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Dear Patricia Arquette: Here's What Your Oscar Speech Failed to Mention

February 27, 2015 in Blogs

By Brittney Cooper, Salon

Black America’s hidden tax is why this feminist of color is going on strike.

Black women have a long history of advocating for fair wages and access to decent employment opportunities for African-American communities. In her recent remarks at the Academy Awards championing the fight against wage inequality, Patricia Arquette seemed wholly unaware of these histories, elaborating backstage that it was now time for all other groups to fight for white women, because they had fought for everybody else.

In 1920 or thereabouts, famed Washington, D.C., educator Nannie Helen Burroughs helped to found the National Association of Wage Earners as both an advocacy group and a training resource for working class black women. Addressing employment inequality and wage inequality for newly freed black women entering the workforce after Emancipation, and later for black women from the South who had migrated North, was a hallmark of black women’s organizing in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. At the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, Fannie Barrier Williams, a socialite, club woman and budding political theorist told the crowd, “in the item of employment, colored women bear a distressing burden of mean and unreasonable discrimination.” Still, she told them, “we believe this country is large enough and the opportunities for all kinds of success are great enough to afford our women a fair chance to earn a respectable living.” In 1925, Gertrude Elise McDougald, an organizer and teacher in New York City, helped to found the Trade Union Committee for Organizing Negro Workers, in order to encourage African-American solidarity with labor and discourage strike-breaking as the pathway to work.

It also bears noting that Fannie Barrier Williams gave her 1893 speech to an audience of white women. It was she urging them to become black women’s allies in the quest for fair employment practices and a living wage. So I am left wanting to ask Patricia Arquette where all the white women who’ve been fighting for every other group of marginalized people are, because some of the most prominent black women organizers in history spent a fair amount of time trying to …read more


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