ellen pompeo and the well-meaning-white-woman syndrome
this is not about emojis
ellen pompeo, best-known for her role as Meredith Grey on Grey’s Anatomy, is an actor, producer, and a mother. And she just put her foot in her mouth. More than once.
On December 23rd, 2016, ellen pompeo got called in on twitter by user @sarahsdrew — whose account is now private — for using the brown-skinned emojis as a white woman. The Atlantic and Wired have written about the racial politics of emojis, but that isn’t what this is about.
“Don’t be a hater I do it because racism is not just a black problem it is all of our problem get it???” — ellen pompeo
This is about a white woman, who when confronted, instead said decided to weaponize her Black husband and children as a joke.
“That’s white lady with a black husband and black children to you babe” — ellen pompeo
This is about a white woman who said that racism still exists on both sides, implying that “reverse racism” is a real thing.
This is about all of the well-meaning-white-women who put their foot in their mouth (taylor swift, lena dunham, amy schumer, and on and on and on).
And this piece? It is not about talking to white people, but instead explaining to people of color how white people use us as tokens. Let’s talk about the “my husband is Black trope.” Many people have written about it, and you can probably find a take from a talented Black woman. I’m borrowing from tweets I wrote earlier this year to discuss the well-meaning-white-woman syndrome.
This fundamental issue in this situation is that pompeo, a white women with 1.2 million followers, international fame, and “a Black husband and Black children” has got people out here doubting themselves. If you’re Black person or a non-Black person of color and your partner routinely brings up your existence to fend off racial criticism? You gotta go. Or, if you agree with that partner then I guess you gotta stay, just stay far away from me. Let’s break some things down real quick.
Racism occurs in various forms. Racism is the combination of privilege and power, which is why people say that “Black people cannot be racist, we don’t have the power to do so.” Black folks and non-Black people of color can, however, discriminate against anybody or hold prejudiced views against them.
Racism can be interpersonal (a white person says to a Black person, “you’re a nigger.”)
Racism can be structural (“I’m sorry, you can only vote if your grandfather was allowed to vote. Oh, your grandfather was a slave? Welp, looks like you can’t vote!”)
If we want to get really specific, we can talk about how racism can be institutional or systemic, but the main takeaway is that racism is all around us. This is because white supremacy is the hegemonic racial project. That means that folks of European ancestry — and anyone who can pass for such — gains certain white privileges that the rest of us could only dream of.
It is important to remember that this is complicated by class, ethnicity, disability, sexuality, gender identity, gender expression, and many more factors. But even so, a poor white person still receives many more privileges than a poor Black person in almost every situation.
“But sad to see racism is still alive and well on all sides” — ellen pompeo
So here is a short, yet incomprehensive list of why reverse racism isn’t real.
- The criminal justice system is disgusting and all you have to do is google to learn about implicit bias, overpolicing, surveillance, murder, and sexual assault in Black and brown neighborhoods.
- Redlining disproportionately affects Black and brown people.
- Banks target low-income communities with subprime mortgage loans.
- A Black person without a criminal record is less likely to get called back for a job than a white person with a criminal record, according a 2003 study conducted by Dr. Devah Pager.
- A Black person can be fired, harassed, and arrested for having dreadlocks.
- Slavery is still legal under the 13th Amendment, and Black and brown folks are the primary targets.
- Economic greed in the U.S. led to the enslavement of African folks, followed by the purposeful separation of families, followed by lynchings, followed by postcards of said lynchings, followed by intergenerational trauma that lives within the DNA of current generations, followed by general anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder in many Black folks, as well as a lack of wealth. Don’t forget about that one.
So in other words, getting called a “white bitch,” a “cracker,” a “honky,” and/or “trailer trash?” That ain’t racism. Compare that to the label “welfare queen,” a trope created by white folks in politics that Black women still get called today, despite the fact that white women were the primary recipients of welfare.
Instead of reverse racism, let’s explore what well-meaning-white-woman syndrome (WMWWS) looks like
- The ability to know all of what I typed, pretend to care, and still claim that she's experienced racism because someone called her a “white bitch.” Potentially while crying.
- The idea that her Black spouse, relatives, or friends excludes her from being indoctrinated into a system of white supremacy that she upholds every moment she doesn’t work to demolish it. While blowing a kissy face.
- Interrupting a Black person or a non-Black person of color to say “I know how that feels, I’m a woman,” as if they are the same thing and as if Black women and women of color do not exist. While feeling accomplished.
- Smiling as she “speak up” for someone who is non-white, thinking that she’s helping when in actuality she is speaking over that person. While smiling.
- Tattooing intersectional feminist on her arm as she talks down to her domestic worker because she is not white, and of a different class than her. While bragging to her friends.
- Knowingly moving into a rapidly gentrifying area while she makes two times the median income in the area, only to ignore her neighbors until they approach her. While humming tswift.
Well-meaning-white-women are all around us. They’re often more interested in avoiding the label “racist” than in challenging their racist friends. If your boss is one? You might be fucked. If your friend is one? You can try to educate them, but good luck. If your long-term partner is one? Then you probably aren’t even reading this piece right now because it’s too late for you.