Viola Davis and the ‘White Feminist’ Backlash

Dexter THomas, Los Angeles Times, September 21, 2015

By most accounts, Viola Davis’ speech at the Emmys was an instant classic. She directly addressed the lack of diversity on television, saying, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.”

But Davis’ words about race made one actress feel uncomfortable.

Sunday night, “General Hospital” actress Nancy Lee Grahn, who is white, took to Twitter and said that the Emmys were not a “venue [for] racial opportunity” and that Viola Davis “has never been discriminated against.”

Social media was quick to criticize her, and by Sunday evening she was a trending topic on Twitter. Grahn quickly apologized and then fired off a series of tweets that sought to explain her thinking.

“I never expected every black Twitterer to attack . . . and after being on my knees have no [forgiveness],” she wrote in her series of tweets. She also said that she felt “betrayed” by people she “would’ve marched for.”

This was widely criticized as being patronizing, as if her commitment to social justice was predicated on black people being nice to her. Grahn attempted to clarify her stance by saying that she wanted “equality [for] ALL women.” This too was not well received.

To some observers, Grahn’s rolling Twitter screed was an example of “white feminism.”

According to Cate Young, author of feminist pop culture blog BattyMamzelle, “white feminism” is feminism that is aware of sexism but fails to “consider race as a factor in the struggle for equality.”

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Grahn did apologize and agreed to look up “intersectional feminism” on Google.

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