There is a video circulating on social media currently that has people praising Grey’s Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo as our new white shero.
In the video, Pompeo is on stage being interviewed by Net-A-Porter alongside actresses Gabrielle Union, Emma Roberts and Gina Rodriguez. In the short clip, she is discussing how white people have a duty to help increase diversity in Hollywood.
“This day has been incredible,” she says. “And there’s a ton of women in the room, but I don’t see enough color. And I didn’t see enough color when I walked in the room today. I had a meeting with the director of another endorsement project that I’m doing, and I said, ‘You know, when I show up on set, I would like to see the crew look like the world that I walk around in every day. And I think it’s up to all productions to make sure your crew looks like the world we see.
“As caucasian people, it’s our job,” she continued. “It’s our task. It’s our responsibility to make sure we speak up in every single room that we walk into. That this is not OK, and that we can all do better. It’s our job, because we’ve created the problem.”
Pompeo’s words were lauded across the internet as everyone scrambled to crown her our new woke white queen.
The short clip was part of a larger discussion on wage disparities for women in Hollywood. Pompeo rightly called out the lack of diversity in Hollywood, and everything she said is true—but are we really at the point of handing out coronations for white people when they do the bare minimum that any decent human being should do when they see a wrong being committed?
Black women have been saying this for years, but as per usual, it doesn’t have any “validity” until a white woman says it—and this week, that white woman is Ellen Pompeo.
As the video gained momentum Tuesday, people who remembered a very tense interaction the actress and I had two years ago brought it to my attention.
In December 2016, Pompeo was tweeting about some victory she was happy about, and in her celebration of that moment, she used black emojis.
A young black woman tweeted to her very respectfully and asked her why she felt the need to do that. She explained how it felt to see a white woman with white privilege using the emojis just because she could.
Pompeo was dismissive in her response and repeatedly doubled down when more black women tried to explain to her where the first was coming from.
I tweeted to Pompeo and told her that while I didn’t necessarily have an issue with her usage of the emojis, I did find the way she was responding to black women who were trying to speak with her about it troubling.
In a long series of back-and-forth tweets, Pompeo told me that she knows how racism feels because a) her husband and children are black and b) she had been called a white bitch before. She even said that people calling her a white bitch was “reverse racism” and doubled down on that when people called her out on it as well.
My responses to her were reasoned, rooted in fact, polite and devoid of any name-calling or curse words.
When Pompeo found she did not have any logical responses for what I was saying to her, she immediately went peak white woman and accused me of attacking her and “trying to pick a fight.”
Her over one million followers descended into my Twitter mentions, and I was subjected to harassment, abuse and trolling for weeks after.
The incident was written up in multiple media outlets with my tweets to her being quoted over and over again.
Pompeo never addressed me again after that, and somehow, in her newfound wokeness, she has completely forgotten that she too played a role in silencing black women and contributing to their abuse.
So when I said on Twitter yesterday that I was unimpressed with her statements, I meant it. I believe her to simply be parroting things she has heard black women say while centering herself as some sort of hero for saying them.
All of her statements began with “I.” “I don’t see ...” “I want to see ...” “I think we should …” It’s as if she feels she is the captain of a movement that has been going on long before she decided she wanted to be a part of it.
Even when she gets to the part where she directly addresses white people, she can’t bring herself to say the word “white.” “As caucasian people” she said, as though she needed to soften the blow and make whiteness sound like anything other than what it is—a power structure.
When I pointed out what I took issue with on Twitter, I was immediately bombarded with tweets from white people telling me that I just needed to be grateful that someone was saying anything at all. I was told that I needed to be forgiving of Pompeo, even if she had not acknowledged or apologized for the harm she caused me and other black women that day. I needed to be the bigger person and recognize that she has obviously grown since then. I was repeatedly asked, “What more do you want?”
The bar is always higher for black women. For white women, the bar is on the floor.
Here is Ellen, getting praised for just being a decent human being. Here is Monique, a black woman in a crowd of black women who were harmed by Ellen. We are expected to somehow ascend to more than what is expected of Ellen while simultaneously praising her for something that is well below what we would be given kudos for.
But it’s growth, right?
A huge part of growth is acknowledging where you have gone wrong. If you have harmed others, you need to acknowledge that and make some sort of atonement for it, even if it is just a simple apology.
I was not the only black woman to express doubts about Pompeo’s newfound wokeness; those observations were widespread across Twitter yesterday.
Her pronouncements were performative in both execution and tone. It was performative because as she is trying to hold her fellow white people accountable for doing something, she fails to hold herself accountable in those same moments.
I am not expecting Ellen Pompeo to apologize to me. It will probably be easier for her to tweet through this, basking in the praise that is being rained down on her for saying something that has already been said by the people marginalized in the system she claims to want to hold accountable.
It’s too bad that accountability doesn’t start with herself.