This week, I have read many articles pertaining to Patricia Arquette’s Acadamy Awards acceptance speech, and many feelings have bubbled within me. I must admit- I’ve been very conflicted over this story. I cheered when Arquette called for women’s equality as I’ve often been frustrated with the way our system forgets or devalues us. But I see how people felt hurt when Arquette issued a mandate for help from those who are also dealing with horrific struggles in their lives.
For those of us who are white women, we do have challenges and frustrations. It’s wearisome to hear catcalling, to know that pundits and politicians don’t respect our experiences of abuse, rape, birth control and reproductive choice, and to realize that our representatives still refuse to give us various equal rights and protections on equal pay. I believe we have some validity in our feelings of irritation in response to their indifference, and naming them is a part of our empowerment process.
But what we must remember is that our challenging experiences are usually a fraction of what women of color endure. And much more often, their experiences of abuse, wealth discrimination, sexual assault, and reproductive health leave them with fewer options for healing and justice.
Many of our discussions remind me of Sarah and Hagar in Genesis. Sarah lived in a system which valued her less than her husband and had certain expectations that required her to have a family. Her infertility placed her at a disadvantage as a wife in their community.
Granted, it wasn’t easy for Sarah to live in that system. She was pressured to have a child. Even so, Hagar was their concubine and was required to serve them. This servitude included forced sexual relations with Abraham and the obligatory birth of Ishmael.
While Sarah had valid frustrations in her context, Hagar’s challenges far outweighed the struggles of Sarah. Because of Sarah’s place and expectations in her society pressured her into jealousy, Hagar was rejected from her community and left to die with no resources.
The overarching system created gives them reason to vie against one another for resources. It gave Sarah permission to resent and oppress a woman with less privilege. What is a shame is that Sarah could not see that both of them were part of an unfair system that disrespected one and outright oppressed the other, and that she could not stand up against the “powers that be” to dismantle the system.
As Caucasian/white women, we are the Sarahs. We are the women with more privilege in our communities. Sure, we have frustrations. Many of us have been hurt by the system – even though we are white. But in the spectrum of privilege, we hold both a handful of privilege and a handful of oppression. And remembering that we hold both is key to exposing societal injustices.
What can we do?
We must not forget the stories of our sisters of color. We must allow them to have their voices and challenges heard. We must step aside and stop talking for them but make sure they have the space to speak. We will stand next to them in support. And there will be times for us to speak together – especially when an issue does apply to each of us.
We must educate ourselves as much as possible. This includes how the intersection of color, gender, sexual orientation, abilities, and other identifying factors continue to influence one’s place in society.
We will make mistakes. And what I ask is grace from my sisters of color. Unfortunately, I’m a human full of privilege and pain simultaneously. Please know that I truly hope to grow. I personally know that I learn best from others who correct and teach me in a spirit of love and grace, and I want to thank those who have been patient with me. As Paul says in Ephesians 4:
“But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”
That may have been the one thing missing from the situation with Arquette. Instead of speaking truth to her in love, she was shamed by some people. Unfortunately, in our system where women are often pitted against women, she received more criticism than Sean Penn for his insensitive remarks on immigration. Maybe we should ask instead, how can all of us women come together in a spirit of unity, humility, and love?
I believe that in order for us to have a just world, we all need to work together and recognize where justice lacks. Those of us who are more privileged should become aware of where oppression ends and privilege starts. Let us do what we can to educate ourselves and one another to ensure that all people are treated equally.
– – Rev. Michelle L. Torigian