Can You Act Racist and Not Be A Racist — Case Study: Alyssa Milano
Recently, a situation occurred that allows for a study of the failure of white people — in this case white women — when called out for something they said or did. Alyssa Milano.
Alyssa Milano, has been championing “women’s” rights for a while now. Unfortunately, it often seems among white women like her that the only time they bring up “women’s” rights is when white women can be part of those rights or injustices.
She was mistakenly credited with creating the #MeToo hashtag but fortunately, thanks to Black women on Twitter, credit was finally given to the original creator Tarana Burke. However, that didn’t stop various news outlets from focusing on the white women celebrities spouting #MeToo.
She was vocal during the Kavanaugh hearing and during the Covington incident. She claims to be an “ally” for marginalized people, espousing “love” and “unity”. However…
NFL Touch and Indigenous People
Moving tweets are all good and well, but claiming to stand by people when you are ignoring their voices isn’t the mark of an “ally”.
Alyssa Milano has NFL apparel called Touch by Alyssa Milano on the NFLshop site and despite numerous Indigenous voices tweeting, protesting and holding signs requesting that she cease her partnership with them because of the Washington Redskins merchandise, Alyssa continues to ignore them.
“Redskins” was and is a common racial slur used against Indigenous people and Alyssa Milano sells Redskin apparel. How can an “ally” claim to fight for a community while simultaneously profiting off the continued dehumanizing label they are given?
How can you claim “ally” when you fight only when there is no personal cost to you? People of color don’t have that luxury. More of us are realizing the cost is paid, whether we get in the fight or stand off to the side.
The Tweet and The Fail
For some, because of the NFL merchandise, Alyssa Milano was already considered a faux ally. For others, it was the recent stir from a tweet that Alyssa Milano mistakenly felt conveyed allyship.
While there were many people, particularly white people, who did not see an issue with this tweet because they understood what she “meant”, many felt offended and hurt that a wealthy white celeb would try tweet something this deaf.
For those who don’t get it, this is a form of erasure. Alyssa is not a person of color, she is not a gay man nor any of the other labels she claimed.
She does not walk through this world being followed while shopping, stopped by police for a random search, told by a bus driver to wait for the next bus because they don’t want to “waste time” getting a person in a wheelchair on board.
The failure of understanding is on Alyssa Milano’s part. Everyone understood what her point was; however, it doesn’t change how it made people — who are routinely talked over, assimilated and disregarded — feel. As previously pointed out in “Can You Act Racist and Not Be A Racist” here’s where a teachable moment, an opportunity for growth for a person who wants to be an “ally” turned into something else.
Alyssa, rather than taking time to reflect on why this would be a problem; instead of thinking about the pain and anger people in these communities felt, tweeted:
She claims her tweet is starting a dialogue as though she is breaking new ground when discussions about erasure — in all its forms — have been going on before her birth. Second, she did not “identify with” in the offensive tweet. She stated “I am”. She also shifts the responsibility to the people in these communities because they don’t understand the difference between “nuance” and “literal interpretations” (a common white people gaslighting technique).
This is what we mean by you can do something that perpetuates racist (i.e. erasure) and not be a racist. However, it’s rarely the case because of how you react when called out. She could’ve just deleted the tweets, and issued a proper apology but she chose the tweet above which was already the “apologize without apologizing”. Then she stoked peoples rage further in the thread of tweets below.
- Subtlety went out the window here. She uses the phrase “intention”: a word that is often used by white people to avoid accountability. She trots out her years of service which is the, “how dare you not be grateful for all I’ve done for you people?” bleached down. Then bluntly states that the problem is the people who are erased by her words.
And, unfortunately she’s not done.
2. This one is even worse. It continues the erasure of marginalized groups — who are actually silenced (including by her through her disregard of our voices) — and equates our criticism with an attempt to silence her, a white female celebrity.
Then she states we are giving the “Right” or Trumpers a chance to destroy us because we are criticizing her.
3. It’s as though she wants credit that, despite the criticism, she is going to keep “fighting for ALL”. She refuses to acknowledge misstep and reduces their legitimate complaint to noise.
She leaves the blame on them for not liking the words they used. For someone who claims to understand nuance, she forgets that racist forms are erasure also have nuance. Then she again requests credit for all her “work” implying she deserves a pass because her work (by her standards) has been above reproach.
4. Her “forever allyship” title matters more than the people offended in the communities she claims to stand with. And she reiterates the problem is their choosing to be “offended”, rather than her choice of words.
This is an example of why we say it’s rare to have a racist behavior or action without the racist person behind the action. The reason racism, as a collective entity, is hard to get rid of is because even white people who fight against it eventually stagnate.
They feel all the work has somehow made them immune to perpetuating racist actions. None of us are “pure”. It’s impossible to be given the amount of white supremacy lessons we are drenched in. We expect white people to make mistakes, but we hope you actually take the time to listen to how your words, as an “ally”, are making us feel.
However, too often you gaslight us and try to silence us as “making a big deal out of nothing”. This is where you fail. And this is where Alyssa Milano failed.
We don’t need “allies” who deny us our agency. We don’t need “allies” who gaslight us when they’re in their feelings about push back for their actions. We don’t need “allies” who are not willing to walk the walk. We don’t need “allies” who refuse to personally sacrifice or worse, choose to cash in on a racist slur.
If this is your definition of an “ally”, we don’t need you.