Jes­si­ca Williams in Marie Claire

Speak­ing in ‘mixed com­pa­ny’ as a black wom­an is chal­leng­ing. Locat­ed square­ly at the inter­sec­tion of black­ness and wom­an­hood, two iden­ti­ties that are often mar­gin­al­ized, our voic­es can auto­mat­i­cal­ly be silenced or dimin­ished. It hap­pens in class­rooms, board­rooms and cubi­cles and it affects black wom­en of all socioe­co­nom­ic class­es.

Jes­si­ca Williams, the incred­i­bly tal­ent­ed Dai­ly Show alum­na and ris­ing black fem­i­nist star, expe­ri­enced this silenc­ing dur­ing a Sun­dance cel­e­bra­tion of wom­en in film. The lunch, attend­ed by heavy hit­ters includ­ing Shirley MacLaine, Alfre Woodard, Elle Fan­ning and Salma Hayek, start­ed with a tone of sol­i­dar­i­ty but devolved when race was brought up.

LA Times reporter Amy Kauf­man doc­u­ment­ed the con­tentious and awk­ward exchange.

“Then the con­ver­sa­tion shift­ed to our new pres­i­dent.

“My feel­ing,” said Salma Hayek, “is that we are about to go to war.”

But she had a warn­ing. Hayek, at Sun­dance with Miguel Arteta’s “Beat­riz at Din­ner,” agreed that more wom­en need to be hired so that female voic­es can con­tin­ue to be rec­og­nized by the new admin­is­tra­tion. “But be care­ful that we don’t fall into vic­tim­iza­tion,” she added.

“I don’t want to be hired because I’m a girl. I want them to see I’m fab­u­lous. Don’t give me a job because I’m a girl. It’s con­de­scend­ing.”

Shirley MacLaine, at 82, wear­ing pur­ple and pink in hon­or of Saturday’s Women’s March­es, chimed in, say­ing that Don­ald Trump pre­sent­ed a chal­lenge to “each of our inner democ­ra­cy” and urged every­one at the table to explore their “core iden­ti­ty.”

Then Jes­si­ca Williams, the for­mer “Dai­ly Show” cor­re­spon­dent who was at Sun­dance as the star of Jim Strouse’s “The Incred­i­ble Jes­si­ca James,” spoke up.

“I have a ques­tion for you,” Williams, 27, said to MacLaine. “My ques­tion is: What if you are a per­son of col­or, or a trans­gen­dered per­son who — just from how you look — you already are in a con­flict?”

“Right, but change your point of view,” MacLaine offered. “Change your point of view of being vic­tim­ized. I’m say­ing: Find the democ­ra­cy inside.”

“I’m sor­ry,” Hayek said, jump­ing in. “Can I ask you a ques­tion?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Williams answered.

“Who are you when you’re not black and you’re not a wom­an? Who are you and what have you got to give?””

The impli­ca­tion in Hayek’s line is all too famil­iar — that black­ness isn’t a rea­son­able core iden­ti­ty. That embrac­ing black­ness as an iden­ti­ty sug­gests a lack of depth. But, because white wom­en are often set as the default for wom­an­hood, they are nev­er chal­lenge to exam­ine how their thoughts, move­ments and behav­iors are deeply embed­ded in their white­ness and the many priv­i­leges they pos­sess.

“Williams took a deep breath. “A lot. But some days, I’m just black, and I’m just a wom­an,” she said. “Like, it’s not my choice. I know who I am. I know I’m Jes­si­ca, and I’m the hottest bitch on the plan­et I know.”

“No, no, no,” Hayek said. “Take the time to inves­ti­gate. That’s the trap! …There is so much more.”

“Right,” agreed Mac­Claine. “The more is inside.””

“The more?” It’s anoth­er tac­it dis­missal of black­ness as an iden­ti­ty. As though it’s only func­tion is as a vehi­cle for vic­tim­iza­tion.

“So after a few moments of reflec­tion, Williams returned to Hayek.

“I think what you’re say­ing is valid, but I also think that what you’re say­ing doesn’t apply to all wom­en. I think that’s impos­si­ble.”

“What part of it is impos­si­ble?” Hayek respond­ed. “You’re giv­ing atten­tion to how the oth­er one feels.”

“Because I have to,” Williams said.

”If you have to do that, then do that,” Hayek said. “Then that’s your jour­ney. But I want to inspire oth­er peo­ple to know it’s a choice.”

This was when “Mud­bound” film­mak­er Dee Rees — who had moments ear­lier intro­duced her­self as a black, queer direc­tor — j?umped in. At this lunch, she said, she didn’t feel like she was pos­ing a threat to any­one. But in line at the bank? Things were dif­fer­ent. “I don’t see myself a vic­tim,” she said. “[Jes­si­ca] doesn’t see her­self as a vic­tim. But it’s how you’re read.”

“I also feel like the word ‘vic­tim’ — I feel like it has both­ered me,” Williams replied. “When I talk about fem­i­nism, some­times I feel like being a black wom­an is cast aside. I always feel like I’m war­ring with my wom­an­hood and want­i­ng the world to be bet­ter, and with my black­ness — which is the oppo­site of white­ness.””

At this point celebri­ty chef Cat Cora, who catered the lunch, co-opt­ed the con­ver­sa­tion by dis­cussing how chal­leng­ing it was being gay and sex­u­al­ly abused as a child in Mis­sis­sip­pi. She said she wished wom­en could just ‘have each other’s backs’, anoth­er way to silence Williams’ explo­ration of her iden­ti­ty.

“Williams, vis­i­bly uncom­fort­able, said she also want­ed to encour­age all of the wom­en in the room to pay spe­cial atten­tion to wom­en of col­or and LGBT wom­en. “I think we need to not speak over black wom­en,” she said, “not assign them labels.”

“What does this mean, ‘speak over?’” Hayek asked.

“To project your ideas on me,” Williams said. “I think there is a fear that if we present an idea that, ‘Hey, may­be [black wom­en] have it a lit­tle bit hard­er in this coun­try’ — because we do; black wom­en and trans wom­en do — if we’re hav­ing it a lit­tle bit hard­er, it doesn’t inval­i­date your expe­ri­ence. I real­ly am beg­ging you to not take it per­son­al­ly.”

Williams con­tin­ued, ref­er­enc­ing Planned Par­ent­hood to sup­port her argu­ment. While many wom­en may rely on the clin­ic, she said, four out of five wom­en who use their ser­vices are wom­en of col­or.

“So when you say wom­en of col­or,” Hayek began. Then she noticed that Williams was not mak­ing eye con­tact with her. “Jes­si­ca, do you mind if I look at your eyes?””

*Oh Lord* And then it all kind of devolved from there…

“Williams bare­ly looked up. Still, the back-and-forth con­tin­ued, with Hayek ques­tion­ing whether or not she was con­sid­ered a wom­an of col­or in Williams’ esti­ma­tion. Near­ly every­one in the room respond­ed that Hayek was.

“Wouldn’t it solve it if wom­en just all had each other’s backs in gen­er­al?” Cora asked sud­den­ly.

“Sure,” Peirce said. “The thing is this, yes, all wom­en can work togeth­er, but we have to acknowl­edge that black wom­en have a dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence. She’s here strug­gling and we keep shut­ting her down.”

“I don’t think any­body here shut her down,” Cora said, fight­ing back.

“Can I inter­rupt, because I feel mis­un­der­stood,” Hayek agreed. “It’s not shut­ting you up. I feel mis­un­der­stood on one point: We should be also curi­ous about our brain. By being the best that you can be. That’s what I was try­ing to say to you. Let’s not just spend all the time in the anger, but in the inves­ti­ga­tion.”

“Baby, I’m Mex­i­can and Arab,” she went on, address­ing Williams. “I’m from anoth­er gen­er­a­tion, baby, when this was not even a pos­si­bil­i­ty. My gen­er­a­tion, they said, ‘Go back to Mex­i­co. You’ll nev­er be any­thing oth­er than a maid in this coun­try.’ By the head?s ?of stu­dios! There was no move­ment. Lati­no wom­en were not even any­where near where you guys are. I was the first one. I’m 50 years old. So I under­stand.”

“You don’t under­stand,” Williams said, shak­ing her head qui­et­ly.”

I can relate to Williams’ well-mean­ing if clum­sy attempts at broach­ing a com­plex top­ic in a room full of wom­en who may­be, real­ly just didn’t want to hear it. (Although Williams has said that some wom­en at the din­ner spoke in sup­port of her.)

And while Williams was try­ing to artic­u­late the chal­lenges of black wom­an­hood, explor­ing the beau­ty, joy and “mag­ic” of black wom­an­hood is also often dis­cour­aged in mixed racial com­pa­ny. (Like Tara­ji P Hen­son being called a “black racist” for an innocu­ous Insta­gram post that cel­e­brat­ed black women’s col­or and hair tex­ture.)

Some wom­en have cho­sen to opt out of mixed spaces alto­geth­er, reserv­ing their dis­cus­sions on iden­ti­ty for safe spaces with black wom­en who can relate and under­stand. For those black wom­en who choose to edu­cate an out group, sit­u­a­tions like Williams’ are very com­mon.

Ladies, what are your thoughts?

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noel­lis­te, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop cul­ture and black beau­ty enthu­si­ast. bell hooks’ hair twin…

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36 Comments on "Salma Hayek Shuts Jessica Williams Down For Talking About Her Experience as a Black Woman"

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Marquita S.
No African wom­an should have been present at that table. We have sooooooo much more work to do in our own hearts, minds, fam­i­lies, and com­mu­ni­ties. The­se wom­en have all the pow­er right now. They can go any­where in the world and be treat­ed well.They are favored by wom­en and men alike of oth­er races. They pro­duce and rear the self­ish chil­dren who will be groomed to con­trol and exploit every oth­er per­sons cul­ture and resources. Hell, they even get the most gov’t ben­e­fits!! I said that to say they are at war with their own mean because of the… Read more »
fadzwa
Look this is said not to offend any­one, i am black and from the African con­ti­nent i’m all for black peo­ple and our rights. Hey racism and all is here like a lot but to me who is not from your coun­try i think some­times this black lives mat­ter is tak­en to a whole new con­text, look every life mat­ters but it seems like every­thing is pushed towards black lives mat­ter, not dis­re­spect­ing any­one it sounds like our race com­plains a lot. Salma gave her point which wasn’t bad but instead of appre­ci­at­ing it sounds you are shoot­ing her down,… Read more »
blackgirlshorthair

You’re right Fadzwa, Salma has a veru good point. she didn’t say there’s isn’t any racial bull­shit, she only said not to dwell on it but to focus on the core… pls how’s that bad? We blk ppl need to stop lyk every­one out there is out to get us, PLEASE!!!!

MinimalAssembly (Jacqueline)
MinimalAssembly (Jacqueline)
I agree with Salma, unless I am miss­ing a deep­er point. Our phys­i­cal iden­ti­ty is a dis­trac­tion from our core iden­ti­ty. Yes it impacts the way we are treat­ed and the oppor­tu­ni­ties we have com­pared to oth­er races. That can nev­er be dimin­ished. How­ev­er, when we only explore and see our­selves as we are seen—meaning when we live from a lens of how we are seen by oth­ers, we get stuck and nev­er go beyond that. We expe­ri­ence black­ness inward­ly, yes, but we are not black and female to the exclu­sion of all oth­er things. We are black, female and… Read more »
Trisha Marie
Black and LGBTQ rights are not syn­ony­mous and I get offend­ed when non black peo­ple say that they are. How­ev­er, I’m sure all of you are aware of the impor­tance of inter­sec­tion­alal­i­ty when it comes to being black and being a wom­an. But what about being black and gay? Or being black, gay, and a wom­an? May­be I’m read­ing some of the respons­es to this arti­cle wrong but it seems like there is a grow­ing divide between cis het­ero Black peo­ple and LGBTQ Black peo­ple and this shouldn’t be the case. I’m a wom­an and Black and queer and I… Read more »
Guest Writer
I think like Lis­sa said below it is the whole idea that not all trans­gen­dered ppl are black ppl and too often (espe­cial­ly recent­ly) trans­gen­dered as a col­lec­tive is being added to black issues which is dis­mis­sive of just black issues. Yes, I do under­stand there are black ppl with a LGBTQ iden­ti­ty, but not all are. Black het­ero­sex­u­al wom­en are fight­ing for a space of their own and are even find­ing them­selves replaced by Trans black wom­en in some spaces and I think that’s unfair. And yes, I under­stand that Trans wom­en iden­ti­fy as wom­en but let’s be real…being… Read more »
Lissa
I’m def­i­nite­ly not dis­miss­ing the LGBT com­mu­ni­ty as I iden­ti­ti­fy as les­bian also. I was just agree­ing that as black peo­ple we have a ten­den­cy to take on the bur­den of oth­er groups. Yes there are black trans­gen­der but not all trans­gen­der are black. I also agree that peo­ple are always dis­miss­ing or brush­ing off “black” issues because they don’t under­stand. But they’re not black so how could they right? And although Salma was doing just that, I under­stand that she wants to speak for wom­en as a whole because although we as black wom­en have it hard­er, not all wom­en… Read more »
Robin

I’m just won­der­ing where was Alfre Woodard in this con­ver­sa­tion. Is a beau­ti­ful, intel­li­gent and wise black wom­an why did she not speak up? It was stat­ed she was there.

Missy

I was won­der­ing the same thing… guess she didn’t want to rock the boat.

Lissa
This top­ic is inter­est­ing… So my thoughts are that Williams was mis­un­der­stood. The only way to tru­ly under­stand where she was com­ing from, would be to be a brown girl. I say brown because I’m not only refer­ring to race, but I’m refer­ring to skin col­or as well. Salma, although Mex­i­can and hav­ing grown up as a minor­i­ty, is also a “light skin” lati­na. So although she may have strug­gled, she would have strug­gled more if she were a brown lati­na; and when I say brown I mean dark­er than an olive skin-tone.  I won’t deny that wom­en as a… Read more »
Karen
Per­haps this was a wake up call. I per­son­al­ly nev­er her­ald­ed the fem­i­nist agen­da. I took a page out of Ida B. Wells book and nev­er lost sight of the fact that despite “good inten­tions” of oth­ers they are bene­fac­tors of the cur­rent social caste. Cur­rent­ly, wom­en of col­or are not on equal par to the White wom­an so the equal pay, and rep­re­sen­ta­tion fight if won will bring the her to an equal par to the White male but there will still exist the gap between her and the rest of us. So I am going to be fight­ing… Read more »
Ron Mosley
Hey sis­tas. I’m a guy. A black guy. I hap­pened to see this site on the side of my face­book screen, kin­da like an ad. I saw Jes­si­ca Williams pic on it (I miss her on The Dai­ly Show) so I clicked on it & read the arti­cle. I real­ly don’t think she was “shut down”. She Spoke her mind & I think she prob­a­bly got her point across to a group of old­er white & his­pan­ic wom­en. No one knows what Black peo­ple have gone thru in this coun­try except Black peo­ple. Like the say­ing goes “walk a mile… Read more »
Marti Kilroy
I don’t think any of us know what anoth­er has been through or how it has affect­ed them per­son­al­ly. I did teach many black teens over 30+ years and made one pos­si­bly rel­e­vant obser­va­tion. Many of them believe the things they hear about black peo­ple at a sub­con­scious lev­el. They don’t believe they can achieve their dreams because of out­side pres­sures from societal/political non­sense. Please con­stant­ly rein­force with them the fact that there is noth­ing they can’t achieve if they believe they can and work hard enough. Don’t focus on what the obsta­cles are but on how to over­come them.… Read more »
Noiree
No one, unless they have walked exact­ly in a Black person’s shoes, mean­ing you walk in life self label­ing and being labelled as a Black per­son, can under­stand what it is like liv­ing as one. White enti­tle­ment is real and the gra­di­ent of enti­tle­ment that exist, grant­ed to those who are light enough or have hair soft enough to be con­sid­ered less Black is real as well. A lot of Latins do not con­sid­er them­selves Black, so unless Salma Hayak sud­den­ly does, IMO she nor that oth­er wom­an can under­stand us. More impor­tant­ly, the fact that she nor this oth­er… Read more »
Candu

Salma would not have got­ten any of the roles she played in had she had afro hair, a broad nose, African fea­tures and dark skin. She will nev­er know what it’s like to be a black wom­an or even a dark skinned Mex­i­can wom­an. She needs to have sev­er­al seats and learn how to lis­ten.

Serenity
Aint that the truth!!! You know this lun­cheon couldn’t have gone any more per­fect­ly, unless Lena Dun­ham had been there. All sides of white wom­an­hood and fem­i­nism were con­veyed in the most cring­ing­ly annoy­ing facets. And I feel for Jes­si­ca. I love her pod­cast and know she’s very intel­li­gent, but more impor­tant­ly I know how it feels to be that black girl silenced in the pres­ence of fem­i­nism, sup­pos­ed­ly MY fem­i­nism MY empow­er­ment. And wtf is “the democ­ra­cy with­in you”? Sel­ma said one thing right this is war and the “democ­ra­cy” with­in u ain’t got noth­ing to do about it!… Read more »
Drew

Truth, every word. Still cack­ling at the Lena Dun­ham part, loool.

Marti Kilroy
Too many peo­ple try­ing to be the experts on a top­ic that is deeply per­son­al and indi­vid­u­al. Each wom­an, regard­less of race or eth­nic­i­ty, expe­ri­ences life in a unique way. We each have our own expe­ri­ences and our own way of inter­pret­ing the world around us. We may have sim­i­lar­i­ties due to gen­der or race or even what part of the world you grew up in but no two peo­ple expe­ri­ence that world in the exact same way and no one should tell you that your view is some­how less than or even the same as theirs. They can’t know.… Read more »
Tee

SN: Antho­ny Quinn, Ricar­do Mon­tal­ban, Rita Moreno, Fred­die Prinze Sr., Rosie Perez, the list goes on.….Selma wasn’t first, so I’ll need her to stand down & under­stand her OWN exis­tence before she tries to tell us OURS!

Guest Writer
I also want to add to my state­ment above because I tru­ly under­stand Jes­si­ca, I feel for her, I just don’t agree with her strat­e­gy. She thought she was in a safe place among wom­en BUT they’re STILL white wom­en which LIMITS their per­spec­tive. This is the rea­son Asian wom­en and Lati­nas keep their issues among them­selves. They know ww don’t care. Trust me, oth­er wom­en of col­or have issues with­in their com­mu­ni­ties, but they build their own net­works of sup­port. I under­stood Salma’s POV, for the sole rea­son being that she’s UNABLE to see past her own POV. She… Read more »
Nikki

PREACH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Lana Hene
It’s real­ly frus­trat­ing to me that a wom­an would try to dic­tate to anoth­er wom­an what her iden­ti­ty should be. Is Hayek also going to find peo­ple who were adopt­ed from over­seas and judge them for their lev­el of per­son­al con­nec­tion with the land of their birth, or peo­ple who do genealog­i­cal research and DNA swabs? May­be she rec­og­nizes the cultural\ancestral parts of her iden­ti­ty as only being things that oth­er peo­ple see when they look at her, not what she feels her­self, but you can’t dic­tate that for some­one else, espe­cial­ly in a soci­ety that works so incred­i­bly hard… Read more »
Tesha white
This proves an inter­est­ing point a Jamaican blog­ger made about the fem­i­nist move­ment. You see, long ago, fem­i­nist groups con­sist­ed of all white wom­en. black wom­en had yet to receive the right to vote. It was hard for wom­en to win on top­ics such as domes­tic vio­lence, health care,wage equal­i­ty, etc. when blacks were given the right to vote they thought they should recruit black wom­en to retain a vote major­i­ty. They tricked black wom­en into believ­ing they cared about their issues and their eth­nic­i­ty and the prob­lems they faced were sig­nif­i­cant and rel­e­vant. This is case and point. Salma,… Read more »
Alexis

Couldn’t have said it bet­ter, Tesha.

Kween

This is very true and very appar­ent in any west­ern soci­ety. I have had first hand expe­ri­ences. A black woman’s expe­ri­ence is often belit­tled or made insignif­i­cant. I see this as a form of guilt and racism. I used to respect salma but after read­ing this, I have my reser­va­tions. Everyone’s opin­ion should hold as much regard as the next person’s.

Aisha
I’m sure Salma under­stood. She had road­blocks she pushed through them. She was told she could be a maid or go back to Mex­i­co. She dug deep, found her “more”, and fought her way to get where she is. We all have to do this. Those wom­en couldn’t give her the answer she want­ed because they don’t know how to be Black and Jes­si­ca should know that. Do what your Moth­er, Grand­moth­er or Elders always said: be twice as good as them, do it twice as fast. That’s how we win. Salma’s right, you have to find your “more” it… Read more »
Guest Writer
You stat­ed what I was think­ing per­fect­ly. There is more than just being black and wom­an but many bw don’t know how to artic­u­late that or that it even exists. I think what Salma was say­ing is that when you are in shared com­pa­ny (in this case) it’s not enough to bring black and wom­an to the table. They aren’t going to under­stand that if they aren’t that. You have to dig deep­er on a more human lev­el, some­thing oth­ers can relate to so that you can form an ally. Black wom­en need to stop expect­ing oth­er races to fight… Read more »
Lissa
I like your respon­se to this. It’s true, black peo­ple have a ten­den­cy to “not be self­ish” if you will. Oth­er races and groups have nev­er done the same for us, and that is why we are cat­e­go­rized as “vic­tims”. Trans­gen­ders go hard for them­selves; they do not say “fight for us and for black peo­ple”. Its true.  As frus­trat­ing as it is, I can’t be mad at peo­ple who can’t relate to the issues I’ve dealt with as a black wom­an, con­sid­er­ing they are not black wom­en. Salma only spoke about what she knew, and I guess at the end… Read more »
Nikki

YES!!!! I was con­fused as to why she added trans­gen­dered unless she her­self is trans­gen­der. I’m tired of black wom­en try­ing to lift every­one up while we are STILL at the bot­tom.

Trisha Marie

Trans­gen­der is the cor­rect term, not trans­gen­dered. Also, trans­gen­der Black wom­en are Black wom­en (not men, as one of the peo­ple before you implied) so Jes­si­ca brought them up because they have the same plight as us. Being fem­i­nine and being Black and how those things make peo­ple per­ceive and treat us.

O. E.

Well said!!! Thank you so much for this thought­ful respon­se. God bless you sis.

Tee

IF YOU DON’T PREACH!!!!! I felt some kin­da way even by her adding-in the plight of the trans­gen­dered. Like we’re ALWAYS doing that! We fight for our MEN when they won’t fight for US! FOCUS!!!!!

Sonya

The focus is if one voice is dimin­ished we can nev­er ful­ly achieve the mis­sion which is fair­ness and inclu­sion, be it finan­cial or posi­tion, at equal oppor­tu­ni­ty. We fight for all because we have no choice and yes it’s hard but it makes us strong and resilient. Fight­ing for rights can’t be dis­mis­sive of the strug­gles of all involved or we will nev­er reach the goal. Equal­i­ty. If it were easy it would have been done by now. I will fight for all and I’ll have my strug­gles addressed. It will pro­ceed only if that’s true.

Guest Writer

Sonya, but they aren’t fight­ing for you. Do you val­ue your­self so lit­tle that you would not expect reci­procity in return for your sac­ri­fice? Stop cap­ing for peo­ple hop­ing they will some­how love you back. You’re bet­ter off deal­ing with your own issues direct­ly than you are hop­ing some­one will return the favor. They nev­er have and nev­er will. What world are you liv­ing in? Wake up already.

Vera

She didn’t under­stand. Because her expe­ri­ence being a white Mexican/Arab isn’t even the same as a dark­er Mexican/Arab. Any­one can have their own opin­ion on her act­ing tal­ent but there’s no deny­ing she got roles based on her sex appeal and if she was dark­er she wouldn’t have been cast in those same roles. She did exact­ly what Jes­si­ca was talk­ing about, get­ting defen­sive and think­ing her own strug­gles are being inval­i­dat­ed by Jes­si­ca say­ing things are more dif­fi­cult for black wom­en.

Tracey

Exact­ly Vera.

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