Sex & Gender
what kevin spacey’s “apology” says about how whiteness operates in marginalized spaces
November 3, 2017
By Ashley Nkadi / BlackYouthProject, AFROPUNK contributor
This past weekend, Star Trek: Discovery actor Anthony Rapp chimed in on the ongoing #MeToo conversation, adding his own personal account of being assaulted by actor Kevin Spacey when he was just 14-years-old. Rapp recounted the event to Buzzfeed, alleging that toward the end of a party at Spacey’s apartment, Spacey “picked [him] up like a groom picks up the bride over the threshold… and then he [laid] down on top of [him].”
Kevin Spacey responded with an “apology,” which first stated that he could not remember the confrontation and categorized the encounter as “deeply inappropriate drunken behavior.” Secondly, Spacey used his “apology” to come out as a gay man.
The first part, I understood. It registered as a man’s inability to take responsibility for his very real actions and their consequences. Classic. However, I had to read the second part of his statement over and over again. It was more than just the poor timing of his coming out. It was the intentional use of this marginalized sexual identity to deflect from his heinous acts. Kevin Spacey purposely and purposefully attempted to use the umbrella of gayness to shield himself from the storm.
It shocked me, but it also made something painfully clear: even when whiteness intersects with a marginalized identity, it still propagates imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy—only this time, it has an alibi.
Last month, women boycotted Twitter in support of actress Rose McGowan, in the wake of her temporary ban from the platform after she doxxed someone as she was tweeting about Weinstein’s sexual misconduct. She became Twitter’s Helen of Troy, the white face that launched a thousand tweets. These tweets were, ironically, about not tweeting. Nevertheless, women around the world dug around in their closets for a cape to rescue Rose, but these capes had lain in their closets untouched as a racist, sexist hate mob attacked Leslie Jones on Twitterlast year. These capes accumulated dust as Jemele Hill was silenced by ESPN and targeted by Trump. Furthermore, the cape was especially hard to find when McGowan herself posted a now-deleted tweet likening the word “woman” to the word “nigger.”
When white feminists actively perpetuate racism and/or passively ignore the plights of women of color they then flee back to the sheltered womanhood—feigning innocence and claiming that we are all united in a joint struggle to defeat the white supremacist patriarchy that they in fact benefit from.
After the city of Philadelphia unveiled a version of the Pride flag that featured the addition of black and brown stripes to promote inclusivity of persons of color, this infuriated many white members of the LGBTQIA+ community. The stripes and their inclusivity were painted as an attack on unity, distracting from the “real problems at hand,” and dividing an otherwise big, happy family. This outrage was barely decried as racism, but rather somehow classified a plea for solidarity.
When whiteness intersects with a marginalized identity, it may seem approachable, docile, empathetic, and even innocent. Be not deceived.
Whiteness, even in its intersectional forms, thrives on the tools and the resources of the master’s house—the same house the marginalized community intends to destroy. This is why others gaining access to more opportunities is often perceived as a threat or a competition for resources.
Then whiteness, like an evolving virus, will activate its survival instinct—doing whatever it must to feed, grow, thrive, and protect itself. Whiteness will double down on itself, close its ranks, and pull its marginalized identities around itself like a defensive armor—becoming the perfect weapon to destroy the very marginalized community it belongs to, like Spacey putting gay men in the line of fire by coming out following allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor. Anyone else who is impacted by this is just collateral damage.
While whiteness provides power, a marginalized identity can be called upon to protect one from having to answer to the culpability of possessing said power. This is what prevents the 53% of white women who voted for Trump—including Caitlyn Jenner, a trans woman—from having to answer for their actions. It frees the LGBTQIA+ community from the burden of addressing its racism. It pardons a nation of white immigrants from the responsibility of denouncing Trump’s wall and pledging support for DACA.
It excuses impoverished white people from acknowledging the white privilege that they too benefit from. As if being white and concurrently existing as a marginalized identity can somehow absolve someone of their racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and/or xenophobic acts.
Claiming a marginalized identity allows the white beneficiary to point to that identity as evidence for why their bad behavior should be excused— a sort of attempt to “check-out” of their privilege—pretending that they no longer possess the institutional and social power that accompanies their whiteness. Kevin Spacey exercised his power over Anthony Rapp, employing the fact that he was older, more established, and physically bigger than Rapp to assault the then-14-year-old. In his “apology,” he attempted to throw his queer identity on the table like a get-out-of-jail-free card, expecting it and his whiteness to protect him.
But queerness does not exist in a vacuum and power does not come and go as one pleases. His queerness does not negate his misconduct. Spacey’s attempt to “check out” of his matrices of power and expecting his sexuality to exempt him from responsibility and accountability for his problematic actions is a form of violence.
Its like a child, hand hovering in your face and shouting, “I’m not touching you!” But, you are. Perhaps not physically, but you have penetrated a safe space and inflicted emotional and psychological violence—a violence that requires no contact and a violence that society de-legitimizes, but a violence nonetheless. The sooner you realize it, the sooner you can get your hand out of my damn face.
This post is in partnership with BlackYouthProject.
I’m Ashley Nkadi. I love God, my mama, being Bliggity Black, Gucci Mane, cheese, potatoes, and eyebrow maintenance. In that order. Feel free to read more about me at www.ashleynkadi.com!
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