In Which I Am A Victim-Blaming BitchS

Dear Internet: Pursuant to yesterday's post at Jezebel, I feel I should clarify a few things.

1) If you are not an Oscar-winning actress or similarly well-known personage, I was not talking about you. I understand that if you don't routinely get media inquiries about your personal life, you probably do not have people in your employ whose job is to keep the public from thinking poorly of you. This means that no one, least of all me, will ever expect you to issue a public statement regarding the actions of your douchebag partner.

2) If you are concerned that I would judge you by the actions of your douchebag partner, or that I do not understand how easy it is to be fooled by someone you love, please see the passage beginning with the fourth sentence of the goddamned post, which reads:

Don't get me wrong: I am in no way suggesting that a wife is responsible for her husband's behavior. I'm not even saying Bullock must have known; just as it's possible for women not to realize their husbands are cheating or married to other people or, say, responsible for multiple murders, it's surely possible to miss the signs that your partner is, if not an active neo-Nazi, the kind of twisted asswipe who finds humor in taking photos that suggest he is.

3) If you are concerned that I am unfairly judging Sandra Bullock herself, please revisit the post, paying special attention to the following lines: "all anyone can do is speculate" "all of the information we have comes from questionable sources" "I have absolutely no idea what she knew and when she knew it, and no way of finding out" "I like Sandra Bullock" "I'm not saying we should be accusing Bullock, or assuming anything just yet" "all I know for sure is that I don't know the woman at all"

Perhaps that sort of close reading will make it easier to understand that I have not, in fact, decided that Sandra Bullock is a Bad Person. I have not, in fact, decided anything about Sandra Bullock as a person. What I have done is call attention to the following points: When you are married to someone who, at the very least, thinks posing for a picture like that is funny, it may be unreasonable for people to presume you share his views, but it is perfectly reasonable for those who are interested in your life to ask you things like, "Um, do you think it's funny too? And were you aware that he did? Hypothetically speaking, if your husband were shown to be an aficionado of Nazi culture, would you consider that a dealbreaker, y/n?" When you are a very famous actor, fucking everyone is interested in your life. (This is why you have people to deal with your public image while you deal with your private life. See point 1 above.) It is customary for very famous people who are at risk of being tarred with someone else's douchebag brush to issue statements denouncing the douchebag in question. Ergo, it is curious that there was no immediate move from Bullock's camp to distance her from a man who, at the very least, thinks posing for a picture like that is funny. It is also customary for the media to talk all sorts of shit about celebrities who might plausibly be tarred with someone else's douchebag brush. Ergo, it is also curious that so few people seem to even be idly wondering whether Bullock was aware of the breadth and depth of her husband's douchebaggery.

4) At the end of the day, I am really not all that interested in what kind of person Sandra Bullock is, and I certainly do not feel she owes me or the public a damned thing. But I am very interested in how the cultural conversation about a photo like this goes:

In Which I Am A Victim-Blaming Bitch

All too predictably, loads of people (in Jez comments and elsewhere) are saying shit like, "It's just one picture" and "We don't know the context" and "It was obviously just a joke." To which I would respond: How many pictures like that would you need to see to be appalled? What context would make it okay? What on earth makes it funny?

If all you mean is that it would be unfair and premature to conclude from this photo that Jesse James personally wants to commit genocide, I'll grant you that. But I am entirely comfortable concluding from this one photo - let alone other recent revelations - that Jesse James is an epic fucking douche, and that racism is a noteworthy element of his douchiness.

That, of course, is what some people get so upset about. Heaven forbid we jump to the conclusion that someone captured on film doing a "humorous" Hitler impression perhaps has some problematic views about race. We'd better wait until we have the whole story before we go off half-cocked and say things we might regret! I mean, for all we know, he might have just been…

What? What would make that picture okay?

Hint: Nothing.

For fuck's sake, what does a white person have to do around here before a critical mass of other white people are willing to say, "Yep, that's some racist bullshit"? More than use Nazi imagery for laffs, apparently. And that, more than anything, is why it troubles me that Bullock didn't immediately issue a statement, and so few people even seem willing to question whether she was aware that her husband held the sort of views that, at the very least, made him think that photo was funny - let alone whether she holds similar views. Because giving her the pure and unfettered benefit of the doubt at this point is only a milder version of making excuses for him. It's all based on the same premise: that being called "racist" - or even questioned about your association with someone who, say, uses Nazi imagery for laffs - is such an unbelievably painful thing to endure, we must never, ever imply such a thing without hard evidence that the person in question deserves it.

Hard evidence like… well, something more than one photo taken out of context that was only meant to be a joke, surely. And if that's not admissible, then merely being married to someone who would take that one photo is, without a doubt, utterly meaningless - so it would be tasteless and cruel even to ask the spouse, "Dude, what the fuck? Did you know about this?" In fact, the consequences of accusing a nice white person of racism, falsely or not, are so unspeakably terrible - why, some people might think poorly of her! - it would probably be better if we never used the word "racist" at all, except with regard to people who do, in fact, personally want to commit genocide. Just to be on the safe side.

And if that means we can never really confront racism when we see it, well… that's unfortunate. But come on. We don't want to make people uncomfortable. White people, I mean. I understand that racism itself tends to have damaging effects on everyone else, but since I've never personally experienced it, I can only speak as a white woman - and let me tell you, being told that something you've done as a well-intentioned, liberal white person was, in fact, racist? AWKWARD! So before you go trying to end oppression, you should probably take that into consideration, okay?

Look, I truly don't have an opinion on what's in Sandra Bullock's heart. But I have an opinion on that photo: Appalling and inexcusable. And an opinion on Jesse James: Racist fuckwit. And an opinion on attempts to somehow justify that photo and steer the conversation away from words like "racism" and "anti-Semitism" and "white supremacy" at all costs: Bullshit. And all of that brought me to the opinion that if Bullock wants to keep the stink off her, she'd best issue a statement denouncing her husband's racist behavior in no uncertain terms. As fast as possible. Which means, basically, yesterday.

That's what I was talking about. Not judging her or blaming her or making presumptions about her, but expecting her, as a public figure, to take this seriously. Because that picture, despite what James' defenders say, is fucking serious. And while it's very possible for people to remain ignorant of a lot of things within a long-term relationship, it is also, exactly as I said yesterday, reasonable to wonder, and to ask, whether someone shares or condones or willfully ignores her partner's odious views.

But we're not supposed to wonder about Bullock. Because she seems like such a nice person, and she's publicly said non-racist things, and she's going through so much, sure. But also because it is considered rude and vaguely scandalous to not give an apparently nice white person the extreme benefit of the doubt where any suggestion of racism is concerned. And that's bullshit. I don't know one way or another what she thinks of that photo, but for those of us who have never met the woman, in the absence of a public comment there is no more reason to assume she deplores it than there is to assume she thinks it's hilarious. So it's really disturbing - albeit not unexpected - that so many people seem to think even posing the question is a vicious assault on her character. Jesse James does a Nazi salute with one hand and a Hitler mustache with the other, and people scramble to explain why we shouldn't assume it means anything, you know, negative. But ask what his wife thinks about that, and why - for the sake of her own public image, if nothing else - she hasn't commented (via a publicist, so it's not like she has to be articulate in the midst of heartbreak and humiliation)? Tasteless! Insulting! Victim-blaming! Why, I never!

That's pretty fucked up, folks. It really is.

Love,

Kate

This post originally appeared on the blog Shapely Prose. Republished with permission.