Emma Watson acknowledges her “white privilege” in powerful open letter

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Kayleigh Dray
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Emma Watson has championed gender equality throughout her career, but the actress was heavily criticised for her comments on “white feminism” a few years ago. Now, in a powerful open letter, she has acknowledged her past lack of intersectionality…

In 2015, referencing her famous #HeforShe speech at the UN, a fan asked Emma Watson if she considered herself to be a “white feminist”.

The actress responded via Twitter, saying: “White feminism implies an exclusion of black women from the movement which I find surprising because my bosses (and the people who gave me the job) are two black women.”

Her response was heavily criticised at the time, with a number of intersectional feminists informing her that she had “completely misunderstood white feminism and haven’t disproved your role in it. Knowing black people doesn’t help.”

“Just because black women hired you does not mean you can’t be a white feminist,” one informed her. “Please, please, please – reconsider this statement.”

Now, though, Watson has redressed her feelings on the matter – and acknowledged that her “white privilege” was something of a blind spot to her feminist cause. And, because she’s the real-life Hermione Granger, she made sure to cite the book and author that helped her to realise this: it’s Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race.

Taking to GoodReads to introduce the book (which is the first she wants her feminist book club to read for 2018), Watson shared a powerful open letter with her fans.

“When I gave my UN speech in 2015, so much of what I said was about the idea that ‘being a feminist is simple!’ Easy! No problem!” writes Watson.

“I have since learned that being a feminist is more than a single choice or decision. It’s an interrogation of self. Every time I think I’ve peeled all the layers, there’s another layer to peel. But, I also understand that the most difficult journeys are often the most worthwhile. And that this process cannot be done at anyone else’s pace or speed.”

She continues: “When I heard myself being called a ‘white feminist’ I didn’t understand (I suppose I proved their case in point). What was the need to define me — or anyone else for that matter — as a feminist by race? What did this mean? Was I being called racist? Was the feminist movement more fractured than I had understood? I began…panicking.”

Watson goes on to explain how she used that moment as a learning opportunity.

“It would have been more useful to spend the time asking myself questions like: What are the ways I have benefited from being white? In what ways do I support and uphold a system that is structurally racist? How do my race, class and gender affect my perspective?” she says.

“There seemed to be many types of feminists and feminism. But instead of seeing these differences as divisive, I could have asked whether defining them was actually empowering and bringing about better understanding. But I didn’t know to ask these questions.”

The actress is now encouraging her followers to do the same, insisting: “Everyone has their own journey, and it may not always be easy, but what I can promise is that you’ll meet some extremely cool people that you will REALLY love and respect along the way that will walk this path with you.

“You’re not alone. And even if you are, in a particular moment…remember you come from a long line of feminists who did this work, in the outside world but also inside themselves.”

When she originally set up her feminist book club, Watson said: “I have started reading as many books and essays about equality as I can get my hands on. There is so much amazing stuff out there! Funny, inspiring, sad, thought-provoking, empowering!

“I’ve been discovering so much that, at times, I’ve felt like my head was about to explode… I decided to start a feminist book club, as I want to share what I’m learning and hear your thoughts too.”

She added: “The plan is to select and read a book every month, then discuss the work during the month’s last week (to give everyone time to read it!). I will post some questions/quotes to get things started, but I would love for this to grow into an open discussion with and between you all.

“Whenever possible I hope to have the author, or another prominent voice on the subject, join the conversation.”

You can sign up to Watson’s book club here.

Images: Rex Features


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.