If you’re a “Saturday Night Live” fan (or check Twitter), you probably noticed Bill Burr’s opening “SNL” monologue trending this weekend. Some fans thought it was controversial: Burr called out white women for being complicit in thousands of years of white supremacy. And he was right.
Truth be told, I’ve never been a Bill Burr fan. His incendiary commentary on transgender and LGBTQIA+ issues and identities doesn’t sit right with me, and I don’t like his comedy in general. His language was clumsy, and I think he plays with being problematic on purpose. Parts of his monologue “bombed,” as Roxane Gay tweeted, but there’s also a broader message Burr mentioned that is worth more focus.
Yes, white men have oceans of oppressive behaviors to atone for. So do white women.
In writing this article, I recognize I am a white woman and am speaking the same truths that many Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) have repeated for years. I recognize that writing this article doesn’t fix the issue, but I hope it can start a conversation about this on our campus. With a majority of students being white and a majority identifying as women, sitting down and opening the floor on this issue seems to be long overdue.
It feels easier to allude to white supremacy on a grander scale, or shift blame to white men specifically for the continued role of white supremacy and racism in our country. It feels easier to make generalized statements about feminism having its issues in the past but being on the “right track” now.
It may feel easier to do these things, but easier means complacency and complacency means complicity.
As intersectional feminism has arisen as a mainstream theoretical framework, white feminists have chosen to believe that supporting intersectional feminism gives them freedom from acknowledging their own privilege or a free pass because they face societal issues as well. “Everyone has a seat at the table now,” we’ve said, “and the patriarchy is to blame for the continued oppression of BIPOC in our country.”
White men created the system and upheld it — but “we” are taking it down.
But the truth is, white women uphold and benefit from the system — a system of patriarchy and of white supremacy. The two cannot be separated, and white women cannot be separated from the role they play in those systems.
White women have, historically, pushed out BIPOC, specifically women, out of social movements. It was done with malice and intent. To propel themselves forward and gain the power that white men have often yielded in history, white women have appealed their whiteness to those white men to further an agenda that specifically excluded and harmed Black, Indigenous and people of color. As the Australian Indigenous academic and author Aileen Moreton-Robinson said, “White women civilised while white men brutalised.”
Quite simply, white women have co-opted movements. We have joined in on histories and liberations that are not ours because addressing our role is uncomfortable. And no, it isn’t about just the “Karens” or the high percentage of white women who voted for Trump. It’s women in our generation — myself and many more — that have continued to take attention away from the Black Lives Matter movement and centered ourselves in a movement that is not for us. Trying to show you are the “best” of all the allies to movements does little more than put on a performance.
Intersectional and Black feminism are the way forward for the feminist movement, and white women should not be at the front of either.
So when Bill Burr says to “sit down next to us, shut up and get your talking to,” he is not wrong. While white women may bristle at a white man telling us this, he amplified a very real message. He doesn’t deserve endless praise for repeating the continued discussions, but he did echo the message loudly on his platform. I still won’t listen to Bill Burr and will heavily critique his other material. But, if you checked Twitter after the monologue, you know that many Black, Indigenous and people of color agreed with his statements — and we should listen to them.
It matters that we listen and don’t assume it’s an attack. It’s about sitting down and not hijacking the mic. Thinking we are blameless because we operate in a patriarchal society or identity as women is not only inexcusable — it’s proving the very point that we are uncomfortable with our own accountability. Blaming white supremacy and white men isn’t enough.
We have to acknowledge and listen to what Black people, Indigenous people and people of color say about our role as oppressors. I have a lot to learn and saying that “I am a feminist and ally myself with others” doesn’t give me, or anyone else, a free pass to excuse racist behavior.