Actress Natalie Portman is the latest White woman celebrity to talk about the gender pay gap in ways that demonstrate tunnel vision on the intersections between racism and gender inequity. From Patricia Arquette’s highly misguided attempt to discuss the wage disparity during her 2015 Oscars speech, to Jennifer Lawrence’s essay calling for equal pay, White actresses have a very skewed view of the inequities faced by “women” in the entertainment industry and in everyday life.
What does the gender pay gap look like when viewed through the intersections of gender, race and other social categories? What do we learn about mainstream feminism’s vision for equal pay, when we become more conscious of Whiteness and White privilege?
A new LA Times article, written by a White man, suggests that if the Oscars this year finally acknowledges people of colour, it will be “political.” “If it’s all-White again, nobody’s going to be happy and there might be a growing perception that the academy is out of touch,” says USC history professor Steve Ross, who then went on to muse that voters may choose a Black actor over a White actor due to “politics” and to avoid backlash. This article even quotes F. Gary Gray, director of Straight Outta Compton, and a Black American man, saying he won’t allow “politics” to govern his voting.
White actors getting an Oscar is not seen as political. That’s just business as usual (obvious and yet taken-for-granted institutional racism). People pointing out racism of the Academy and demanding that people of colour finally get recognition by an industry that sidelines diverse stories, is politics. The underlying presumption in this narrative is that people of colour can only ever achieve an Oscar statue through tokeism and because eliste White people are temporarily afraid of being called out for their racism.