The Emmys were filled with awesome moments, from the queer representation of women winning for Olive Kitteridge, to comedian Tracy Morgan’s return to the stage, but perhaps the biggest moment came from actress Viola Davis. Davis became the first African-American woman to win best actress in a drama series for her role in How to Get Away With Murder. That is a 67-year span of no black woman winning this award. It was clear she wanted to make her speech meaningful and she did. Here is what she said:
“‘In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line.But I can’t seem to get there nohow. I can’t seem to get over that line.’ That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s. And let me tell you something: The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
Watch the speech here:
Most people seemed to think this was awesome and an iconic moment for women, women of color, Hollywood and Viola specifically. Fellow fabulous actresses of color Kerry Washington and Taraji P. Henson were brought to tears during Viola’s speech. But not everyone seemed to have a positive reaction. “General Hospital” actress Nancy Lee Grahn expressed her views on Twitter, and it was all downhill from there. Here is what started it all:
— Nancy Lee Grahn (@NancyLeeGrahn) September 21, 2015
And Twitter completely exploded, calling out Nancy directly by tweeting at her, and indirectly by tweeting about her. Nancy Lee Grahn is still the number one trending topic on Twitter as of this morning. And for pretty good reason. We knew that this was bad news as soon as she tweeted this out, but it got worse. Here, she seems like a bitter and complaining white person who doesn’t understand white privilege:
Viola Davis HAS had good opportunities. Yes. She starred alongside the best actress of our time (and probably ever), Meryl Streep, in “Doubt,” and received a supporting actress Oscar nomination. However, Viola has spoken a LOT about discrimination she has faced. One tweeter summed this up well by saying:
The fact that a white woman like Nancy Lee Grahn can’t accept that a black woman faced racism and was STILL so successful is no surprise
— Ejike [eh-jih-kāy] (@TheNewThinker) September 21, 2015
Just because someone faces oppression, discrimination, doesn’t mean they can’t also be successful. It just often means the road has been harder to travel.
While Nancy has apologized and admitted on Twitter, “I’ve been schooled,” she also brought up how she has been an advocate for human rights in her personal life (and she has done a lot in that arena, actually). This is great, but people who have done good deeds can also make boneheaded statements, and while she tried to make amends, she had some more tweets that seemed as if she was asking to be thrashed online. Here is one:
My God, girl — could you be dumber? This reminds of us when Porsha Stewart from the “Real Housewives of Atlanta” showed the world that she didn’t understand that the Underground Railroad wasn’t actually a railroad — and Porsha is black. How can adults not understand that this wasn’t an actual railroad? That there was no digging and that Harriet Tubman was leading people to freedom, not mining for gold or something? This was an utter embarrassment and Twitter did not let up. Here is one of the best responses:
Nancy Lee Grahn thinking the underground railroad was an actual railroad is why black history shouldn’t be a 1 week unit in grade school.
— Anike (@lady_ak27) September 21, 2015
Do I think Nancy is an actual racist? Probably not, but she is like many white people who simply don’t get it. And sadly, she was acting badly for feminism because there are already so many critiques of feminism not involving women of color. There are a lot of problems with intersectionality, from racial justice advocates not wanting to highlight women and LGBTQ people of color, to the LGBTQ rights groups being driven by, and for, white gay men primarily. We have to understand how intersecitonality works and why it is vitally important. So yes, Nancy, all women are still fighting for equality in Hollywood and elsewhere, but when you add being a woman of color to the equation, that fight is way harder, and THAT is why this matters.
Featured image courtesy of Fox video screen capture