Numerous blogs have noted the silence among many white, mainstream feminist sites about the horrible treatment of Quvenzhané Wallis at the Oscars. And they’re right. I had stuff planned out, and then I looked at so many other posts going up that said Holy shit, can you believe that happened? That’s not okay at all in ways far more eloquent than I, and then went on to say far more poignant and intelligent stuff than I’d think to say, and I felt mine was redundant. I thought it had been done better, and that as a white woman, it wouldn’t be my place to comment on the experience of a young black girl.
That’s a seriously fucked up way of thinking. Whether or not I’m qualified to speak intelligently or to analyze, I’m not just qualified but obliged to say Holy shit, can you believe that happened? That’s not okay at all. The thought that it’s not my place to defend a little black girl because I’m white is a fucked up, wrong, diametrically backwards way of thinking that is part of the reason mainstream feminism and the world in general can be a lousy, lousy place for women of color. The thought that there are already enough voices speaking up about that, that one more isn’t necessary to defend anyone, much less a nine-year-old girl, is a ridiculous one. The failure is epic, and I can never apologize enough.
Here’s what I should have said:
I hope Oscar night didn’t suck for Quvenzhané Wallis. It had the potential to be the best night of her life; her life has been a short one, so there probably haven’t been a whole lot of nights that have been a whole lot more exciting. She was nominated for an Oscar — a Best Actress Oscar, and she’s the youngest ever to be nominated for one — and she was walking the red carpet in her fancy dress and her puppy purse in its own fancy dress. It should have been a night she’d never forget, for good reasons.
Then it seemed like everyone on the red carpet somehow managed to have things to call her. One AP writer interviewing her told her, “I’m going to call you Annie.” She was politely corrected — ‘My name isn’t Annie, it’s Quvenzhané” — because her name isn’t Annie, it’s Quvenzhané. And then Ryan Seacrest and his team at E! decided to call her “Little Q.”
Listen, I understand that her name, at first glance, can be hard to pick apart using Hooked On Phonics. But you’re an entertainment reporter — it’s your job. She was a Best Actress nominee and the only woman of color nominated for a acting award, and having an intern Google the correct pronunciation of her name is literally part of the job description. Tracy Clayton has a more extensive analysis of the significance of names, but in short: From the moment Adam was given the assignment of naming all the animals in the Garden of Eden, to slave owners, to playground bullies, assigning names has been a way that people establish power and ownership over other people. And while you somehow managed to sort out Saoirse Ronan’s name when she walked the Oscar carpet in 2008, Quvenzhané Wallis got to be “Annie” or “Little Q,” like you’re best buds, like she’s so nothing that it doesn’t matter what you call her, and not like she’s a complete stranger and a person and also the reason you have a job at all, because she’s not important enough to you to Google her fucking name. Fuck you.
But let’s pretend that didn’t bother her. Let’s pretend she shook off the offenses, gave her puppy purse a squeeze, and went into the Dolby Theatre and took her seat just as excited as she’s ever been. Then she got to hear Seth McFarlane present her as an available fuck buddy for George Clooney. Because presenting a nine-year-old as anybody’s fuck buddy is okay. Because black women haven’t been sexualized and presented as an object to be passed around as it is. And at the risk of repeating myself, because presenting a nine-year-old black girl as a fuck buddy for George Clooney is okay. And it got a laugh, too — a joke about Lincoln’s assassination got a groan, but the Oscars audience thought Quvenzhané Wallis with George Clooney was hilarious. So fuck all y’all.
Let’s say she shook that one off, too, because it’s an exciting night, right? Let’s assume that she didn’t have an iPhone in her puppy purse to see that before the ceremony was even halfway through, the Onion had already derided her with a tweet so horrendous that I won’t even repeat it here, not that everyone hasn’t seen it already. It was a vile, gendered, sexualized slur used against a little girl who represents some of the most exploited and marginalized people in society, and it was thrown out there for laughs. A nine-year-old girl is open season, an acceptable target for the lulz. A nine-year-old girl of color, specifically; I can’t seem to recall such slurs ever being thrown at Dakota Fanning or Abigail Breslin. I literally don’t know what to say about it.
It’s bad for everyone. It’s bad for little girls of color who look at Quvenzhané and see how little and how awesome she is and see what can be done to her like it’s okay; for their parents, who are reminded — as if they needed a reminder — of how the world can treat their little girls without suffering any consequence; for women of color who hear what is said about her and are reminded — as if they needed a reminder — about exactly how they are dismissed and marginalized and objectified in the world starting from the age of zero. But most of all, it’s bad for a little girl who had this awesome, exciting night laid out for her, and over and over again people had to make it suck, because she just wasn’t worth leaving a non-sucky night for. Not knowing her, I can’t guess at how much all of it affected her, but if it hurt her even a little bit it was too much. So fuck everyone in the whole world, and now I’m going to eat some ice cream.
(And I should have said it a long time ago.)
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