A friend of mine happened upon an article in the Los Angeles Times and forwarded it to me before I had chance to see it on my own. It was a recap of a lunch featuring influential women in the entertainment industry at the Sundance Film Festival. Typically, when there is a big gathering for a luncheon, topics remain light and for the most part stay on safe subjects. But at this particular lunch the topic turned much more serious. The women began to talk about the way the intersections of race, sexual orientation, and gender identity inform their own personal lenses, as well as the broader concept of being women and feminists.
Below is part of the article I want to focus and expand upon.
‘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,” [Salma] 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?”
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.” ‘
You can read the full article here.
First and foremost, we need to recognize each of these women has a valid viewpoint and belief system. Too often, people a pick a side and then nothing moves forward. There is already a divide in the reactions to this article mentioned above. Both sides have been making valid statements, and each of us, myself included, need to find the courage to truly listen to all of the statements. We must also recognize that we bring our own belief systems with us when we listen and react; I know I am writing this article from my own belief system. We are incapable of completely removing ourselves from our belief systems. But I have also been trained to help people to consider how their individual belief systems are formed. As you read the rest of this piece, your beliefs may be challenged and that is okay. By looking at our individual beliefs and challenging them when the time is right, we are able to grow as individuals.
Shirley MacLaine and Salma Hayek are coming from places of self-awareness that has transcended gender and race. Jessica Williams is coming from a place of consciousness about how living as a black woman has shaped her experiences. I want to be clear: Each of these women is coming from a completely valid place. Shirley MacLaine and Salma Hayek likely have had their own conscious beliefs at some point in their lives. The ways in which they communicated at the luncheon implies they have challenged those conscious beliefs in themselves and want others to do the same. This is not about being right or wrong, it is acknowledging where each of the women are coming from.
MacLaine and Hayek were asking Williams and the other attendees to become more introspective; to see who they truly are when outside labels are removed. If people review the totality of their experiences (good and bad) with detachment, they can then understand themselves at a deeper emotional and spiritual level. The more a person is able to really look at themselves, the more impact the person can have on the greater community.
People who are self-aware can sometimes forget how long it took them to become who they are now. They genuinely want everyone to be at their best, but this can sometimes cause them to forget to really see where another individual is coming from at the moment. The self-aware person believes they are able to see greater potential in the individual than the individual can consciously see at that point. However, each person’s journey is uniquely theirs, they get choose what they are consciously processing in their lives in any given moment. It is important to honor everyone wherever they are on their own path.
Hayek’s question to Williams is actually part of a technique to help an individual break through labels and beliefs that either society or the individual has placed on the individual. Did Hayek make the unconscious assumption that Williams even wanted to go there? Yes. Does it make Hayek a bad person or completely insensitive? No.
Think for a moment about women in general. Historically a role has been placed on all of us and we have embraced it as part our identities: we “fix” what we perceive needs fixing. Fix the crying baby, fix supper, fix a mistake someone else made. Right or wrong. It is so ingrained in us, we do it unconsciously. This has now become part of the problem. Women want to fix other women. And, in this case, regardless of race. However, once race is added into the mix, reactions become even more complex. It becomes easier to look at someone else and “know” what they “need” than to look within and see what we ourselves need to fix, heal, or transform.
Let’s go back to labels for just a moment. Almost all of our labels are an external representation of us. Once the labels lose their power over us, we can embrace them as needed and allow them to disappear when they hold us back. The technique mentioned above can bring up several powerful emotions and usually it is more beneficial when used in a one-on-one session. However, in this case, it actually served as a catalyst for the women’s conversation to go even deeper into uncomfortable territory.
We no longer have the luxury of hiding from uncomfortable topics. Williams was asking to be heard, in a way we as humans, let alone, us as other women, rarely acknowledge. She was asking the other women to hear her, just hear her and recognize her experiences as black woman living in America. She wasn’t asking for anyone to“fix” her situation or even to find common ground. Cat Cora and Hayek tried to find common ground by sharing their own struggles, which does have value. But, they missed an opportunity to hear Williams’s experiences. Finding ways to relate to others is part of our human nature, and it is needed now more than ever.
But sometimes we just need to listen first. Listening can be really hard and uncomfortable, especially if you disagree or if you want to add your own thoughts, beliefs, opinions, or experiences. However, listening is actually the first step to becoming more unified. We need to listen to our internal selves, we need to listen to those who are part of our larger identity as women, and we need to listen to those with whom we disagree. By no means do we have to agree, but until we can be courageous enough to really see and hear everyone, we will remain at an impasse.
All of us need to have more conversations like the women at the luncheon had.
I disagree with shutting someone down, as was part of the fallout of the luncheon. However, I do believe all of us need to be open to discussions on uncomfortable topics. And when we have uncomfortable discussions, we need to remember it is an unconscious action to defend or add your own thoughts, beliefs, opinions or experiences. If we want to take a different action in the conversation, we must make a conscious choice to do so.
Start learning to be comfortable in the uncomfortable. This is a learning process, for all of us. We need to acknowledge some days are going to be easier than others. Once we acknowledge this, we are able to make faster progress in the long run. Missteps and mistakes are going to happen on all sides. It is important to have grace and to be willing to accept people where they are at. And it is equally important to keep showing up and committing to doing better.
Originally published at medium.com