While the internet is loving and hating Patricia Arquette on the grounds of her Oscar acceptance speech, the truth is that the actress said nothing especially remarkable. Until, that is, she arrived backstage and unintentionally maligned queer and people of color by insinuating that their moment in the struggle spotlight is over—and it was time they focus their energies on helping women achieve equality.
Old news: Marginalized communities are used to maneuvering feminist spaces with their guards up. For example, when women were campaigning for the right to vote and it was awarded to black men first, activists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony cast out the black community at large (influential suffragist and civil rights leader Ida B. Wells was even asked to march separately from white women because the National American Woman Suffrage Association enforced segregation at the time). The LGBT community hasn’t fared much better: Betty Friedan distanced herself and the movement from lesbians, whom she labeled the ‘lavender menace.’ As for disabled women, they don’t even get a say in the conversation (although their stories can be used as award-bait). Suffice to say, people of color and members of the LGBT community have traditionally been left to fend for themselves.
But here we are, at the most progressive moment in history to date, and we’re still ignoring intersectionality. "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,” said Arquette in her remarks last night. We cringed. Sure, she’s an actress, not a politician trained in the fine art of watching every word. But the problem is that the exclusion of experiences beyond those of white women is an institutionalized part of the way we talk about feminism.
What’s more: It’s a status quo we accept.
On the same stage where Arquette received thunderous whoops and applause, John Legend and Common got only awkward claps for their moving speech. Sean Penn somehow managed to slip in a green card joke when announcing Alejandro González Iñárritu’s win for Best Director, and the audience laughed. We know all the right places for outcry when it comes to women’s struggles—but as for the struggles of black Americans and other communities of color, we can’t even name their oppressors. And when it comes to feminism, for women of color, sometimes it's white women who don't know any better.
Here is the truth: Women of color complain about Sex In the City and Girls being too white; they are told that to be grateful for the fact that women have a platform in the first place. Beyonce’s feminism is constantly being called into question; Emma Watson and Taylor Swift are granted the keys to the women’s rights kingdom. But #whitefeminism is a real thing, and so is #solidarityisforwhitewomen.
If you disagree, that’s your prerogative. But first, ask yourself: Where were the queer women last night? Where was Ava DuVarney’s nomination for Selma? Why, when we talk about how much less money women make than men, do we not discuss that fact that women of color make so much less than that? How are we still accepting of this kind of discrimination in 2015? And when will the prejudice faced by communities of color and queerness become an integral part of feminist discourse? Those answers are out there—but first the struggle itself has to have its own moment onstage, bathed in the public light.
Image c/o PopsugarPrincess Weekes is a part-time bookseller and a full-time writer with a Master’s in English from Brooklyn College. A former intern at BUST magazine, she has since written articles for The Mary Sue, BUST and maintains her own video channel under the name Melina Pendulum, discussing the intersection of pop culture, feminism and race. She is currently working on a fantasy novel about black witches during the Jim Crow era, while attempting to purchase every liquid lipstick the world has to offer.