(The cast of “Big Little Lies” accepting their Golden Globe. Photo credit: Hollywood Foreign Press/NBC)
The Golden Globes took me on a journey this year. To be honest, I wish I wasn’t on a good 50 percent of that journey. But the parts that I stuck around for were worth it.
For instance, let’s take the theme of the night—TIME’S UP. With the Golden Globes red carpet and subsequent awards show, the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment against women in the workforce has been put in the spotlight at such a large scale that it seems virtually impossible for the industry to walk back on it or turn its face away from it. The TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, spearheaded by over 300 women in entertainment, is now part of the fabric of Hollywood and will only get stronger year by year.
It goes without saying that the initiative’s birth comes from the sheer amount of women in Hollywood who shared their heartbreaking stories of harassment and abuse at the hands of producers, directors, and other Hollywood male elite. But, what also helped the initiative take shape was a message of solidarity from the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (the National Farmworker Women’s Alliance), an organization that combats the harassment female farmworkers face. As TIME’S UP’s website states, the fund partners “with leading advocates for equality and safety to improve laws, employment agreements, and corporate policies; help change the face of corporate boardrooms and the C-suite; and enable more women and men to access our legal system to hold wrongdoers accountable.” In short, the initiative hopes to help all women be protected against abuse and inequitable power structures.
The solidarity between the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas and TIME’S UP is why so many actresses brought WOC activists as their plus ones Sunday. The goal was to advocate for intersectional feminist politics and uplifting female voices and women-led organizations. The eight activists that joined Michelle Williams, Emma Watson, Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley, Amy Poehler and Emma Stone were:
Billie Jean King, legendary tennis star and activist
Their joint statement sheds more light on why they chose the Golden Globes red carpet as the avenue to steer the conversation from one of outrage to one of action.
“As longtime organizers, activists and advocates for racial and gender justice, it gives us enormous pride to stand with the members of the TIMES UP campaign who have stood up and spoken out in this groundbreaking historical moment. We have each dedicated our lives to doing work that supports the least visible, most marginalized women in our diverse contexts. We do this work as participants in movements that seek to affirm the dignity and humanity of every person.
“Too much of the recent press attention has been focused on perpetrators and does not adequately address the systematic nature of violence including the importance of race, ethnicity and economic status in sexual violence and other forms of violence against women. Our goal in attending the Golden Globes is to shift the focus back to survivors and on systemic, lasting solutions. Each of us will be highlighting legislative, community-level and interpersonal solutions that contribute to ending violence against women in all our communities. It is our hope that in doing so, we will also help to broaden conversations about the connection to power, privilege and other systemic inequalities.”
After reading more about these women and how they utilized the red carpet as their battleground, I feel like a butt for initially thinking the act of actresses bringing these women was one of performative wokeness. Without any knowledge behind the women’s goal, it certainly has all of the appearances of a selfish act by Hollywood elite to gain brownie points and good press. Without knowing anything about the event, you could easily think the women were being tokenized. It’s easy to believe the worst of Hollywood, even at times like these.
But in this case, the opposite is true; the women involved, women who do such important work, weren’t being used, which was my fear (if you go on Twitter, you can read my misgivings and see-sawing from point to point). I was extremely protective of how these women were being perceived by Hollywood. I’m glad to feel like I was being protective for no reason. And whether or not you believe there’s still some tokenism or lack of agency happening, there is still the silver lining that the exposure opened us viewers up to just eight of the many women who do the hard work without much recognition. They do they work because it is their true calling. It’s only right that they become just popular and recognizable, if not more so, as the actresses who partnered with them.
Even when I muddled through my concerns while watching the red carpet, I was positively surprised and heartened to hear how many actresses were ready to talk about issues affecting all women, including taking E! to task—while being interviewed by E!—for their pay gap.
Where the night fell apart was how men were largely let off the hook about speaking up for women’s rights. All they really had to do was wear a “TIME’S UP” pin and a black tuxedo and smile. The actual awards show also didn’t help matters, between snubbing Dee Rees and Greta Gerwig in the Best Director category (as Natalie Portman so poignantly said, only men were nominated), snubbing Mudbound as a Best Picture contender, blocking Get Out from its expected win by putting it in the Comedy/Musical category, and awarding Kirk Douglas, James Franco, and Gary Oldman, all of whom have checkered pasts and allegations of abuse, harassment or sexual assault.
But I was brought back by Oprah Winfrey’s rousing speech. I’ll be honest and say that Oprah had fallen off my radar in the past few years; I still watched OWN from time to time, and I still loved my memories of watching The Oprah Winfrey Show. But as for Oprah herself—I thought she’d gone extremely Hollywood. I thought she’d forgotten who she was before she became the New Age guru she is now. Sometimes, the rich begin to forget the hardships of others, and I’d sadly lumped Oprah in with that group, since it’s a luxury to be able to ponder life’s issues inn a comfy chair in the woods.
But Oprah rightfully schooled me, and everyone else in the Golden Globes audience. She gave everyone an education on what they should prioritize in this fight for equality; it’s not about what we wear or don’t wear, and it’s not about how well we speak or how much money we have. What matters is if we use the platforms we have, big or small, to speak out against bigotry, xenophobia, sexism, harassment and abuse. We need to always lift up those like Recy Taylor who never got the justice they deserved. We need to learn and re-learn our American history, so we don’t go through life not giving women like Rosa Parks, an NAACP investigator (not just a tired seamstress, as we’ve always been taught) their full due.
On a personal level, Oprah also reminded me why I got into this representation game in the first place. Too often, many of us lose our way and forget why we were called to do the things we do in the first place. I started blogging about representation in the media years ago after I realized there was a lot more I could say about film and TV than just who is cast in the new thing. There was an entire market not being addressed, and I felt I had the background and talent to address that market with intelligence and humility. However, the world of social media can make you believe that developing a cult of personality is more important than writing a meaningful post. It can make you think your work doesn’t matter because you might not be as loud or as brash or as excitedly opinionated as others. What Oprah did was inspire me the way she did when I was a child. I remembered why I write about film and TV—it’s because my voice is needed. It’s because all of our voices are needed, not just my own. We all should be able to voice our truths about our lives and experiences and lift each other up, finding commonalities in our stories and areas where we can increase our learning. In a way, Oprah did what she’s always done, including when she holds her conversations in the woods—she’s asking us to showcase vulnerable and relatable humanity to each other.
With that said, it’s kinda ridiculous that reactions to her speech has now devolved into a shouting match on Twitter about whether or not she’s qualified to run for President. Sure, I’d like a politician to run for President, but it’s not as if Oprah’s another Trump—she’s highly intelligent, she’s a humanitarian, and she understands what’s at stake with American politics and society. If Trump’s qualified to run and win, anyone’s qualified to run now. And if that means Oprah’s got a chance, then so be it. I mean, if there’s no one else running against Trump, who else are we going to vote for? There are bigger and more meaningful hills to die on than if Oprah wins the Presidency. (By the way: I didn’t see this much outrage when Dwayne Johnson said he was mulling over a presidential candidacy.) The Twittersphere going H.A.M. over Oprah’s hypothetical candidacy has left a bad taste in my mouth for sure, and it’s definitely indicative of how Twitter as a whole can miss the point of a poignant moment.
I’ll end with this: The Golden Globes were the worst and best of times. Some things happened that were deeply questionable, and other things happened that seemed sketchy at first but turned out to be fantastic. In the end, Oprah cut through the muck and proved to be the guiding light of the evening, and looking with hindsight, none of us should have been surprised at that outcome.♦
The wedding cake on display at Masterpiece Cakeshop.
AP Photo/Brennan Linsley
On Tuesday, Dec. 5, a visibly divided U.S. Supreme Court tackled the contentious issue of religious freedom when it heard oral arguments in “Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.” The arguments appeared to evenly split the four conservative justices from the four liberals. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is often a swing vote, seemed to side with the baker.
The case involves a Denver bakery owner who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, citing his religious belief that marriage can be between only a man and woman. The couple sued, and a lower court ruled the baker violated Colorado’s public accommodations law. The statute forbids discrimination by businesses serving the public, including on the basis of sexual orientation.
In their appeal to the Supreme Court, the bakery’s lawyers have emphasized free speech issues by presenting the baker as an artist who has a right to choose how he expresses himself. But religious freedom remains central to the case. A key question is whether a business owner must provide services that conflict with his or her religious beliefs.
This divisive case highlights the vast difference between the reality and the rhetoric of religious freedom, which is often considered to be the ideal that promotes harmony and equality. But, history suggests that it does lead to more conflict.
The rhetoric: Equality and goodwill
It is true that throughout U.S. history, Americans have idealized religious freedom and imagined that it brings harmony.
The First Amendment’s clauses guaranteeing religious free exercise and preventing establishment of an official church seemed to promise less discord to the Founding Fathers. In an 1802 letter, Thomas Jefferson, for example, wrote that “religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God.” As the nation’s third president, he argued that a “wall of separation between Church & State” would give all people equally the right to free conscience.
Later presidents echoed the view that religious freedom brings equality and unity by preventing government from favoring particular faiths.
Before his election in 1960, John F. Kennedy tried to ease fears about his Catholicism by affirming religious liberty. Kennedy believed this freedom kept one group from oppressing another. It formed the basis of a society, he declared, where people would “refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.”
In the early 1990s, George H.W. Bush identified religious liberty as the basis for other rights. He credited it as a major reason for the vibrancy of American society.
The reality: Conflict and debate
Minority communities, ranging from Catholics to Mormons, have fought to have their traditions and customs recognized as religious. As I show in my work on pluralism, Americans have debated what constitutes a religious expression rather than a cultural practice. People have also argued whether religious expression can extend into political, social and business interactions.
These debates have required the intervention of the courts and have often ended at the Supreme Court. Thus, a right intended to free Americans from government has instead necessitated frequent involvement of a major government institution.
Further complicating matters, the Supreme Court has changed its position over time. Its evolving interpretations show how religious freedom debates create shifting categories of winners and losers.
To the courts
Like Masterpiece Cakeshop, one of the Supreme Court’s first religious liberty cases involved marriage. In 1878, a Mormon resident of the Utah territory sued the federal government after he was charged with bigamy. He argued that the law violated his religious liberty by criminalizing his polygamous marriage. The Supreme Court disagreed. In Reynolds v. United States, the court ruled that the First Amendment guaranteed only freedom of belief, not freedom of practice.
In the 20th century, the Supreme Court showed greater sympathy to religious liberty claims. In several cases – including one brought by Jehovah’s Witnesses challenging a statute requiring a permit for public evangelizing and another by an Amish community that objected to Wisconsin’s compulsory public school law – justices sided with those who claimed their freedom was violated.
That changed in 1990. The court ruled against two men who lost their jobs after using peyote, the cactus, which has hallucinogenic properties and has long been used in Native American religious practices. Because they were fired for drug use, the men were denied unemployment benefits. They claimed that as members of a Native American church, they used the drug for religious purposes.
Moving away from earlier decisions, justices ruled that religious belief was not a ground for refusing to obey laws “prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate.”
New century, new conflicts
The peyote case set the stage for Masterpiece Cakeshop. It was in response to the case that Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993. It required that laws restricting religious expression must show that they serve a compelling need.
RFRA was central in the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. That contentious split ruling allowed small, closely held companies the right to deny contraceptive benefits mandated by the Affordable Care Act on the grounds of protecting their owners’ religious liberty.
Similarly, in October 2017, the Trump administration invoked freedom of religion when it allowed all employers a religious exemption to the contraception coverage requirement in the Affordable Care Act.
Critics saw that policy change as an attack on women’s rights. Reaction to it on both sides again showed that government involvement in debates about religious freedom invariably produces winners and losers.
Given our polarized society and the division among the Supreme Court justices today, this pattern will continue, whatever the verdict is.
This is an updated version of an article first published on Nov. 28, 2017.
Race-neutral affirmative action can help identify first-generation students like Blanca Diaz and LaQuintah Garrett.
AP Photo/Amy Anthony
In 2003, Justice Antonin Scalia predicted that the Supreme Court’s sanctioning of race-conscious affirmative action in higher education would spark future litigation for years to come. And right he was. From defeated claims of discrimination against the University of Texas at Austin to an ongoing lawsuit against Harvard, colleges continue to come under attack for considering race as a factor in admissions decisions.
The recent report of the Department of Justice’s possible investigation of “intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions” demonstrates that the assaults aren’t likely to end anytime soon.
As a professor of law and scholar dedicated to ensuring equal educational opportunities for students of color, I believe now is an important time to earnestly consider other methods for diversifying student bodies. Race-neutral alternatives could effectively consider such factors as socioeconomic status and educational background, while supplementing more traditional affirmative action.
‘Race-based’ vs. ‘race-conscious’
When thinking about affirmative action, it’s important to first define (and debunk) a few key terms, starting with “race-based” and “race-conscious” affirmative action.
“Race-based affirmative action” is a misnomer often used to describe some college admissions policies. “Race-based” implies that an admissions decision is made solely because of or based upon an applicant’s race or ethnicity, which could not be farther from the truth. A university’s decision to admit, deny or waitlist an applicant is based upon myriad criteria, ranging from standardized test scores to state of residency. Race is just one of many admissions factors a university may consider.
This approach is more appropriately termed “race-conscious.”
Schools that employ race-conscious admissions policies do so in order to achieve the educational, social and democratic benefits of a diverse student body.
As the Supreme Court held in Gratz v. Bollinger, race is not and cannot be the determining factor under a constitutional race-conscious plan. Therefore, when people claim that an African-American or Hispanic student was admitted because of race, they’re often not only inaccurate but also dismissive of the student’s other numerous attributes that played a role in the university’s decision.
Opponents of race-conscious affirmative action often assert that such policies are racist or disproportionately benefit privileged minority students from middle- and upper-class backgrounds.
For its part, the Supreme Court is also skeptical of using racial classifications in governmental decision-making. As a result, it has held that institutions of higher education must afford serious consideration to “workable race-neutral alternatives” before implementing a race-conscious policy.
Importantly, the court’s use of the term “race-neutral” does not mean “race-blind.” That is, universities are permitted to think about how alternative admissions criteria could help them achieve their diversity goals. Race-neutral criteria could include socioeconomic background, high school or undergraduate institution, or class rank. In other words, these are factors that may contribute to a school’s racial diversity, but applicants themselves are not considered based on race.
In some cases, it’s proven difficult for race-neutral admissions policies to achieve the same levels of racial diversity as those achieved through direct consideration of race. However, such measures have been useful in helping to diversify student bodies when used in conjunction with or in lieu of race-conscious affirmative action.
The viability of race-neutral alternatives
When coupled with the stark racial disparities that continue to plague some professions, the uncertain future of race-conscious affirmative action calls for a renewed focus on alternatives that look beyond race alone.
Law schools play a unique role in training our country’s next generation of leaders. It is, in fact, vital to the future of our democracy that we continue to provide students from historically underrepresented racial groups with access to legal education. And yet, the legal profession was recently determined to be “one of the least racially diverse professions in the nation.”
To help law schools improve their diversity, we examined the relationship between race and race-neutral identity factors in law school admissions. The project, which was funded in part by a grant from AccessLex Institute, surveyed over a thousand first-year law students at schools throughout the country and asked about various aspects of their identity, such as socioeconomic status and educational background.
Our findings indicated that African-American and Hispanic students were significantly more likely than both white and Asian/Pacific Islander students to have qualified for free or reduced lunch programs in elementary or secondary school, had a parent or guardian who received public assistance when the student was a dependent minor, and received a Pell Grant during their undergraduate studies – all of which are race-neutral factors that schools could consider in admissions decisions.
How admissions could change
Based on the sample of participants in our study, it’s clear that privilege did not catapult all students of color to law school. Many of them had to overcome the structural inequalities of poverty, race and public education to embark on a legal career. Expanding opportunities for these and other minority students will benefit not only legal education and the legal profession, but also society more broadly.
Race-neutral admissions policies could help identify and create opportunities for these students.
To be clear, I do not advocate for the wholesale substitution of traditional race-conscious admissions measures with the factors we studied. Race-conscious policies continue to be the most effective means by which to create diverse student bodies.
However, we encourage law schools and other institutions of higher education to utilize these and other race-neutral admissions factors as a means of complying with the Supreme Court’s affirmative action mandates and testing the viability of policies that take such factors into account.
Doing so will help ensure that traditionally underrepresented students of color will continue to have access to colleges and universities that serve as gateways to career, financial and life opportunities.