I enjoy watching the Red Table talks. They’ve been very open on domestic abuse, drug use, and overall hard conversations. However, with the two segments on race, specifically between white and black women, I can say that something is missing from the conversation. I understand the intention behind bringing women of color and white women together to try and bridge gaps between the societal separation, however the language being used at the table is missing some depth and in some cases, facts, about the our ownership in the systems that drive these relationships. There are deep rooted reasons behind the divide in the first place and those reasons should be addressed alongside the lived experiences of both block women and white women. However without further inspection into the systematic divide, the lived experiences only seem like surface level conversations. – Tiara Cash, 2018
(Shout out to my dear friend/Soror, Cash $chmoney$ for the quote!)
I love Red Table Talk. If you don’t know what Red Table Talk is, please do yourself a great service, log into Facebook, and head over to the Facebook Watch icon and search Red Table Talk (RTT). RTT is hosted by Jada Pinkett-Smith, her daughter Willow, and her mother, Adrienne. They have various discussions about various topics that highlight Black women’s intersectional identities. Topics have ranged from drug abuse, to mending old relationships, to most recently, conversations about race.
Now, those who know me, know I love a good conversation about race. I love hearing others’ opinions about how race plays a role in just about everything that goes on in this country. Our country was founded on the basis of racism. When the second season of RTT premiered a number of weeks ago, I was ready. I loved season one so I knew season 2 was going to be just as good. After the first episode, they previewed clips from the upcoming shows that season and the two that caught my attention the most were the episodes that featured Jane Elliot, a white woman, well-known for her work with children in the mid-1900s about how segregation worked in America, and Ellen Pompeo, a white woman, the star of one of my favorite shows, Grey’s Anatomy (I feel like there were hella commas in that sentence but…oh well).
I purposely mentioned that they were both white women because it is important in this context. Jada asked them on the show because she believed that they were white women who “get it” and are advocates for the rights of all people in this country, but specifically, advocates for people of color. The RTT episode with Jane, was not my first time hearing about her work with teaching white people about their privilege in America and how white people socially control just about everything. I admired Jane’s work, but I also had my reservations about it. We will get into that a bit later. Ellen, has been monumental in the movement for equal pay, women’s rights, and the rights of people of color. She is a woman who I admire and believe that she truly means what she says.
On the episode with Jane, Jada, Adrienne, and Willow discuss the relationship between white women and Black women in America. Jada was curious to know why white and Black women are basically arch nemesis. Adrienne shared stories about growing up during the era of segregation and why she still holds anger towards white people. Jada agreed. She recalled an experience she had in Virginia with the police. Pain has been passed down through generations from the way whiteness has impacted their lives.
Here’s where I felt the conversation went from pretty decent to sort of missing the mark. When Jada said she was surprised that white women and Black women have issues because white women know the struggle of being oppressed because they are women. Jada missed a mark here because while white women are oppressed in a patriarchal system, they still benefit from white privilege. This is a privilege that Black women are unable to possess. Black women hold two dually oppressed identities: being Black (race) and being a woman (gender). Their oppression is at the intersection of racism and sexism. This is why white women have the power to oppress Black women.
Another mark that was missed was when the women brought out one of their white female producers. The producer went on to talk about how she’s never been in an experience to know when she had privilege and when a Black woman didn’t have privilege. She said that no one had ever checked her on it before. Then she said she doesn’t know what to do about racism and that she tries to be Black women’s friend. At that moment, one of the hosts could have said multiple things but here’s two:
- Fixing racism isn’t about going out and being Black women’s friend.
- A starting point is being an active bystander and if you hear someone say something racist or offensive towards people of color, talk to them about why what they said was hurtful.
I know I heard myself screaming “GO READ A BOOK!” “Open up the news and read about police brutality!” These were simple steps to figuring out “what to do” about racism. You have to educate yourself and make yourself comfortable being uncomfortable. Talking and learning about racism is very uncomfortable.
The last mark missed was when Jane came out talkin’ ’bout some, “there is no race but the human race”. Okay, yes, race is a social construct. This means that race is not a biological thing. People created races. So, while yes, Jane is absolutely correct, but to yell that statement that loud without more context, does nothing for the purpose of the conversation. What I mean is, this is a time for Jane to follow that statement up by saying something like, “Although we are all one race, we cannot ignore that socially, race exists and we have to acknowledge that people of color in this country have experienced traumatic events and have endured systems of dominance since colonization.” Jane’s “color blind” rhetoric is one of the reasons why some white people can’t see their privilege. When you say or imply that you don’t see color, you ignore the unique experiences that people of color have faced and you really don’t see them. Their color is part of who they are and the world treats you very differently when your melanin is poppin’. I know the episodes aren’t long enough to go into much detail but key pieces like that have to be aired so people don’t get the wrong idea. With Jane being the “expert” in the space, that was her role to ensure those things were mentioned.
Nonetheless, I was eager to watch the next episode with Ellen Pompeo. I knew Ellen was going give the people the real talk about race. I felt like she was a white woman who was down with the movement for Black rights. I believe she is down. I enjoyed her appearance and I had a couple moments where I felt myself making a face that probably read, “huh?” I cringed when Ellen was telling the story about how when she was growing up, she was curious to know why white people didn’t like Black people so much. She became friends with them because she wanted to know more about them. Then she said that she would invite her Black friends over to swim in the pool so when her dad got home, she was see if he would get mad. “You know, when he came home, see a pool full of Black boys…cuz ya know, when you’re a teenager, you have to rebel a little”. That statement right there had me like “EXCUSE ME?! Soooo, you exploiting Black boys for entertainment….?” But, that was 30 years ago and I’m sure Ellen has evolved and was telling that story to probably show her growth. After I processed that to myself, I moved on with the video.
The conversation continues and Ellen moves on to talk about “reverse racism”…you know what? I’m still processing this segment so, I actually can’t form a full opinion yet.
Lastly, I think the conversation about interracial marriage had a potential to go another route. Jada prefaced that conversation with a quick history lesson about Richard and Mildred Loving, a white man and Black woman who were in love and secretly got married in the 1960s. They were arrested and jailed because interracial marriage was illegal. Their case went to the Supreme Court and they won changing history and changing the law. This was a cute touch. I think they could have went further back in history and had a conversation about slavery and the institution of the marriage. But also how white people sexually objectified and abused Black bodies. One of the reasons why people have an issue with interracial marriage stems from pieces of that history. Again, all that would have been too much for a short episode.
I would be remiss if I did not speak to Black women as well. Black women, we have to ensure that we take time to not automatically assume that white women are around to harm us. We need to be open to getting to know them and learn about their cultural as well. The key to better communication is learning how to talk across cultural differences and see diverse perspectives.
I say all of that to say that we have to continue to have these conversations and check each other. Feel free to check me if you disagree. That’s the beauty of learning. When you bring multiple ideas and ways of knowing to the table it brings out more opportunity for growth and conversation. These two RTT episodes definitely made me want to continue to the growth.