White Feminism is a hell of a drug. It’s equal parts white privilege, good intentions, and blatant ignorance, blending together to make white women say/do damaging things in the name of feminism. It can take many forms, but most of them minimize the challenges that women of color face or flat-out ignore their accomplishments. Actress Rebel Wilson was riding high on White Feminism when promoting her upcoming rom-com, Isn’t It Romantic. But the heady excitement of this faux-feminist marketing ploy has worn off. Now, Wilson is offering an apology, via Twitter.
In a couple of well-intentioned moments, hoping to lift my fellow plus sized women up, I neglected to show the proper respect to those who climbed this mountain before me like Mo’Nique, Queen Latifah, Melissa McCarthy, Ricki Lake and likely many others.— Rebel Wilson (@RebelWilson) November 5, 2018
With the help of some very compassionate and well-thought out responses from others on social media, I now realize what I said was not only wrong but also incredibly hurtful. To be part of a problem I was hoping I was helping makes it that much more embarrassing & hard to-— Rebel Wilson (@RebelWilson) November 5, 2018
acknowledge. I blocked people on Twitter because I was hurting from the criticism, but those are the people I actually need to hear from more, not less. Again, I am deeply sorry.— Rebel Wilson (@RebelWilson) November 5, 2018
The problem began when Wilson appeared on Ellen, and proclaimed herself the “first-ever plus-sized girl to be the star of a romantic comedy.” This claim is categorically false, ignoring the works of a string of actresses, including Queen Latifah and Mo’Nique. Twitter was quick to react and correct Wilson’s self-aggrandizing statement. Then, Wilson offered a problematic response, which called into question both Black stars’ plus-size status and whether Queen Latifah and Mo’Nique were “technically” leading ladies of their films.
Hey girl! Yeah I of course know of these movies but it was questionable as to whether: 1. Technically those actresses were plus size when filming those movies or 2. Technically those films are catorgorized/billed as a studio rom-com with a sole lead. So there’s a slight grey area— Rebel Wilson (@RebelWilson) November 1, 2018
Twitter users tried to break down for Wilson how Black women are too often cut out of the conversation of female empowerment, including the body positivity movement. One comprehensive thread that Wilson responded positively to came from playwright Claire Willet. (I recommend you clicking over to Twitter to read it in full.)
So. You are frustrated that it feels like women of color are trying to diminish your achievement and how big a deal this role is for you, and you're shutting down their attempts to explain why, which is Not a Good Look for someone trying to build solidarity among plus-size women.— Claire Willett (@clairewillett) November 3, 2018
Mo’Nique also reached out, urging Wilson not to erase the accomplishments of other women.
Hi Monique, it was never my intention to erase anyone else’s achievements and I adore you and Queen Latifah so so much x I support all plus size ladies and everything positive we are doing together ❤️— Rebel Wilson (@RebelWilson) November 3, 2018
But while Wilson’s responses were full of sweet words of inclusion when it came to criticisms from white women and world-famous Black woman, she had far less concern when it came to other Black critics in her mentions. She began blocking them.
it’s a bummer i got blocked for one incredibly mild tweet. instead of doubling down you could’ve just admitted you misspoke. imma still see your lil movie tho since my friend is in it. but damn.— Franchesca Ramsey (@chescaleigh) November 4, 2018
Welcome to what is soon to be the biggest final club on twitter.— Matthew A. Cherry (@MatthewACherry) November 4, 2018
Once this behavior earned her more negative headlines, Wilson’s account unceremoniously unblocked a slew of users.
In a whirlwind of truly out-of-pocket events that have lead to an even bigger turn of events, Rebel has unblocked me, which means it is safe to say that her PR team finally got a hold of her Twitter 💀 pic.twitter.com/fWxvl0uUFB— Clarkisha “Technically Plus-Sized” Kent (@IWriteAllDay_) November 5, 2018
Yup unblocked— valerie “grey area” complex (@ValerieComplex) November 6, 2018
unblocked!— Franchesca Ramsey (@chescaleigh) November 5, 2018
But an apology and unblockings won’t be the end of this story, because Isn’t It Romantic doesn’t come until Valentine’s Day. So when Wilson hits the press circuit in earnest next year, expect this issue to be resurrected. And expect Wilson to have a polished set of talking points at the ready, prepped by a PR team whose job is to make her as fun and inoffensive as possible.
Great points honey, thank you x will address when promoting the film in proper forums. I’m all about supporting plus size women and I work so hard to do so. I never want to disrespect anyone ❤️— Rebel Wilson (@RebelWilson) November 3, 2018
But here’s what I’m hoping for: Rebel Wilson takes this as an opportunity to check herself and truly understand what she did. Yes, she was just trying to promote body positivity. But she did that at the expense of Black women. She didn’t mean to hurt anyone, but she did that. She didn’t intend to promote exclusivity and white feminism, but that’s precisely what she did. Ignorance is a reason, but not an excuse. And I say this as someone who has been there.
3 years ago, I once wrote a regrettable piece about Miley Cyrus hosting the VMAs. It was meant to be irreverent and fun. But it was half-assed, excluding Cyrus’s problematic comments about Nicki Minaj, and the rapper’s onstage response. I had my own meager excuses for this. I was only covering the costumes. I thought someone better versed in celebrity would cover that story. But it didn’t matter. The commenters were furious with me and my white feminism. In response, I was shocked and hurt because I didn’t mean any harm. Why were they so mad? It took a few days for me to get over my own bullshit and realize the commenters were right. They were right to call me out. They were right to do so as angrily as they did. Because regardless of my excuses, intentions, or ignorance, I’d chose to spotlight Cyrus, who defended a racist double-standard that benefits white artists over artists of color. I chose to make no mention of the culturally insensitive elements of her persona, or Minaj, while declaring Cyrus “feminist as fuck.” That was my failing, as a writer and a feminist.
It’s hard to admit mistakes, especially when they hurt people. We make excuses. We claim we’re misunderstood. But our intentions don’t matter as much as the consequences of our actions. And we need to take responsibility for that. Apologies can be nice. But too often they feel like PR, papering over the incident, boxing up the blame as someone else’s, and tying a pretty bow on it as if the story is officially closed. Apologies mean nothing if they aren’t a sincere promise to do better. What matters most is what comes after.
I hope Wilson means what her Twitter account says. I hope she really took to heart the criticisms, which were full of righteous rage. I hope she actually understands why people are angry, opens her eyes beyond white privilege and strives to do better. But it’s not a one-step process. It means listening actively, often, even when what’s being said is hard to hear, especially then. Taking this in, learning, growing, and not shutting down just because it makes you uncomfortable.
Intersectional feminism demands equal rights for all, but also it demands the very best of us. No excuses. Which doesn’t mean no mistakes. No one said it would be easy. But progress rarely is.
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