Apparently, while promoting her upcoming film “Suffragette,” Meryl Streep and her co-stars thought a quote spoken by her character, Emmeline Pankhurst, was totally within the realm of acceptable public relations.
I can’t, for the life of me, understand how anyone involved with the photoshoot for Time Out London thought a t-shirt reading “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” was a good idea.
Yes, the subjugation of white women in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Europe and the United States was real. Women were legal property of their husbands and had little to no rights, including voting. But this was not the same reality for black women who were regarded as chattel during the institution of slavery.
Under this system, black women were not even considered human. Their marriages were not acknowledged and they were often separated from their children and loved ones.
We also seem to forget slavery was a global enterprise and that somehow the United States was an exception in terms of its brutality and inhumanity. I’m here to tell you it was ugly all over the world, including parts of Europe. The line, spoken in 1912 Europe, was offensive then and in 2015 it is still offensive. Period.
This discussion isn’t about pitting one history against another and determining who had it worse, because under a historical system of white patriarchy, all men and women suffer to varying degrees.
I’m trying to emphasize, however, that simultaneous histories must be acknowledged and at the times in which the intersections of these histories seek to erase marginalization is the time when we must be willing to speak up and push back.
Thankfully, many have already taken up the task of pushing back against this media fail.
I recently shared this epic failure via social media and was immediately told my analysis was unproductive and much bigger than Meryl Streep. I’m here to tell everyone that it is so much about Meryl Streep and the influence of celebrity culture.
The woman is an icon and a household name. Her cavalier consent to such insensitive and hurtful language only reinforces younger women who look like her to be just as nonchalant about their unexamined privilege and racial bias. This kind of racial ignorance continually resurfaces in news story after news story.
A white celebrity using the legacy of slavery as a publicity stunt not only erases an entire historical narrative, but also lessens the severity of that narrative as though it’s not really that big of a deal; when in reality, nearly everything in the modernized world owes its development to the use of forced, unpaid labor.
I’m going to need Meryl Streep and her co-stars to sit down along with anyone else who defends her actions.
Amanda Anastasia Paniagua is an opinion writer for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected]