To many, Nicole Arbour’s parody was a gross act of cultural appropriation.
For millions, it was an act of gentrification, where her ‘whitewashing’ of a politically-relevant piece, was seen as damaging to the past and current plights of the African-American community. However, irrespective of the poorly timed parody, and irrespective of my views on her overall message, most of Nicole’s backlash took the form of baseless ad hominem attacks, ultimately turning some of her critics into hypocrites that simply failed to practice what they preach.
As a comedian and YouTube personality, Nicole Arbour, 32, has never shied away from using satire, when expressing her views on sensitive topics. Her whimsical, yet comedic skits, on issues pertaining to depression, religion, and even obesity, tickle the funny bones of more than it offends.
Despite the controversy that often follows her, a la her Dear Fat People rant a few years prior, I often find her in-your-face humour quite funny, though I can understand how people could feel otherwise.
Nicole’s video, titled “This is America: Women’s Edit”, takes a stab at raising awareness for women’s issues, where she deliberates on matters from sexual abuse to the stigma surrounding breastfeeding in a fun-filled production that diametrically opposed the serious nature of its material.
Unfortunately, her latest video generated controversy, over the ‘whitewashing’ of Childish Gambino’s hit song. “This is America” is a scathing critique of current race relations in the United States and is being hailed as a work of art by progressives and mainstream media outlets alike. So when Arbour decided to satirize the song in promotion of what many believed was ‘white feminism’, she was instantly attacked and vilified by people online, who accused her of race baiting and cultural appropriation.
In a recent interview with Nicole, I asked her a series of questions surrounding this, allowing her to convey her side of the story, which the media had conveniently left out.
With some of the criticism taking the form of baseless ad hominem attacks, was there ever a moment in which you doubted yourself, over whether or not you had made the right decision in posting the parody?
Nicole: Not even a moment. I’m proud of it, and I really think the best thing that could happen in America right now is to have as many people as possible make their own version [of the song, and show] their experiences. It could be an amazing equalizer and create a level of empathy we haven’t had to date.
That’s awesome! I’m happy to [see] you stand by your decision [in promoting] such a worthy cause, even in the face of some, dare I say, bullies, who bashed you for [being white, irrespective] of the video’s message. Given how mixed the reactions for your video have been, and in many instances, where insensitive comments were said by your critics, do you have any words of advice for those who may be faced with a similar set of circumstances? In other words, to those who are not being judged on [the basis of] their merit, character, and the message(s) they wish to promote.
Nicole: Ha-ha… this is the irony of it all. I’m not used to being judged on my merit, and I’ve always had to fight against the way I look and in many cases, gender. We can’t shrink ourselves to make other people comfortable, but what we can do is identify [that] people who lash out like this, are in pain. It’s just pain. I wouldn’t get angry at someone crying out with a broken leg, so I’m not upset with these people who have broken hearts and spirits. Keep going. #GOTEAM.
So very true! Given the “revival” of feminism in its third-wave form, I have [often] felt [ostracized by] the movement, [as it] divides more than unites, unfortunately. Now, as a woman in the entertainment industry, you have become a beacon of [hope] for tens of, if not hundreds of thousands of girls and boys. What do you hope is the take home message after watching your parody?
Nicole: I agree with you that new feminism has caused a divide. It was hard for me to identify with it because a women’s march shouldn’t be an anti-Trump rally because some women like and voted for Trump, [and thus] shouldn’t be excluded [from events endorsing feminism]. I want the message to be that I was being honest, I feel you, [and] I’m sharing these experiences [with everyone, as] the more we’re all honest about what’s going on, the sooner we can heal and create change.
Absolutely! Feminism itself should be welcoming to peoples of all political backgrounds, irrespective of [race, and the] potential disagreements that are bound to arise. Now, final question—do you think movements such as #metoo and #timesup, do enough to protect women, in and out of the workplace? And if not, what would you like to see done differently?
Nicole: I think everyone is doing their best and some amazing plans are in the works. It’s a big year for women and I’m just so excited and thankful to all the brave women who have put themselves on the line to help promote change. Kind [of] a pageant answer, but I mean it. Oh! And because of the kind of post this is, I think it’s really important for people to remember [that holding an] unpopular opinion doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
Yes! Personally, [I] would like to see the movement stray away from labelling [skeptics] of harassment or rape, as ‘rape apologists’, [as we have to maintain the presumption of innocence, and wait for a verdict to be reached]. With [that] being said, I have faith that under the right leadership, the cause will achieve many great things for women and men alike. Hopefully justice is to be served and those who have been silenced, given a voice. [And with that], I’d like to thank-you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer a few of my questions. Have a goodnight Nicole.
Nicole: Have a great night! Thanks for this!
End of interview.
Given how down-to-earth and open-minded she was throughout the interview, her answers to my questions may have come as a complete surprise to some of her critics. Irrespective of how she executed her parody, this definitely puts into question the validity of Nicole’s supposed bigotry. If anything, it revealed a startling discovery of our political climate, as it exists today.
As seen with the backlash over social media, it has become ever so apparent that we, as a society, are willing to mischaracterize anyone who is politically indifferent to us. That we, as human beings, are willing to resort to hyperbole and divisive slander, instead of civil discourse when points of contention arise. Unfortunately, this is the consequence of the times in which we live, where avenues for open discussion are casted aside for identity politics, and the ideological segregation that follows suit.
Now, the blatant mischaracterization of Nicole, and the misguided perception that she endorsed ‘white feminism’, and therefore—I don’t know how—white supremacy, is simply not true. This unfortunate reality is partly attributed to the hypersensitivity that has engulfed our sense of the political, leading to battle lines being drawn on the basis of race, politics, and the perpetual malignance that is the victimhood complex.
Take this for example, or perhaps something a little more controversial. In these examples, laced with self-pity and unnecessary virtue-signalling, are the rants of those who used red herrings to justify their prejudice, which thereby translated into unbearable monolithic thought. Now, I am not criticizing these two on the basis of their skin colour, for that would be unjustifiable, but their painting of ‘blackness as a disability’—a belief held by Kimani Paul-Emile, an African-American professor of law at Fordham University—is beyond absurd, and is frankly, quite insulting.
Unfortunately, not everyone will agree with my assessment of the situation, and that is perfectly ok. However, conflating Nicole’s parody with the extremes of white nationalism, is highly problematic. And with the deliberate racial taunting directed her way, it sadly does paint her as one who cannot be reasoned with, while simultaneously, making her critics look hypocritical.
Despite spreading awareness on women’s issues, she was heavily criticized for the video’s predominantly white participants, which to many, was emblematic of the flaws that intersectional feminists attribute to ‘white feminism’. In other words, it simply lacked racial diversity—the only form of diversity that seems to matter in the age of postmodernism and third-wave feminism.
In co-opting Childish Gambino’s hit single, many felt this was but an extension of her already ‘bigoted’ stance, which some claimed was given a precedent in weeks prior.
In a controversial, now deleted tweet from May 4th, she went on record in saying that “I’m so sick of people mad at slavery”. Now, from face-value, this may seem like the random and incoherent ramblings of one, who knows not what they preach. However, if you look closer, this was taken completely out of context by individuals with a particular political agenda. This was evident later on in the same tweet, when she concluded with “what we CAN do is fix economic slavery. Focus on the now”.
Although I, like many, may have not liked the initial wording of the tweet—for it may have come off as rather insensitive—at the end of the day, I agree with the gist of her message. As a person of colour, I recognize that reconciliation is a long, and often fruitless process, where the remnants of historical discrimination linger through the acts of the foolish few. Therefore, it is beyond ludicrous to demand equality, yet ask for special treatment, then flip the script around and call everyone you disagree with a bigot. With that being said, how can we hope for a better tomorrow, when certain individuals are constantly looking backwards and demonizing an entire group for past injustices?
It’s simple. You cannot. For only darkness can drive out the darkness, and love, bringing with it, the ‘end’ to hatred.