're not the only one with these same thoughts and wonders, it's just that no one wants to sound unsupportive. I want to believe that equality is coming for all, but when all faces are not represented, all voices aren't spoken for, and all points of view are not acknowledged, how can equity come for all. At some point in time, we have to stop thinking we are all on different rungs of the same ladder. In that analogy, the only way we move up is to climb over or pull down those above us, or worse, use those beneath us as leverage to step up. The only we leave no one at the bottom is to make sure we are all standing next to each other. I tell my first graders, and my own children, that fair is not equal, and equal does not mean the same, it means balanced. Like a see-saw or a scale are in balance when both sides are at the same place. Maybe that's naive, but I know that balance takes work, I know that it's not something you find, it's something you create. So, I am hoping 2018 is a year where we find our way to balance, for ALL.

    1. Thank you so much for this, my friend. I love what you share with your kids! I also always share with people that I'm hoping for balance, out in the world and internally as well. And it does take work. Thank you for always reading and connecting. It means everything that you do!
      Love, Laura