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No, White Women. You’re Not the N*****s of the World

The white feminism jumped out of Hocus Pocus actress Bette Midler last Thursday, and now Halloween might have to be put on hold. (Okay, so not really. But maybe.)

In a now-deleted tweet, Midler quoted Yoko Ono and John Lennon’s “Women is the N*gger of the World” song:

Despite being called out on her use of the quote, one that black women have repeatedly said needs to be put to rest, Midler went on with her white feminist ways.

In a second tweet responding to her fan’s call-outs, she wrote:

“I gather I have offended many by my last tweet. [sic] “Women are the . . . etc’ is a quote from Yoko Ono from 1972, which I never forgot. It rang true then, and it rings true today, whether you like it or not. This is not about race, this is about the status of women; THEIR HISTORY.”

Frankly, it’s amazing that Midler couldn’t hear the irony screaming from her own tweets as she wrote them, but unfortunately, that’s one result of a feminism that tends to prioritize white women’s feelings over facts.

For one thing, you can’t evoke a quote that compares the oppression of black people by way of a racial slur to the oppression of (white) women and say that it has nothing to do with race. And just in general, you can’t look at any form of oppression as its own separate entity because, as feminist legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw has taught us, all systems of oppression are intrinsically linked. In order to dismantle one, we must address the others.

Midler eventually apologized on Twitter, but from the way she not only doubled down, but TRIPLED down in a third tweet captioned “SEE WHAT I MEAN?” it’s clear that she still doesn’t get why people were pissed in the first place.

From the way white women in general keep pulling up that quote to paint some sort of picture of their oppression, it’s clear that they still don’t understand why it’s not true.

People called out the quote not, like Midler implied, from an unwillingness to see reality or remember history, but for the fact that the racialized metaphor completely misrepresents both.

“Women are the n-word of the world” is a false equivalence that not only erases the reality of Black women’s struggle against anti-Black and misogynistic oppression, but it also allows white women like Bette Midler to neatly skip past their own white privilege.  It allows white women to keep from confronting their own complicity within white supremacy.

White women have historically aligned themselves with white supremacy in order to keep their seat at society’s table. White suffragettes including the beloved Susan B. Anthony built their whole movement off of the idea the white women deserved the right to vote before Black men, completely throwing Black women under the bus–“I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the negro and not the woman.” “What will we and our daughters suffer if the degraded black men are allowed to have the rights that would make them even worse than our saxon fathers?” Elizabeth Cady Stanton whined. Suffragettes rallied for the right to vote by playing up racial stereotypes and into white men’s racial fears.

We’ve even watched them do it in real time when 53% of white women helped bring Trump and his administration into the White House and then again when 63% percent of white women voted for Roy Moore in the 2017 Alabama senate elections.

White women have only ever been enslaved in metaphors made to highlight their oppression. Meanwhile, slavery makes up around two and a half centuries of Black women’s history, a history where white women played the role of abusive slave mistresses and slave owners. So yes, white women’s history has everything to do with race.

Photo: Instagram @blackwomensblueprint

Just as the metaphor Midler tried to make her point through wouldn’t exist without the work of Black female author Zora Neal Hurston–”De n*gger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see”– white women’s status within society is literally built off of the backs of Black women and other women of color. The standard of living well off white women have been able to reach throughout American history wouldn’t exist without the labor of women of color. White women like the Kardashian-Jenner clan have built immense amounts of capital from appropriating Black women’s features and creativity.

Even in child birth, which Midler tried to cite as a reason for why “women are the n-word of the world,” Black women and white women aren’t treated the same. Black women are three to four times more likely than white women to die from child-birth related issues.

In her (non)apology posted to twitter, Midler cited the FBI’s lukewarm investigation of Supreme Court justice Kavanaugh as the reason for why she went through her Twitter rant.

But looking at the Kavanaugh hearings and the country’s reactions to Professor Christina Bailey-Ford’s testimony in comparison to Anita Hill’s testimony against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas would’ve made it even more clear that white women and Black women don’t share the same status within our society. Commentators on both CNN and NPR and many other news saw Ford’s testimony more impactful and more effective than Hill’s because the white professor came off as “vulnerable.” Their sentiments reflects the reality of how society has conditioned us to see white women as always needing protection. Meanwhile, society neither allows us to recognize Black women as vulnerable nor gives them the space to project vulnerability.

White women, if you were really the “n-word” of the world, you would have been kneeling with the rest of us, not now that the country has reached levels of disrespect that are finally falling to your feet. Yoko Ono’s quote never rang true back then and will never ring true at anytime, so I suggest for you all to pack that quote up and pick something else.

Photo: Kevin Banatte

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Ifueko Osarogiagbon
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Ifueko Osarogiagbon is a wannabe magical girl and style and makeup junkie who loves smashing the patriarchy through her writing. She spends more time smashing her eyeshadow palettes against the bathroom floor though.

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