I had originally started writing this post last week after watching the now infamous Tina Fey clip the morning after it aired. I was immediately enraged by the piece, and frustrated at all my friends who had posted it early along with commentary expressing their excitement for this incredibly problematic act. My first post was angry and outraged and not very nice. However, after having had the weekend to process, and to sit a bit more with the responses, I have come to a perhaps more nuanced thought on the whole affair.
I don’t want anyone to think I’m splitting hairs here – the bit was wrong. It was offensive. It was racist and transphobic and classist as fuck and misogynistic. But don’t worry, I’m going to lay it all out for you. The bit starts with her saying she comes out on Colin’s (white man) side rather than Michael’s (black man) because it’s her “best side” and not because she’s racist. Like, uh oh, we’re already in deep water. She then makes a joke about graduating college a virgin but still liking college. Because apparently female sexuality is relevant to this conversation of white supremacists – the same demographic of men who actively advocate the rape of college women while demonizing college rape victims who have the audacity to come forward and name an accuser.
Next, Fey attacks Trump’s name. Because, again, there isn’t, like, enough *actually relevant* material over which to criticize Trump so we should definitely ad hominem the fuck out of him to make our point? Yes, we’ll take time to snark out the same type of attack white feminists like Fey vocally oppose when being hurled at women. Then, Colin is addressed and appears alongside Fey while she continues on her rant, completely cutting Michael out of the frame and context as she goes on to say that she hopes the Nazi’s protesting in NYC over the weekend get beaten up by black drag queens who are really “still” just “..6 foot 4 black m[e]n.”
Okay, let’s stop for a moment. First of all, what the fuck. This comment is so littered with garbage hatefulness. Let’s break it down, shall we? First of all, Fey, despite living in New York, has taken herself out of the equation. She has placed the onus of the counter-protest on the backs of queer people of color. Let this sink in: Fey, a white woman sitting in a comfy NYC studio and who is literally about to eat cake because of how depressing the whole situation is to her personally, explicitly calls on the violent counter-protesting of the Nazi protestors BY QUEER PEOPLE OF COLOR. So now Tina Fey gets to be annoyed and frustrated and angry and hopeless while actively expecting queer people and people of color to show up to do the emotional, physical, mental labor of counter protest. All of this while literally sitting next to a black man who has, up to this point, been kept off screen, and whose only lines in the bit, other than the one he says prior to her coming out, all revolve around her. After delivering this incredibly offensive line, the camera finally pans back out to show Michael nodding along. Because the black man only really serves to validate racist words spoken by the white woman, apparently.
Beyond this, nah, Tina Fey, drag queen’s aren’t really just tall black men. Some might be, but they certainly aren’t all. There are many drag queens who identify as bisexual or gay men, but there are also drag queens who identify as trans women amongst other diverse arrays of gender and sexual orientation. To make a statement like this requires an immense entitlement and ignorance – and an entitlement to one’s ignorance – that is alarming and unacceptable for any of us who’s goal is the dismantling of systems of oppression.
Then comes the “funny” bit. Fey brings out a cake, and suggests to the audience that, rather than getting involved in the yelling at people that she really wants to do or getting caught up in the “potential violence” (which she has, again, literally just a moment ago advocated for by calling for black drag queens to punch Nazis), that they should rather turn to a local jewish or black owned bakery, buy a cake, and “sheet cake it” by yelling their frustrations into the sheet cake. So after calling for protests and potential escalations by people of color, she then proceeds to remove her own obligations to participate in that process by instead turning to growling into cake in the privacy – and safety – of her own home. When Colin remarks that several of the Nazi protests have already been canceled, she even frames this progress as her own victory: “sheet caking is a grass roots movement.”
The implication here is clear: as a straight white ciswoman, Fey, though horrified at the current state of affairs, has enough privilege that she can stand down. Ultimately, she expects that those with the most to lose – queer people, people of color – will be the ones who will need to step up to defend the rights of us all. And that is neither fair nor acceptable. We all have our roles to play, and that may or may not including being present at rallies and counter protests; however, the idea that one can simply stay out of the very process we expect others to show up to and claim as self-care the act of going out to buy an expensive cake which one can eat and yell into is the very definition of white privilege which is part of the critique of white feminism.
More than 50 percent of our country lives in poverty. They don’t have the luxury to just run out and buy a cake to yell and cry into to relieve their stress. They certainly cannot afford to do so at a small local bakery. Many of the women of color watching this sketch are actively concerned about whether their children – some of them those same tall black drag queens – will make it home alive today. Something tells me that eating cake doesn’t provide the same kind of catharsis for the fear of losing your child on a daily basis as it does for a frustrated wealthy white woman. The classism and racism of this bit is so astonishingly tone deaf, I honestly have a difficult time watching it.
The rest of the bit is more of the same: Fey’s frustrated ranting about the missing responses from the GOP (why can’t Paul Ryan just tweet about it!? – which, again, separates those in privileged positions of power from the movement in the streets), the hypocrisy of Trump’s tweets about Confederate monuments, getting called out by your kids for being upset or frustrated and being overwhelmed by feelings of powerlessness that can then be eaten away by adding grilled cheese to the cake. She then ends the bit with a call to ‘all reasonable people’ to not show up. And while the point is well-intended, it is also clear that Tina Fey has no idea how change works. You know why the revolutionary war was successful despite being run by a minority of the country? Because loyalists didn’t show up to fight. Do you know why the Confederacy is still part of the union? Because unionists DID show up to fight against the principles of slavery. In order to fight back and win against a group – albeit a minority – who is hellbent on destroying America, we have to fucking show up.
I’m also aware of the really horrifying piece that appeared over the weekend white mansplaining the art of satire to defend Fey. There are moments I could see sparks of the temptation to label the bit as satire (“Most of the women I know have been [sheet caking] once a week since the election!” or the bit about militias being out and about as she eats cake); however, the piece as a whole has too many conflicted statements to be read as a satirical bit. It’s literally not how satire works. The point of satire is to be tongue in cheek, of which Fey’s bit certainly is not. If it was intended as satire, it is neither good nor effective. If, as I suspect, it was not, it would do us well to stop trying to make up defenses of offensive shit simply because it also engages in some critique which resonates with us: Fey doesn’t get to go off on tirades about Trump and the radical right and then have the offensive bits be called brilliant ‘satire.’
This leads me into my thought process which appeared over the weekend: I was truly surprised by the number of my very smart, progressive, involved, highly respected white feminist friends who sustained their defense of this piece. Is it me, I wondered? Am I the one who is wrong or missing something? However, after watching it again and citing all of the above listed horribly offensive things said or implied during Fey’s bit, I realized it wasn’t. So, then: what is it about my friends’ experiences that I am missing?
I think it’s hopelessness. It’s a feeling of isolation and overwhelming stressful emotions. It does speak to the progress of white women in this country that we can have a bit like this. That Tina Fey can get on national TV and eat a cake and rant about the horrors of the US in 2017 speaks to a different kind of privilege and voice for white women than the last time we were debating Nazism in the 1930’s and 40’s. Yet, there is still a feeling that women aren’t safe in this country. There is a constant barrage of attacks on women’s bodies and rights which are then met with paternalistic gaslighting and victim blaming from the men in power. We are watching our queer siblings and our siblings of color being attacked on a regular basis. We are watching our disabled siblings being ignored or invalidated and watching healthcare and other aspects of economic justice come under attack every day for months. It is exhausting, and frustrating, and defeating and Tina Fey speaks to that mounting feeling of white female exhaustion and the desire to simply sit back and yell-eat cake.
The problem is, this doesn’t solve any problems. It doesn’t solve OUR problems, and it doesn’t solve the problems of our loved ones under attack. While we MUST actively engage in self care (and hell, maybe stress eating grilled cheese and cake is part of that), we also are obligated to not perpetuate the problem. And Fey’s bit, as well-intended and spot on in some of it’s attacks on the absurdity of the GOP establishment as it is, places a big ol’ glaring spotlight on how white feminists unintentionally perpetuate the same problems we are fighting.
So here is my message. Dear fellow white feminists: We must do better. We must stand for an intersectional form of justice. We must stand for the dismantling of white supremacy alongside the dismantling of patriarchy. We must stand alongside our oppressed siblings and lift their voices along with our own. We must listen to those whose experiences of oppression do not match our own. We must shift our language mindfully and intentionally in order to not perpetuate racist, transphobic and homophobic, classist, ableist assaults which fuel the oppression of our siblings. We must do better. We MUST do better.