Bénédicte Boisseron, Associate Professor of Afroamerican and African Studies, Book Featured in Columbia University Press Blog
When, on October third, Bette Midler tweeted “Women are the N-Word of the World” as an emotional response to the FBI’s (deemed too brief) investigation of Professor Christine Blasey Ford’s claim of sexual assault by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the actress/singer received massive backlash over her alleged racial insensitivity. Politician and activist Rosa. E. Clemente tweeted back at Midler, “To use this saying which has been deconstructed and deemed offensive to African-Americans in this country shows lack of knowledge on issues of race and the concept of intersectionality.” Midler would later apologize on twitter but the question remains: Would the knowledge of the concept of intersectionality have prevented Midler—as Clemente suggests—from slipping into troubled waters?
“The very fact that mainstream feminism was seen as defacto white in America is what urged the creation of black feminist concepts like intersectionality and womanism in the first place.”
Midler drawing a connection between a slavery-based anti-black racism and the condition of women in modern America is not new. A year ago, after a distasteful joke by comedian James Corden about Harvey Weinstein, #metoo movement advocate and Hollywood actress Rose McGowan tweeted, “THIS IS RICH FAMOUS HOLLYWOOD WHITE MALE IN ACTION. REPLACE THE WORD ‘WOMEN’ w/ the ‘N’ word. How does it feel?” (October 15, 2017). McGowan later apologized for her lapse of judgement, but her words are drawn with a permanent marker on cyberspace. In a similar vein, Midler’s tweet brings to mind the highly controversial image of the pink pussyhat (emblematic of the white cisgendered woman) put on the head of the statue of former slave and abolitionist Harriet Tubman during the Women’s March in January 2018. Since the inception of the #metoo movement a year ago, various Hollywood—mainly white—celebrities have used their platform to raise awareness about the systemic culture of sexual assault against women in America, including Alyssa Milano (Kavanaugh), Rose McGowan, and Asia Argento (Weinstein). But the very fact that mainstream feminism was seen as defacto white in America is what urged the creation of black feminist concepts like intersectionality and womanism in the first place. Now to see feminists compulsively drawn to the black analogy makes mainstream feminism appear even more exclusive by being racially out of touch. Scholar Frank B. Wilderson once said, “the violence that turns the African into a thing is without analog. This is why it makes little sense to attempt analogy.” Yet, they keep making attempts, and apologizing for it.