Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What Alison Thinks about Alison Dubois's Oscar Speech & White Privilege

There’s a complex relationship between power and privilege, that manifests in ways both subtle and semantic, but it exists nonetheless, as Patricia Arquette learned this week. She was probably best known for playing Alison Dubois on TV’s Medium until Sunday, when she won an Oscar and her speech included an E.R.A.-infused call for equal pay.
On the one hand, good for her for issuing a “call to action” to raise awareness that children suffer the most when their moms are paid less than they deserve. That said, it might have been prudent for Arquette to have spent a bit more time on her ‘victory speech’ and, when asked to elaborate upon it, to have thought more globally about women’s issues.
Combating inequity isn’t as simple as shouting out the lyrics to “Come Together,” and watching an army of individuals, each uniquely ‘disadvantaged', combine to form a fighting unit against the powerful. The hard, cold, heartbreaking truth is that some people are more unequal others. I don’t doubt that Arquette has been discriminated against in her industry because of her gender, but the reality is that she’s also likely had advantages owing to being attractive, blonde and white. I bet she’s also been talked down to and trivialized for those reasons, but on balance, I suspect she isn’t in deficit because of those attributes.
It’s no surprise that so many black women, including some of my American journalist friends, were outraged by her remarks. Well, it isn’t to me anyway... And I base that on my own experiences working in Los Angeles as a TV critic between 2003 and 2010.. 
When people ask me about the experience, I tell them about the stars interviewed, the sets visited, the snacks consumed, but I rarely discuss the part of American culture that puzzled and troubled me the most:  its lingering race-based caste system.
That it still lingers is puzzling; that so many white people, even educated, liberal ones, remain oblivious to it is so deeply, deeply troubling. I’d sit in media conference listening to journalists (white ones) pose questions, oblivious to the kernels of racism and classism within their own queries. I hope I haven’t offended my American friends by saying so; after all, I was just a guest at their party. 
Personally, I have never felt so blonde or as white as I did while working in the “Hollywood” milieu. Those aspects of my physical being were pointed out to me on a daily basis when I was in Los Angeles.  And the comments were usually accompanied by gestures and offers of special treatment.  Meanwhile, here in the land of weather that’s not fit for man nor beast (which I lovingly call home), that rarely happens. Here, I'm more like any old gal who doesn't see the point in shaving her legs between December and April. If the privilege offered was the norm, then what I experienced in the U.S. would not have seemed so very anomalous to me. 
White privilege does exist. It’s not comfortable to admit that. People who've only lived with that experience may not be able to see it or admit it. Maybe some encouragement will help. Only when that happens, will the world's women truly ‘come together.’

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