Gabrielle Union Graciously Offers to Educate Amy Schumer on White Privilege Even Though That Shouldn’t Be Her Job
Gabrielle Union has been using the spotlight currently on her as she promotes her latest film, The Birth of a Nation, to great effect, speaking out against injustices and systemic problems based on gender and race. After the now-infamous Lenny Letter in which both Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer became the poster girls for White Feminism, Union was apparently one of the black voices Dunham listened to before finally apologizing for her careless comments. Now, Union would like to have a similar conversation with Schumer.
In a recent interview with xoNecole, Union talked about the fact that she’s willing to have these difficult conversations with white peers about white privilege and how they are blinded to the oppression being faced by others right in front of them:
“In order to begin to see change start to occur, we have to be willing to have conversations with people who have different opinions than us. I’ve already talked to Lena Dunham; I would love to talk to Kate Upton and Amy Schumer. Maybe I can help to explain the oppressive systems that have benefited and allowed them to say these careless, insensitive and offensive things. Those conversations are awkward as f**k and they get heated. Similar to watching people have conversations about consent.”
Yes, that’s right: Kate Upton, who recently talked about the four Miami Dolphins who took knees during the National Anthem at a game on September 11th, labeling the act of taking a knee during the anthem at a football game “horrific,” but saying nothing about the reasons why they felt the need to protest in that way. Is it not “horrific” that over 200 unarmed black men have been killed in the US this year? Or is it just not as “horrific” as disrespecting a song.
In my opinion, the national anthem is a symbolic song about our country. It represents honoring the many brave men and women who sacrifice and have sacrificed their lives each and every single day to protect our freedom. Sitting or kneeling down during the national anthem is a disgrace to those people who have served and currently serve our country. Sitting down during the national anthem on September 11th is even more horrific. Protest all you want and use social media all you want. However, during the nearly two minutes when that song is playing, I believe everyone should put their hands on their heart and be proud of our country for we are all truly blessed. Recent history has shown that it is a place where anyone no matter what race or gender has the potential to become President of the United States. We live in the most special place in the world and should be thankful. After the song is over, I would encourage everyone to please use the podium they have, stand up for their beliefs, and make America a better place. The rebuilding of battery park and the freedom tower demonstrates that amazing things can be done in this country when we work together towards a common goal. It is a shame how quickly we have forgotten this as a society. Today we are more divided then ever before. I could never imagine multiple people sitting down during the national anthem on the September 11th anniversary. The lessons of 911 should teach us that if we come together, the world can be a better and more peaceful place #neverforget.
Union says that she hopes that her white costars in The Birth of a Nation will continue to speak up and out about racial inequality long after this film has had its moment, and long after this cultural moment of “diversity” being a buzzword has passed. She then adds:
“It’s been very fascinating to see that so many people are so resistant to the idea of oppression in America. They think you can just pull yourself up by the bootstraps and work hard enough to achieve the American Dream. People will say, ‘My parents came from another country and didn’t speak English,’ but even so you still get the privilege of whiteness. Most of the people that I know have never truly had to function on a level playing field.”
While I applaud her willingness to use her platform in this way and admire her fortitude, I also regret that she feels like this is a job that she needs to take on. Too often, the burden of educating people about the effects of oppression falls to the oppressed, and it’s exhausting.
The other day on Facebook (where all the intellectual discussion of the day happens. /sarcasm), I was having an exchange with a white friend about police brutality. This friend said, and I’m paraphrasing, “I wish people would actually offer solutions instead of just talking shit about cops.” To which I replied, “Actually there are plenty of people proposing solutions! I generally don’t talk about them here, because a Facebook comment thread isn’t exactly the place to hash out solutions for change.”
Then another white friend said “Post links!” To which I said, “Or…you could do Google searches and read articles and books like I did and learn this stuff all on your own! That is, if you actually care to.”
White privilege is not only benefiting from a racist system, but then when people of color try to bring it to their attention, they expect PoCs to educate them as to how.
Several black friends of mine have been sharing this opinion piece from The Washington Post called “It’s time to stop talking about racism with white people,” in which writer Zack Linly says that it’s time that black people specifically, and people of color in general, stop talking to white people about race. That not only is it inefficient, but also unnecessary to create change. He talks to white allies as well, and asks them to do more of the heavy lifting in order to spare their black friends the burden (and subsequent injuries to their mental health) of having to constantly have these conversations over and over:
“The fact is, we can fight systemic racism without white validation. We can continue shutting down bridges and highways every time there’s a new Alton Sterling, Philando Castile or Korryn Gaines in the news and let white folks complain about the intrusion on their lives. We can continue moving our black dollars into black banks and keeping our money in our businesses and communities. We don’t need them to “get it” for us to keep fighting.
And likewise, white people who truly want to be allies can find their path to ally-ship without black validation and without us having to take time out of our days to educate them. They can find their own curriculum and figure out for themselves how they can do their part in fighting the good fight. And they can do it without the promise of black praise. And, I’m not about to keep checking to see if they’re doing that much. Because it’s not my job – and it’s not yours, either.”
Something I try to do as a woman of color who is not black is to speak up for my black friends precisely to take that burden off of them. While I will never understand what it means to be black in this country, there are similarities in the struggles that all people of color face, and the things that the black community is facing today are not okay with me. Black Lives Matter. Likewise, I hope that the black community will speak up when issues of immigration or occupied land come up, seeing themselves in the Latinx and Native American communities. And we should all be speaking up for the Asian community when we see things like racist jokes at the Oscars, or Hollywood’s tendency to whitewash Asians out of their own stories. We can help each other shoulder all our burdens.
Because it’s true: we can fight systemic racism without white validation. And I understand just how exhausting it is to have to explain certain things to white people over and over. Black people need to take care of themselves.
However, while we don’t need their validation, we will ultimately need participation from white people. They don’t have to “get it,” but they will have to vote a certain way, change certain laws, and alter the way they talk about certain things in mass media in order for lasting change to be made. For some, that participation will be inspired by conversations with people like Union. For others, it will take a lot more protesting and disruption.
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