Frances McDormand’s acceptance speech as Best Actress of the 2018 Academy Awards spoke phonetic monuments of how women feel in our careers. We’re stifled creatively, professionally, and — without a doubt — monetarily. Our ideas are smothered and unheard because so many times we’re not taken seriously. No matter how many awards we win, no matter how many courtroom battles we fight, no matter how educationally sound we appear, our pitches, ventures, or crafts just never seem to amount to the importance of that which a man could just whisper without any research in a boardroom. We know, we’ve seen it. It’s nothing new.
McDormand’s Sunday night spotlight echoed Patricia Arquette’s speech of the the 2016 Oscars, speaking for women receiving equal pay for equal work, how women have fought for others’ rights but still do not have rights of our own. I loved both; I felt both messages vibrate in my feminist bones. They emotionally sent me places that I have been screaming for years when people told me that I couldn’t do certain things that a man could do, when I experienced men receiving jobs or promotions that I didn’t get because their statuses as male seemed to dominate my biology. Times when people tried to quieten my voice because they felt I had too much attitude to be a woman, that I had too much mouth to tolerate. That I should succumb to following my male partner’s career and allow for him to be the breadwinner because I was just the auxiliary member of the couple, that my job would be to focus on the growth of our future family and be OK with compromising my dreams.
I felt it all when both of these amazing women spoke. And as McDormand asked each woman who was nominated for any award that night at the Oscars, the camera spanned the theatre, showing all of the women who happily stood, who smiled for each other, who felt a bond of sisterhood that they were in it together. That they were professionals and creatives who understood the prejudiced system that was not intended for them to succeed. That they were not only professionals but entrepreneurs and artists in their right with projects to create, ideas to fund, and they could warmly look around the room to see a sense of support.
And looking around that room, naturally as a woman of color, it is innate within us to check for other women of color. We want to know that we are included too. And as those women stood up, my eyes focused on the pocket of women of color I could see. Yes, they’re women and their ideas are just as valid as those white women who were standing. But we have to accept reality for what it is: White women make $0.79 to the white man’s dollar. The gender gap in terms of wages is not a mythical concept, but the racial-gender gap is even deeper when black women make $0.65 to the white man’s dollar, and Hispanic women pull in $0.59.
My argument isn’t about tit-for-tat or who has it worse, but instead it’s about realizing the levels of those discrepancies, of those prejudices, of those acts of inequality when it has absolutely nothing to do with our character. And McDormand said it best when she asked for each woman to stand: We should support one another’s work. We should be there for each other because we know the struggle in our worlds where any industry will be preferential to a man because his needs take priority, his family takes priority, even his bachelor life takes priority.
But if we as women should stand and support one another, as black women, shouldn’t we do the same? But why does that seem to be so much harder than if I were to ask a white woman to lunch in order to network for my career? Why is it easier to reach out on a social media platform and converse with white women in my industry of interest? Whereas, reaching out to fellow black women is like snatching sew-in weaves off of other crabs in the crab-pot.
It’s frustrating because we feel like we have to compete with those who look like us; sometimes we find more of a sisterhood with a white woman than we do with a woman who hails from the same neighborhood and background that we do. We critique one another, size each other up, and determine whether the other woman is even good enough to be in our social circle. And if she’s not, maybe we bully her, blackball her, or just make sure to never share our resources — regardless if we damn near died of dehydration ourselves while searching in the Sahara.
It occurs in every industry: We see it time and time again in the dramatic arts where black actresses compete and try to sabotage one another for desired roles. The corporate world, it’s as if we have to get accepted into a secret society even though we should already have a bond of being black and being women that should bind us together enough. One of my best friends in the tech world has to fight tooth and nail just to have black female entrepreneurs to even read her emails in regards to funding, professional advice, or even a sisterly ear of understanding. I have another friend whose artwork depicting the beauty of black women is constantly stolen by independent black companies for clothing or accessories or household items. When approached about stealing her work, they redirect blame as if it’s her fault that she’s upset and that she should accept not getting compensated for the work she created that ends up stolen by a black-owned company that supposedly uplifts black women, beauty, and culture. It’s disheartening, disgusting, hypocritical as hell, and it’s as if we’re still competing on who’s going to be the laying with “Massa” for the night so we won’t have to sleep in cabins with the other slaves.
As black women, where do we find our place in this society where we can openly accept one another — not in a room of just black women. Not at a banquet that is created to uplift black women. Not at a black event and we salute one another. But collectively. In mixed company. When can we proudly stand in front of a room of thousands of people where the majority isn’t black but still extend a hand to one another that we have a bond, that we have a sisterhood, that we are our support system to one another?
We openly accept it and embrace the other woman’s hand when McDormand tells us to stand and demand equality among one another. But would we be as proud if it was a black woman onstage who told each nominated black woman to stand and recognize her sisters standing with her? Do we clap for comedienne Mo’Nique when she demands for equal pay and respect from people who look like her with similar backgrounds, or do we judge her and justify why we as black women don’t deserve even that extra $0.14, let alone the full dollar? Or maybe, we’ve gotten used to being token and complicit. Maybe, we enjoy feeling unique and special. Maybe, we really don’t want our people to overcome, but we want ourselves to cross the finish line and be the success story without sharing the triumph with anyone else.
Or is it that we prefer to be the only one standing in a room of awkward silence?
Frances McDormand and Patricia Arquette sincerely are amazing women. Amazing. Fighting for what they believe in, using their platforms and positions of semi-power to spread messages for those of us who can’t speak as loudly. And the network of women loves it. We fight for it; we thirst for it. But as black women, are we just as hungry to fill the racial-gender gap? Sometimes, I think we don’t even want to acknowledge what’s missing on our plates.