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PSA For White People: Stop Using '12 Years A Slave' To Explain How You "Get It"

By Joanna Robinson | Miscellaneous | January 29, 2014 |

By Joanna Robinson | Miscellaneous | January 29, 2014 |

There are two glaring ways in which White People In the Limelight have misused 12 Years A Slave recently. The first, of course, is director David O. Russell and his odd, hacky joke that Jennifer Lawrence’s time on the set of the Hunger Games franchise was like 12 years of slavery. More like 12 years a BABERY, amirite, David? Ugh. Foul ball. Not an okay comparison and not even a particularly funny joke.


That’s some clear cut douchebaggery, but the second instance is even stickier. In an ill-advised Twitter rant (not her first, surely not her last), singer/songwriter/Gaimanbanger Amanda Palmer decided to defend Macklemore who came under fire for “undeservedly” winning on Grammy night. The concern, apparently, is that Macklemore (a very white dude) should not have won Best Rap Album. Comparisons to Vanilla Ice were made. Blood was chilled. Macklemore then apologized not, as many claim, for being white, but for beating out someone who he thinks was more deserving. He texted Kendrick Lamar the following:


The text is, I think, is fine. I’m not overly fond of a grovel in any circumstance and sharing it publicly is a little…odd. But I think the intention there is a good one. I don’t know enough about music to have a strong opinion about either Lamar or Macklemore, but I like that Thrift Shop song and the whole gay wedding stunt at the Grammy’s made me cry so color me translucent or whatever. What does this have to do with Steve McQueen’s excellent film? Well Palmer invoked it as a reason why we shouldn’t turn on Macklemore. Ugh. It went a little something like this.

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NO. No no no. Are there racial problems in America. You bet your ass there are. Do I think Macklemore winning Best Rap Album is indicative of that problem? Possibly. It’s entirely possible his milky white complexion makes his rhymes more palatable to the powers that be. But let’s just leave 12 Years A Slave out of this and every other conversation going forward, shall we? Here is, in my liberal, white, guilt-stricken opinion, an acceptable reaction to 12 Years A Slave. “Man, what a powerful film. What an arresting performance. I was deeply moved and troubled by what I watched.” Here’s an unacceptable statement or insinuation. “Saw 12 Years A Slave. I get it now, man.” You don’t get it, friend. You just don’t. In Amanda Palmer’s eyes, it seems, Brad Pitt’s kindly abolitionist is The Big Damn Hero of McQueen’s movie.

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That’s the problem of invoking the film. Her larger point gets lost in my gasping reaction of “Whaaaaat?!?! Did you just bring slavery into a discussion about the Thrift Shop guy !??!” I think it’s a fine and true statement to say that allies should be allowed to fight. But, sorry allies, you’ll never QUITE get it. No matter how much guilt you suffer from and how many harrowing movies you see. You can fight for equality, but you’re not really suffering from inequality. Are you? So just do me a favor and leave 12 Years A Slave out of it. You’re not doing yourself or the fight any favors.

(via Scenestr)

It happened to Joanna Robinson: there are black people in my yoga class and, seriously, who gives a f*ck?