Bette Midler messed up Thursday night, posting some rather ridiculous tweets comparing the plight of women as a whole to the plight of black people.
The politically outspoken singer and actress alluded to a 1972 song written by Yoko Ono and John Lennon, “Woman is the Nigger of the World.” She tweeted:
“Women, are the n-word of the world.” Raped, beaten, enslaved, married off, worked like dumb animals; denied education and inheritance; enduring the pain and danger of childbirth and life IN SILENCE for THOUSANDS of years They are the most disrespected creatures on earth.
I could write paragraphs upon paragraphs about the offensiveness of referencing this quote, not to mention Midler’s statement as a whole, which essentially erased black women while using the history of black pain and the awful legacy of the N-word as props.
But it’s 2018, and Black Twitter’s swift, inevitable dragging did a fine enough job of getting Ms. Midler together. Standing by her initial post (now deleted), Midler published another tweet (also now deleted) that read in part:
“Woman are the...etc” is a quote from Yoko Ono from 1972, which I never forgot. It rang true then, and it rings true today [...] This is not about race, this is about the status of women; THEIR history.
“Etc.” That’s how Midler, craftily, refers to the word “nigger,” which pretty much says everything one needs to know about her understanding of the term. It’s the White Lady perspective, the flippant, self-righteous, “don’t label me, sister, don’t put your labels on me” attitude that grows out of a mixture of narcissism, ignorance, myopia and straight-up racism.
Midler mentioned history and cited Yoko Ono (one wonders if she thinks attributing the quote to an Asian woman makes her tweet any less heinous), but evinced an ignorance of the legacy of the quote she’d so casually invoked.
The story goes that Ono first delivered the line in an interview with Nova magazine. Whatever inspired her seems to have been lost to history, but it’s impossible not to hear a late-’60s echo of the great black woman writer Zora Neale Hurston. In her 1932 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston, in the voice of her character Janie, wrote: “De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see.”
So there’s a double erasure here: Midler talking about history, saying this is not about race, effectively erasing the millions of women who experience both racialized and gender-specific violence, the millions of women for whom it very much is about race — and that’s to say nothing of the white feminists throughout history who fought on behalf of America’s racial caste system, women for whom it was also about race. And then erasing the idea and original intention of a black woman’s words, words that were effectively watered down over the decades to bring us to this point, right here, where Bette Midler of all people can praise the phrase in 2018 just as confidently as the National Organization for Women did when it gave Lennon and Ono a “Positive Image of Women” citation in August 1972. Which women?
That Midler sent the tweet in the first place; that she defended it; that she then deleted the tweet altogether ― this is not the offensive part. What’s offensive is that it reflects a willful obliviousness that contributes to the very things Midler rails against. Here is a new declaration: Black women are the nigger of the women who are the nigger of the world.