Singer Lily Allen recently came out of semi-retirement and in her first video back attempted to address the objectification of women in the mainstream media but neglected to check her privilege first. What the failed video actually ends up doing is illuminating the role of color privilege in mainstream media. Her intention in the video was to rise up as a feminist to combat sexism but she did it at the expense of women of color.
While everyone likes to runaway and hide at the mention of color, it’s at the very center of the issue. When viewing this video through the lens of a woman of color living in a society that is patriarchal and practices Colorism, the abuse is explicit and apparent. Colorism is discrimination based on skin color. Abuse is abuse regardless of the sex or color of the abuser.
In the scenario we are presented with in this horrible video the audience is shown the “white skinned woman as innocent angel of perfection” trope. Reiterating the idea that a white women can never be seen as nor fit the mold of any stereotypes in popular culture because white skin must always be associated with goodness and better than.
Why is the video such a major fail?
The reason the video fails is because Lily Allen was too much of a coward to use her own body. In her own words she says:
If I could dance like the ladies can, it would have been my arse on your screens; I actually rehearsed for two weeks trying to perfect my twerk, but failed miserably. If I was a little braver, I would have been wearing a bikini too, but I do not and I have chronic cellulite, which nobody wants to see. What I’m trying to say is that me being covered up has nothing to do with me wanting to disassociate myself from the girls, it has more to do with my own insecurities and I just wanted to feel as comfortable as possible on the shoot day. Source: http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1rrk3og
In the video women of color are portraying the “so called satirized behavior” (stereotypes) to the amusement of the white woman. These harmful stereotypes which she failed to satirize are what in real life is projected to all consumers of mainstream media everyday twenty four seven. In real life the voices of women of color are silenced in mainstream media. Again reinforcing the idea whiter skin is good by remaining fully clothed while women of color are prancing around portraying exotified, hyper sexualized behavior. This associates bad behavior with darker skin. It is the very behavior portrayed in mainstream Allen takes offense with in the first place. Since she doesn’t like it she reassigns it to women of color. She paid dancers of color to do what she was too proud to do as she sang these lyrics from her song which appropriates rap group Three Six Mafia’s song title:
“Don’t need to shake my ass for you, cause I’ve got a brain,” she sings, pointing out the hypocrisy of sexism. “If I told you about my sex life, you’d call me a slut/ Them boys be talking about their bitches, no one’s making a fuss/ There’s a glass ceiling to break, uh huh, there’s money to make, and now it’s time to speed it up cause I can’t move at this pace.”
In addition Allen will not apologize for bringing attention to the objectification of white women while exploiting women of color because if she did she would have to acknowledge the suffering of women of color throughout history and her white privilege. She’d rather fight the women of color who dare speak out. After all there are no safe spaces for women of color in mainstream.
To the argument: “It’s Satire!”
The argument “oh this is just satire” is in essence the same as “you’re too sensitive” and comes from a place of privilege. It is dismissive. At its most basic, it is refusing to even acknowledge the experience, history and even worse trivialize the pain and suffering of women of color living in a society which is patriarchal and practices Colorism. It is white male dominated society quick to enforce its structure by trying to silence female voices of color. It is the shaming of women of color by labeling them as “angry for expressing their feelings” when disrespected, hyper sexualized, exotified and objectified.
The lens of the “it’s just satire”‘ argument is filtered through the lens of a colony which is white male dominated. This view is consistently reinforced in mainstream media. The point merely echoes what we already hear in mainstream media. I don’t see why anyone would have to or want to defend that point of view.
Marginalizing the voice of women of color is nothing new. It’s the reason Alice Walker coined the term womanist. In other efforts by feminists to demonstrate the imbalance in the feminist community the hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen was created by Mikki Kendall. The hashtag highlights the tendency of feminism to exclude the narratives and experiences of women of color.
While mainstream media continues to silence female voices of color I encourage you to speak out. Use hashtags like the above mentioned, #SecretLivesofFeministas created by AnaYelsi Sanchez and similar hashtags to find safe spaces to express yourself. It’s not that women of color have been silent, it is the privileged structure of mainstream media has systematically excluded them. Ultimately it is up to woman of color to shape the narrative by continuing to tell her stories and share her experiences which are not to be dismissed or judged by anyone else.
What you can do:
- Our power is in uniting and supporting female writers, producers and directors of color.
- Create and tell your own stories.
- Demand the networks correct the lack of diversity not only of actors but especially when it comes to positions of impact.
- Stop supporting products and companies that are toxic to society by perpetuating negative stereotypes referring to any particular color as bad.
- Demand equal and fair coverage on all media platforms. Do not permit people of color to continue being under-represented, negatively depicted and narrowly portrayed.
- Demand networks create a diversity of content more in line with the multitude of cultures that actually make up the United States of America.
- Demand responsibility of the advertisers who in essence are supporting and perpetuating this lack of diversity.
- Support stations and programming providing alternate portrayals of women and minorities.
- Support alternative media outlets like this one.
- Become a content creator and distributor.
Bella Vida Letty is a regular contributor to LatinoRebels.com and one of the Original Rebeldes, having been with the group since the very beginning. Last year she was named one of the Most Powerful Latinas in Social Media by VOXXI. You can follow her on Twitter (@bellavidaletty) or read more about her on her blog, Bella Vida by Letty.