Emma Watson writes about racism & white supremacy (after being criticized)

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Emma Watson hasn’t been working that much as an actress in recent years. She barely promoted Little Women, and whenever she gives any kind of interview these days, she mostly talks about all of the feminist literature she’s been reading. She’s for-real committed to her “second career” as a feminist activist and she studies what to say and how. I used to think her feminist activism was a bit basic, in that it just seemed “deep as puddle,” complete with vague sentiments about equality and “men should be feminists too, it’s in their interest!” But over the years, she’s grown into a something of a self-educated feminist scholar.

Why am I bringing this up? Because I think Emma, through her studies, understands that a lot of white women who identify as feminists have a huge blindspot when it comes to intersectionality. And this week, we’ve seen that Emma has that blind spot too. Emma’s name trended on Twitter for hours on Tuesday because she, like so many white celebrities who said nothing about Black Lives Matter in the days and weeks prior, decided to do the “Tuesday Blackout” on social media. She posted black boxes (with white trim) on her Instagram with the hashtags #blackouttuesday, #theshowmustbepaused, #amplifymelanatedvoices, #amplifyblackvoices. Um… okay, but was she amplifying black voices?? So, Emma had to make a statement once her Blackout was over.

Still learning. Emma Watson responded after fans criticized her for matching her “Blackout Tuesday” posts to her Instagram feed’s aesthetic. The Harry Potter actress, 30, faced backlash on Tuesday, June 2, for editing a white box around the black square that was being used to show solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement on social media. Given Watson’s history of social activism, some fans were disappointed that she would change the universally recognized symbol of support for protestors and that she didn’t use her platform to share important resources for her followers in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

“There is so much racism, both in our past and present, that is not acknowledged nor accounted for,” Watson wrote in her statement on Tuesday night. “White supremacy is one of the systems of hierarchy and dominance, of exploitation and oppression, that is tightly stitched into society. As a white person, I have benefited from this.”

“Whilst we might feel that, as individuals, we’re working hard internally to actively tackle the structural and institutional racism around us. I’m still learning about the many ways I unconsciously support and uphold a system that is structurally racist. Over the coming days, I’ll be using my bio link and Twitter to share links to resources I’ve found useful for my own researching, learning, listening. I see your anger, sadness and pain. I cannot know what this feels like for you but it doesn’t mean I won’t try to.”

[From Us Weekly]

I liked her statement? Yeah, she shouldn’t have done the Blackout without saying anything about the protests beforehand, and yes, she definitely shouldn’t have put the white border around the black box. But, she knows her own blind spots at least? The bar is low. But I’d rather see an ally make a mistake, own up to it completely and commit to trying to do better. She also used her IG Stories to post information about petitions and racial justice work being done in the UK, plus tips for non-performative allyship.

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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36 Responses to “Emma Watson writes about racism & white supremacy (after being criticized)”

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  1. Lisa says:

    Good for Emma.

  2. I pet goat 2 says:

    I mean … she had to make that black square fit into her aesthetic though?? I don’t know, I find that really problematic. It says to me I care about my aesthetic more than the actual reason we’re doing this.
    AND it took her really long to say something … hmmm

    • sarah says:

      I think this criticism is stupid. Its so superficial. Like, look at the white border – it must mean that she doesn’t take this seriously. Let’s just ignore the amount of activism she has done on intersectionality in feminism, the books she has already read and promoted that show that she was invested in and thought about these issues before the current protests. I’m not saying she’s a perfect ally *who is* but, really, she is low on the list of people to accuse of performative activism.

    • Defaultgirl says:

      (Don’t laugh) I’m black and wasn’t for sure what to post for blackout Tuesday. I can only imagine the coinciding with others. I ended up paying a black background with a black heart shaded in.

      God bless

      • Lemon8 says:

        I used the same one with the shaded heart. I hope it didn’t cause offense to anyone :(

  3. Duncan says:

    So… she thought about what she was saying before she said it? That’s horrible, really horrible!

  4. BRobertson says:

    I think criticism is fine to have against celebrities, but in Emma’s case she has an actual record. She’s been a pretty consistent activist and ally, and someone who has shown to be clearly thoughtful about the issues. She’s done a lot of good work, and so I honestly think she was always putting thought into this issue as well. I think people were kind of quick to judge here.

    I will note one weird thing though; that statement she posted on Instagram (the one quoted here; she posted it as a picture on IG) is actually her quoting herself. She wrote that for her book club when she read the book Why I’m No Longer Speaking To White People About Race.

    • BRobertson says:

      (I can’t edit my post for some reason) What I am specifically talking about is criticism about performative activism being something valid (and good) to have against celebrities; I agree with that, but I just don’t think it really applies to her considering she has consistently not done that.

  5. Em says:

    This is a much better apology, at least.

  6. Andrew’s Nemesis says:

    I see what you mean, Kaiser, but should we be praising white people for doing so very little, the bare minimum? For posting a square on social media, on a day when activists need that media to share stories of police violence, rolling protests, pro bono legal representation and so on? It feels a little…give the puppy a cookie because it sat on command, rather than really, really acknowledging the systemic injustices that frame our every movement, gesture, in the way we police our thoughts and responses. What do other CBers think?

    • I pet goat 2 says:

      This, and this is my problem with @duncans comment above too : you center white intentions, even if good, over the actual outcome.
      And sorry, but what is there to think about? Yes use your space wisely, which, as she writes, would be about amplifying black voices – but she could have done that before (did she post about Brianna? Did she post black leaders statements and ctas?) AND she didn’t even do that with the square (posting the square and then adding resources under the picture). But after your years of work on this, what is there to think about – you continue the work that you should’ve been doing all along!

      • Andrew’s Nemesis says:

        Right? There’s a very powerful article in today’s Guardian by Carolyn Finney about the “Perils of Being Black in Public”. It underlines, more than any insta-post, what the struggle is about. I find posts like Watson’s…patronising. The kind of thing that could end up in white tears if challenged.

      • MrsRobinson says:

        I’m wondering about people’s thoughts about the distinction between amplifying melanated voices and coopting their message to make your brand look better. There’s a also struggle where I work about performative activism Vs the real need to respond quickly when being called out vs starting the work that needs to be done will take a long time.

      • Andrew’s Nemesis says:

        @Mrs Robinson I agree with you that it’s…very performative. What we’re seeing now is the culmination of centuries’ worth of struggle, activism, education and advocacy. As you say, people of colour have been doing the groundwork for a long time. Getting the message out little by little to a world that sticks its fingers in its ears and shrieks ‘la la lalalala’ when found culpable of systemic, engrained racism, microagressions, macroaggressions and racial violence. It’s unenviably, backbreakingly hard work to make people aware of their sociocultural codes of practice that render people of colour as outsiders and privatises public space. When white celebrities jump on the bandwagon it does feel, as you said, that it contributes to their overall brand. Watson wants to be known as a feminist; she’s spent years promoting her feminist credentials and, to her credit, she’s done good work with the UN. But to use BLM as a way to project her voice… look, she can’t begin to understand the struggle by reading a few books. This is the time when people like her need to take a seat and LISTEN. Listen to black voices. Listen to THEIR accounts of their world. Don’t challenge or channel those struggles. Have some humility and indulge in deep self examination. Work anonymously with advocacy groups: keep her own fame out of the equation. THEN she might have some legitimacy. But for now – yes, it’s not only performative: it’s a shockingly low bar set for white people to show that they’ve ‘engaged’.

    • BRobertson says:

      I partially agree with you here, but the thing is (like I said) Emma has been doing a lot of good work over the years so I really don’t think it’s fair to say she’s not acknowledging the issues.

      • Andrew’s Nemesis says:

        @BRobertson I acknowledged her good work with the UN also; no shade on her for that. She obviously does care about gender inequality and all the tragedies that radiate from it.
        I guess where I’m coming from is that…in a sense…Watson seems rather teenagerish in her approach to BLM. I’m sure you remember vividly, as do I, how it felt to discover a ‘cause’ in your teens and become passionate about it, inveighing others to understand/participate/care. But my point is that this is not about her. This is where she needs to listen to those who are actually living as marginalised people within their own nation. This is where she needs to hear what they have to say without jumping in. A square on Instagram doesn’t show that level of understanding. It simply occludes and obscures the people the struggle is actually *about*. It has the feel of ‘white woman uses social platform to performatively care about BLM’ and detracts from what black activists have to say. This isn’t a white-person struggle. This is when white people have to take all the seats and turn their attention to the speakers.
        Thoughts?

      • BRobertson says:

        @Andrew’s Nemesis: I get what you mean by saying “teenagerish”. In Emma’s case specifically, I think she’ll do just that because she’s someone who has shown she’ll listen and be more intersectional about her activism.

        I get that posting the square alone wouldn’t have been a show of real support for the cause. I also believe Emma when she says she was waiting until the blackout was done to post the rest of what she posted. I think her intent was based in what you’re describing.

        Sad thing is, what you’re describing really was what the blackout was based in but it did end up contributing to it just being a show that drowned out real voices that actually spoke out on the issue. Literally, with the misuse of the BLM hashtag meaning those squares were all that was coming up instead of actually useful information

  7. Valiantly Varnished says:

    The whole point of Blackout Tuesday was completely lost by the majority of white folks who participated. She wasnt the only one. The point was NOT to be silent but to pause regular content and amplify black voices by sharing resources, charity info, works bu black people etc.

    But my IG feed was full of folks just posting black boxes and thinking they had “done their part”. They were even using the wrong hashtag. It was supposed to say “Blackouttuesday” and instead people were using “blacklivesmatter”. Which caused that hashtag – which was being used for resource info – to be clogged up with black boxes. It was dumb and pointless.

    • Darla says:

      I was watching in real time and absolutely flabbergasted, it couldn’t have been more clear, but almost nobody got it.

    • Andrew’s Nemesis says:

      @ValiantlyVarnished Well said. It was so tone deaf it was painful. As I’ve said above, white people really need to understand that this is Not About Them.

    • Betsy says:

      The black box felt performative to me, too, so I didn’t post it; I posted information of where to donate specific to the Twin Cities, where I live.

      My real goal is thinking of ways to start more conversations with the people in my life (family and long time family friends) who I know to be good people in regards to white people, but who do not understand that racism end in the 60s. But because those conversations are actively cut off by these same people, I’m half tempted to start sending anonymous post cards.

  8. Bavarian says:

    can someone explain to me why the size of the square / white frame mattered?

    • I pet goat 2 says:

      I’ll explain my perspective. When I chose to participate, I was shaking in anger. Like so many of us, I had been crying and angry for days (and posted for weeks). When I saw this new action, i took a good 2 hours in thinking if I wanted to participate and what it would accomplish. I have a big German audience and wanted to make them aware, so I said yes I’ll post this but add all the ressources that are otherwise in danger of being drowned out by an otherwise simply performative action.
      My point being: she didn’t just not “get “ what it was about, but I just CANNOT imagine sitting down, opening photoshop, And changing the template of a cta created by two black women. For my Instagram aesthetic. Apart from the fact that literally I would’ve been to angry and it would’ve been the last thing on my mind, i also simply think it sucks.

      • BRobertson says:

        I understand that, but I really do think she had thought about what how she was gonna talk about the issue because that’s what she’s always done.
        I get thinking the frame wasn’t a good move, but I just really don’t think she was trying to be uncaring about the issue; it’s what she always does, and I get thinking it conveys a focus on aesthetic but I just don’t get that from her at all.

      • I pet goat 2 says:

        🙄

      • BRobertson says:

        @I pet goat 2: All I’m saying is, I think context is something to consider. If this was someone who had a lesser history of speaking out and activism, I may have been more cynical of them. But Emma has an actual record and, imo, has earned goodwill where I have more reason to believe she has actual support.

      • I pet goat 2 says:

        We ARE considering that. No one is saying she is cancelled.
        But what’s happening here is that I want to have a conversation about white allyship, and you want to cape for your favorite. I’m moving on now, it’s all been said.

  9. Darla says:

    After seeing what’s been happening lately, I am SOOO sorry I didn’t open up a PR agency to the stars. I could be making a mint. I’m good too. Really good. Damn that woulda been easy money, I really messed up.

    • Andrew’s Nemesis says:

      @Darla Isn’t it so terribly sad that in an era of ‘finding myself’ and ‘speaking my truth’ people are so catastrophically lacking in self-awareness?

  10. Case says:

    Emma is someone who has genuinely done the work to learn, listen to perspectives she lacks, and do better. Early on, she lacked intersectionality in her feminism, took the criticisms to heart, and learned some more. I think she really is trying. I don’t know. I say this as a white person and maybe “trying” isn’t enough, but I’m of the mind that people who want to learn and do better are much better than those doing nothing at all.

    • Eleonor says:

      This is my take too: she makes mistakes, but she has proven to be someone who takes the time to learn, to educate herself and to be better: you make mistake when you try to do something, if you do nothing obviously you can’t do no wrong.

  11. EMH says:

    There is performative allyship and there is performative outrage. People are spending too much time jumping down celebrities’ throats about ultimately meaningless infractions when they could be supporting this movement. Emma’s IG is the least of our problems right now.

  12. pottymouth pup says:

    I can’t criticize her for not getting it. A LOT of people didn’t get the full message that explained what #BlackOutTuesday was supposed to be. I have a friend who is black and has added me to a few FB groups created as a safe space for black people – these groups allow allies (I checked to be sure before accepting) so I got the message in one of those groups and the message to all of us black & ally was black square w/hashtag and SM silence for the day. While that didn’t make sense to me for black people to be silent (I thought it maybe made some sense for a white ally such as myself), I didn’t realize that the message got twisted until I saw the video from Brittany Packnett and understood that white people weren’t supposed to stop posting altogether, we were supposed to amplify black voices and use the #amplifymelanatedvoices when doing so.

    It was really a case of telephone gone awry somewhere and people like me were a bit too dense to think to question it more critically

    In the spirit of amplifying melanated voices, if you haven’t heard Devin Simpson’s (Devin Marie) stripped down version of her song I Can’t Breathe you should listen to it. She only posted it on her FB page near as I can tell since I can only find the regular version on her youtube channel

  13. Decora says:

    White people should not be praised for supporting Black Lives Matter. Stop giving white people any credit in this situation.

  14. pawneegoddess says:

    Perhaps an unpopular opinion but I think this is a total non-issue. I get Emma has a big platform but I am really uncomfortable with the trend of people thinking that because someone doesn’t post something about xyz event or issue on social media it means they aren’t doing anything or don’t care. It’s actually beyond uncomfortable it is disturbing. Isn’t it a bit America-centric to expect British celebrities to be posting about this? It’s not like other countries don’t have their own racism and issues to worry about. I guess the issue of Emma Watson framing a black square on instagram when she shouldn’t have or using a hashtag incorrectly just seems so meaningless and petty. As someone else said, totally performative outrage. Why post anything that doesn’t add to the conversation? I don’t feel very strongly about Emma Watson either way but I feel compelled to defend her as she has consistently shown interest in social justice and an awareness of global inequality issues, including race, even before that was a thing that was seen as necessary for celebrities to do for their brands. Why assume she doesn’t care because she posted a black square “wrong” and didn’t write anything about the protests? While I don’t agree with the performative posting I get why people do it. That’s what is, unfortunately, rewarded.