Tensions, anger, and disillusionment are at an all time high and we, the country, are fully divided.
The Us vs. Them mentality of the Bush era — you’re either with us or against us — is back. Only this time, the threat to our civil liberties and to our way of life is real. Right now, we are a nation under God, divisible by our religion, race, creed, and sexuality.
But the day after ‘National Day of Patriotic Devotion’ we the world, came together, unified by a common threat to our diverse society and inclusive ways. We banded together as one nation of humanity, indivisible, with chants of liberty and justice for ALL.
Or did we?
On January 21st all over the world, people of the entire spectrum of gender, race, class, age, and ability marched, and the world sat in awe as it saw what we could be if we all rose together. It was the biggest protest in our nation’s history — 2.9 million people. But soon after the women’s march was over, stories about ‘isms’ and privileges amid the movement began to emerge.
The question now transformed from “did we really all march together?” to one of “why should we?” The battle grounds had shifted from the White House into our personal spheres of privilege. And the biggest battles came from our own trenches.
Just a few weeks ago at the Sundance luncheon honoring women in film, we witnessed what happens when we turn our privileges on each other. It started when the conversation became political and Salma Hayek voiced her opinion that she felt “that we are about to go to war.” Which turned into a rallying cry which then turned into a warning to her fellow sisters ‘to be careful that we don’t fall into victimization.” Right after, Shirley MacLaine shared her thoughts on how Trump challenged “each of our inner democracy” with her battle cry being for each of us to “find our democracy inside.”
But Jessica Williams wasn’t having it, and asked both women a question that challenged their internalized privilege: “What if you are a person of color, or a transgendered person who — just from how you look — you already are in a conflict?”
We then watched our Brown sister, Salma Hayek, throw her class privilege into her own version of the bootstrap theory and say that simply “by being the best that you can be” and via that willingness alone, we — regardless of our race — can break free from our chains and thrive. We saw our White sister, Shirley MacLaine, fall back on her privilege of race and heteronormative identity politics and implore us to explore our “core identity.”
And we watched what happened when our Black sister, Jessica Williams, tried to expose what happens when our privilege gets the best of us and our democracy fails us. She is immediately asked to take on the guise of assimilation through, voluntarily, whitewashing herself. Jessica is asked by Hayek, “Who are you when you’re not Black and you’re not a woman? Who are you and what have you got to give?”
Asking ANYONE to strip themselves from the very identities that so many people have fought and died for them to claim, is exactly what white society does to us when it strips the Black out of the Black Lives Matter movement and changes it to All Lives Matter.
We deny the existence of difference and therefore claim ignorance to any systemic oppression that comes because of it.
Our democracy and our resistance is not a one-size-fits-all, and we have to stop bullying each other to believe it should be. That’s what Hayek and MacLaine did to Jessica, they tried to bait her into believing that the blanket full of small pox was for her benefit.
Those women should know better. We ALL should know better.
But the reality is that every single woman, regardless of color, sitting at the cozy, catered luncheon table comes from a space of privilege — just ask the detained Muslim women, children, and men who are being forced to sit for hours around a table defending their rights to be in our country.
Source: Vivien Killilea / Getty
And we are not going to heal the world by continuing to banter among ourselves about who has it worse off than the other. This is not a race to see whether Brown, Black, White, Red, Yellow, or Polka Dot takes first place in the Oppression Olympics. This is about active listening to each other experiences and coming together not in sameness, but in our differences. It’s about leaving no voice, no experience behind — even and especially if that experience differs from our own.
Sometimes that means listening to things we may not like and being open to receiving the message on the other end. Most of the times it means that we have to check our privilege at the door.