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Oscars: Patricia Arquette follows call for wage equality with tone-deaf comment on race

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One of the most-discussed speeches at Sunday’s Oscars ceremony was Patricia Arquette’s, when she took the stage to accept the award for best supporting actress.

Her words came in a show that – whether through scripted bits or acceptance speeches – touched on a surprising spread of social justice issues, starting with host Neil Patrick Harris’ pointed joke about the awards’ whiteness.

Arquette discussed equal wages:

So far, so good. And in fact, Arquette is right on about wage equality — according to the Institute for Women, the current wage gap won’t close until 2058.

But about right here is where we have to stop cheerleading for Arquette — because, she appears to have veered into an unfortunate bit of feminist whitesplaining backstage in the press room. As PopSugar reported, (and as you can see at about 2:07 in the video above) here’s what she said:

It’s time for all the women in America — and all the men that love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for– to fight for us now.

Oy. The problem is that demanding “gay people” and “people of color” who whites have “fought for” to in turn fight for wage equality insinuates that the battles for gay rights and for equality for people of color are over now. They’re not. Those struggles continue on a daily basis. In addition, Arquette’s awkward framing sets up a distinction between “people of color” and “us” — which makes it seem like she’s talking about straight, white women needing the support of other oppressed groups. Many LGBT people and people of color are, in fact, women too. Arquette’s language excludes them from the larger conversation, asking groups to fight for her subgroup, rather than with everyone as a whole.

Meanwhile, wage equality still affects women of color disproportionately.

Here’s one tweet that circulated after Arquette’s speech:

The exact numbers may vary by analysis, but here’s some data from the 2012 census that backs up the gap. According to the American Association of University Women, in 2012, white, non-Hispanic women made just 78 cents on a white man’s dollar. For other groups, though, the picture was more grim: black women earned just 64 cents on a white man’s dollar, and Latinas clocked in the lowest, making 53 cents on the dollar.

So yes, Arquette is right in that it’s time to talk about women earning less, and, as a corollary, winding up in careers that pay less. But to ask people of color to fight for white women — when they disproportionately shoulder even more of a wage gap — shows an unfortunate type of feminist myopia at best.

Update: This piece was edited for clarity after it was originally posted.