Patricia Arquette, Criticism and Progressives


Patricia Arquette’s comments at the Oscars have set the internet on fire. Her call to arms for equal pay for women and her commentary that, knowingly or not, added to the much critiqued erasure of WoC within the larger feminist movement as a whole has everyone weighing in. There are a bunch of articles that explain this particular intersectional fail so I don’t want to retread that. What I will speak on is the conversation being had within the progressive/liberal space about how one can critique comments like Arquette’s.


The criticism of critique methodology is nothing new. From cries of Toxic Twitter to dismissals of callouts based on perceived tone or demonstrable anger, there is a constant desire within the liberal space for it to be inclusive but not accountable. To speak for all but for some to be silent. The progressive coalition as is is one that should fight against injustice but simmer down if issues are actively in our own camp.


This morning, for instance, I was told that I attacked Arquette and her defenders. (You can take a look at my Twitter timeline to see what an apparent “attack” look like.) These claims weren’t from the faceless hordes with egg avatars that ride across the Twitter landscape, but from folks I know directly within the progressive community. The happiness they had over Arquette’s very high-profile callout against wage discrimination made it much harder for them to hear those who found the backstage commentary concerning LGBTQ and PoC problematic. “We’re on the same team,” I was told. “We shouldn’t be eating our own,” they exclaimed. The idea that intersectional erasure of Women of Color and LGBTQ women was a byproduct of Arquette’s comments wasn’t just a problem, but another example of a continuous problem within feminism was lost. You can actually drill up and view it from the very common perspective in the US: that the default in America is being white.


The much-vaunted yet clumsily attempted “national conversation on race” hits this snag constantly because in the end, the progressive coalition can always be divided by race. Allies are only allies if their allyship is not at odds with their own wants/desires/causes. This is why the term “ally” has started to be spoken about with negative connotations. This is why the “team” metaphor that is used often in these situations is seen as laughable by some because can we really be a team if at any point in time a significant portion of the team can be told to shut up and stop ruining it for the rest of us?


In an attempt to have a conversation with me, a progressive who disagreed my fairly soft critique of Arquette wrote this in a longer email about why she disagreed:

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 12.45.53 PM

At this point I’m finding the commentary from Arquette’s defenders more problematic than Arquette herself. Her comments were like a black light for privilege. Yesterday a lot of progressives seemed fine but today they’re glowing like a mutha. I’ve had folks demand I explain to them what the problem is even as I wrote on my feelings on my timeline. This is not how a team should work. And if this is the team that we’re all on then consider this my resignation.’




About the Author

Elon James White
Elon James White is a writer, satirist radio host and founder and CEO of This Week in Blackness. White has been featured on MSNBC, CNN, Huffington Post, Slate, RH Reality Check, Al Jazeera, Buzzfeed and more. White hosts the award winning & critically acclaimed TWiB! Prime on TWIB.FM Monday - Thursday at 6:30pm ET/3:30pm PT.

3 Comments on "Patricia Arquette, Criticism and Progressives"

  1. Thanks for the written summary, Elon. I haven’t figured out how to listen nearly as fast as I can read. Keep holding us to a high standard!

  2. I imagine somebody has coined this “what white privilege” phenomenon already: “whitesplaining”.
    Some writer ought to come up with catchy intersectional phrases, cliches really, that can make good sound bites and get into wide circulation.
    First visit to site – got here from Imani Gandy’s article on RH Reality Check.

  3. Resignation. Ha! Where are you going to go, Elon? The Rick Santorum side? Oh wait, he doesn’t want to give black people handouts. Errr, “blah people” as he later corrected himself. He’s only interested in 1% handouts, apparently.

    What I love about the internets is that people like you can offer me “instant evolution” as I like to call it. On one spectrum is the school of stupid, but on the other is intelligence, empathy, open-mindedness, compassion. That’s the tent we all know Patricia Arquette belongs to. That’s our tent.

    Some white progressives have gotten defensive at what you and others are saying about intersectionality. I think that’s because we’re all borne of ignorance so putting up our defenses is only natural. It’s the step we take after that that is more critical, when we log off the net and let ideas rumble around between our ears and we admit that that dude who got the #racewar thing going on twitter has a point. Or two. Or six.

    Correctify me if I’m wrong, but everything stems from what we THINK Arquette MEANT in her post-win excitement. You have concluded there is an “erasing of women of color”. Others feel this way too. No doubt because of my own privilege, or maybe not, I can’t even tell, I didn’t take her statement that way. When she said “women”, I assumed she meant ALL women, and when she turned to “the men who love women; people of color, LGBT’ers”, I took it as a shout out to ALL men to get on board the Equality For All train!

    When I search my heart, do I honestly think she meant to exclude women of color? Of course not. But do I think the issue she raised was limited to only working women? Yes. I think she was focusing on kitchen table economics and paycheck fairness, which directly affect women in the position of the character she played. My LGBT friends and my friends of color were quick to remind the room on Oscar night that paycheck fairness is a luxury issue compared to how bad more marginalized and oppressed members of our team have it. They’re right AND I feel Arquette’s specific issue is right, too.

    In the end, we’re the side that is able to evolve because of our empathy, a quality sorely lacking in the tent occupied by our conservative friends. Am I a touch sad that some good, intelligent, but offended people are treating Arquette as though she’s the 2nd coming of Sarah Palin? I have to admit I kind of am. Why? Because I have a feeling Arquette’s a person who NEVER misses an opportunity to vote. Who was she speaking to in her comments? Marginalized groups that, although they contain people of all ages, they’re weighted to her age and a little younger and they sat out the midterms. Did you know more women have been voting than men in the general election these last couple decades? Did you know men outnumber women during the midterms?

    It’s our failing as progressives that for whatever combination of reasons (Obama wasn’t on the ballot; apathy or resignation about the struggle we’re in) that we didn’t show up last time. I perceived her shout out as a unifying call not unlike the very same stump speeches where the President asks the same groups to come together for the same damn thing she was talking about, along with all the other issues pertaining to marginalized groups that he asked the less marginalized to come out for, earning cheers all around. Of course, he’s elegant while she’s merely an overly excited actor having a bit of a messy Statue of Liberty moment.

    I’m sure I’ll get sniped at for this, but people like you are perfect medicine from the slippery slope that would take us into a great big pissing match about who in our tent has it worse. The same slope that has us all retreating to our corners, our various special interest groups, and licking our wounds, both perceived and real, which seem to keep us from speaking in a unified voice come the midterms. We know these things. We know who’s got it bad. But we also know that a lot of poor white single moms share something with poor black single moms that no privileged academic wants to admit because they’re too wrapped up heady privileged talk.

    You can’t resign. You won’t resign. Neither will I. Our tent has EMPATHY and the capacity for forgiveness. Arquette’s words rubbed some people the wrong way. “She doesn’t care about my black ass” was something I came across this week on twitter. I think she does care about that girl’s black ass, and cared enough to ask her to represent. If we want to know what she believes, we should study what she does. Talk is cheap. Coming to definite conclusions about a paragraph that has left us speculating isn’t enough. It’s her deeds that count. It’s her actions that tell us what she believes, and that goes for all of us.

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