Ain’t I a Woman? The Unbearable Whiteness of Allies

Bette Midler, winner of the award for Best Actress in a Musical for “Hello, Dolly!,” poses in the press room during the 2017 Tony Awards at 3 West Club on June 11, 2017 in New York City.
Bette Midler, winner of the award for Best Actress in a Musical for “Hello, Dolly!,” poses in the press room during the 2017 Tony Awards at 3 West Club on June 11, 2017 in New York City.
Photo: Mike Coppola (Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

Before I even start this, I know that I have to give the usual disclaimers because even though it should be implied at this point, someone will undoubtedly need that extra spoonful of validation and reassurance, so here we go:

Yes, I know not all white women. I know not all white people.

Yet, Thursday night, Bette Midler proved to be the perfect example of all the things white women do when they call themselves “allies.” She went peak white woman.


In case you missed it, Midler paraphrased the misguided Yoko Ono, who coined the phrase, “Woman is the nigger of the world.”

In a now-deleted tweet, Midler wrote “‘Women, are the n-word of the world.’ Raped, beaten, enslaved, married off, worked like dumb animals; denied education and inheritance; enduring the pain and danger of childbirth and life IN SILENCE for THOUSANDS of years. They are the most disrespected creatures on earth.”

Illustration for article titled Ain’t I a Woman? The Unbearable Whiteness of Allies

Yeah, she thought that was it.

As I said on Twitter, there is no way for “xyz” to be the “nigger of the world” when black people—the original recipe niggers—are still here.

The original quote is offensive, Bette’s paraphrasing of it is offensive and both are dismissive of the ongoing plight of black people in the United States.

Furthermore, are black women not women? Because everything described in that tweet has actually happened to black women and is still ongoing. Can white women in the United States say the same thing?


After Bette sent the tweet, a good number of people—including a large number of black women—reached out to tell her that the tweet was offensive. There were reasoned explanations for why it was offensive in her mentions. You know what Bette did?

She doubled down.

“I gather I have offended many by my last tweet,” she wrote in another since-deleted tweet. “‘Women are the ... etc’ is a quote from Yoko Ono from 1972, which I never forgot. It rang true then, and it rings true today, whether you like it or not. This is not about race, this is about the status of women; THEIR HISTORY.”

Illustration for article titled Ain’t I a Woman? The Unbearable Whiteness of Allies

I told you she went peak white woman. This is a thing that white women (and men too, actually) do when they get called out on being offensive while simultaneously painting themselves as an “ally.”


You aren’t really our ally.

This is all performative. You make these big pronouncements, rail on Harvey Weinstein and his ilk from the safety of your Twitter account, and pretend to be enlightened, informed and part of the resistance. Meanwhile, there’s more “resistance” in a new piece of shapewear.


In this instance, Bette dropped that quote in response to what is going on with the Kavanaugh nomination. She dropped that quote because she knew it would make an impression—on white people.

To white people, that’s a deep comment for Bette to make. “Wow! She said that!” they can cheer and hold her up as being brave for calling it what it is.


And it is only in that one quiet moment of lifting her up that they can tangentially (and silently) acknowledge what black people in this country have been saying all along—we have been mistreated. That has to be true in order for Bette’s “edgy” statement to be true.

It then becomes dismissive when Ms. Midler herself yells that “it’s not about race.” It is entirely about race, and it became about race the minute you decided to use a quote with the word “nigger” in it to describe the “plight” of you and other women who look like you—white women.


You want to co-opt the struggle of an entire group of people while simultaneously erasing their struggle from the conversation and pretending it wasn’t there.

How very white of you.

You know you done fucked up when even nice ass Reading Rainbow LeVar Burton has to roll through and check you, using his slave name to do it.


And it is worth noting that Rose McGowan tried to use this same quote for the same reason almost around this same time last year, and when she got called out for it, she blamed it on weed.


Because the other thing that white people do is try not to take accountability for their actions when called out for things like this. That is getting tired and annoying too. You said it with your chest: Own it.

Bette later came back to “apologize” for her comments—after deleting the first two tweets.


She wrote, “The too brief investigation of allegations against Kavanaugh infuriated me. Angrily I tweeted w/o thinking my choice of words would be enraging to black women who doubly suffer, both by being women and by being black. I am an ally and stand with you; always have. And I apologize.”


And here is another thing I want y’all to stop doing.

“I am an ally and stand with you.”

You don’t get to label yourself an ally, sis. We will let you know when we feel like you are truly our ally.


It’s such a white woman thing to do, harkening back to slavery, to say you are on our side while continuing to perpetuate the ideologies and behaviors of the white patriarchy that rules this country.

In other words, girl, bye.

Also, being black is not an affliction. We are subject to mistreatment because of our skin color, but our skin color is not the problem. Racism is.


Basically, Bette is not unlike all the other white women who claim to see us as equals but in action don’t treat us as such. They easily dismiss us when we raise concerns and put their own egos and needs in front of ours even as they claim they are helping us.

In short, they center themselves.

It is annoying, infuriating and insulting.

It is the unbearable whiteness of our “allies.”

News Editor for The Root. I said what I said. Period.



Great writing Monique.

How does every white woman know this quote? I’ve never heard of it before, albeit I’m black, and it just strikes me as an offensive thing to say even for 1972. I’m trying to stick other pejorative terms in there. I’m trying to figure out how one separates the ideas of blackness from n— to make this work. “Black people are the worst people on earth and even white women have it worse than they do. Like when you translate doesn’t work without being racist.

My head hurts.