Dear Fellow White People (specifically, fellow liberals):
Last night one of our own, the illustrious and celebrated Tina Fey, went and stepped in it a little. In her attempt to comment comedically on recent events, she made it sound like the best course of action is to deny the seriousness of the situation and to bury our heads in the sand. Or rather, the cake. In reading responses from POC, it sounded to me that many thought she was saying, “I can’t handle this. You’re on your own.” And then she punctuated it with a zinger about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Understandably, there has been a backlash… and then a backlash to the backlash. After the initial wave of “WTF Tina Fey?” think-pieces, there was a wave of posts – entirely from us white folk – saying, “What the hell? She was just making jokes. We’re all on the same side. Don’t we have bigger fish to fry here?”
Here’s the thing: No, we don’t. These are all parts of the same big smelly fish, and the whole damned thing needs to get fried. White supremacy on the march is one large, ugly symptom of a very pervasive, lingering sickness. When we ignore, gloss over, or defend accidental microaggressions like Tina Fey’s cake bit in favor of focusing our attention on bigger, flashier, scarier problems, we ignore one symptom in favor of another and fail entirely in our attempt to treat the disease. We don’t get to tell the people who’ve been on the receiving end of bigotry for generations that they’re the ones not seeing the big picture.
And I am not saying I’m better than you in this. Just this morning in my first response to this whole cake thing I criticized Fey for trying to work in a statement about sexism. I actually said that it was “really not what we’re talking about right now.” And I was promptly and rightly chastised for it. You can’t prioritize equal rights. That’s what makes them equal.
It’s easy to get frustrated when it seems like we spend more time criticizing each other than fighting the “real enemy,” but let me put forward this radical thought: Our infighting is one of our great strengths. We are progressives because we value new ideas. We thrive on diversity and inclusion, and are at our best when our ideas are challenged. It is our capacity to continually adapt and incorporate new ideas that defines our understanding of America. It is our duty to hold each other accountable. And we need to remember that when we point out our wrong turns, we aren’t shooting each other down. We’re lifting each other up.
Thanks for listening.