Last night’s Oscar Awards ceremony was huge for Quvenzhané Wallis, the 9-year-old Beasts Of the Southern Wild actress who, with her adorable sparkly, puffy navy blue Armani gown and sleek press-n-curl and fancy puppy purse walked the red carpet as the youngest actor ever to get an Academy Awards nomination. She didn’t win the statuette, but she did win hearts—wooing everyone from Halle Berry and Sam Jackson to Channing Tatum and Jessica Chastain with her adorable smile and spirited personality, which took centerstage when her category was announced during the ceremony and she hilariously worked the “I’m the Man!” bodybuilder “gun” show she made famous in her critically-acclaimed film. Why then, did the usually quick-witted satirical site, The Onion, feel the need to call Quvenzhané a cunt?
Yes, you read that right: Whoever was steering The Onion’s Twitter feed during the Oscars last night took to the social media site to call a celebrated African American actress—a child—one of the most perverse, sexualized slurs you could call a female. The Tweet has since been deleted, but the quick ones managed to grab a screen shot:
Backlash was fast and severe: Twitter lit up with a gazillion people who made clear to The Onion that calling a 9-year-old little girl a cunt not only is disgusting but abusive, and at least one petition already is making the rounds, demanding The Onion issue a public apology, fire its editor and review its hiring policies. Most poignant was actor Wendell Pierce’s defense of Quvenzhané, a fellow NOLA resident whom Pierce, star of HBO’s Treme, made clear should be off-limits to the celeb bashing that plagues pop culture.
Shameful, indeed. But are we surprised? Quvenzhané is a black child in Hollywood—an actress who has chosen to make a living entertaining the American masses. This is a beautiful thing, considering how talented she is. But we’re living in a society that, at the very sight of the adorable Amandla Stenberg as Rue in last year’s The Hunger Games, whipped itself into a frenzy of racist, hate-filled diatribes. That beautiful child, then 11, was called all kinds of “black bitch” and “nigger,” with Hunger Games “fans” making clear for public record on the internet that they absolutely abhor human life if it comes wrapped in skin that isn’t white like theirs.
Now, I’m not ready to call The Onion racist for its Tweet. But I do think that we’re moving in a society that makes it easy for some dumb low-level intern hired to be “funny” on their social media pages to be extra disrespectful when a little black girl is involved because, really, who gives a damn about little black girls? Say what you want—context be damned.
Of course, this is what folk need to consider when they’re having their fun at the expense of black children. Be clear: I’m not suggesting that it would have been okay for The Onion to call, say, Dakota Fanning or a young Miley Cyrus or Drew Barrymore gendered slurs. But there is context and history there for all to see: the Angry Black Woman/Hottentot/Mammy/Jezebel meme that plagues black women is incredibly real, and none of us, no matter how sweet, cute, kind, generous or famous, seem to be able to escape it. Not even 9-year-old little girls.
This is about respect—respect and understanding when it comes to our babies. The beauty of Quvenzhané Wallis is that she seems to get this already, even at the tender age of nine. When an AP reporter gushed, “I’m just going to call you Annie”—both because she couldn’t pronounce Quvenzhané’s name and because the pint-sized actress has been cast in the upcoming Will Smith and Jay-Z produced screen remake of the Broadway musical— Quvenzhané spoke up and made it plain: “My name is not Annie. It’s Quvenzhané.” Like a boss. Indeed, Quvenzhané Wallis has a name and is a human being who deserves respect—not your ill “humor” or your laziness. And the word “cunt” should never, ever be associated with it. And if The Onion and random reporters can’t understand that, then they should just keep her name out of their mouths. (In the meantime, check out this adorable post from BuzzFeed, which covered our shining star the way children should be covered.)
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.
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One of the saddest things about this whole Onion thing is the number of shares and favorites their post initially received. There is nothing wrong with satire and most of us love to laugh, but when you call a child no matter her ethnicity a c*unt, there is nothing funny about that. We have become so desensitized as a society. Any and everything goes. People will say that those who think there are racial undertones here are overly sensitive and living in the past, but it’s important to call out injustice when we see it. Staying quiet means it’s okay. It is not okay. http://www.venusblogs.com
“Are we surprised?” you ask? Heck yeah! I’m gob-smacked! Who calls a child a sexual pejorative? And such a disgusting one at that??
I thought the joke was hilarious and anybody who is a regular reader of The Onion and/or Literally Unbelievable gets their sense of humor enough to understand the irony behind it.
I actually read The Onion, have a great sense of humor and understand satire; this was NOT funny. At all. And the day we think it’s okay to call 9-year-old little girls that word—whether seriously or in jest—is the day that we’ve all failed. Epically.
Irony? You are stupid if you think that by simply stating…anyone who is a regular reader…gets their sense of humor…no, I take that back, you’re not stupid, you are a fool.
Thank you!!!! Their treatment of this CHILD hurt my heart.
is the Onion, diverse i thought black people worked at and had leadership roles there. am i mistaken?
It was tasteless and….too much, but in all fairness the same jokes HAVE been made about Dakota Fanning. The supposed joke there was that OBVIOUSLY the girl wasnt being a cunt, she was a sweetheart. Nothing to do here with racism.
What is fair about it? A child was reduced to a body-part all in name of FUN and SATIRE???
Thank you for the blog, Denene. It hurts my heart that we can’t shield our children from this type of ignorance. And for Quvenzhané, the apology doesn’t un-ring the bell. I don’t know why hurt and humor are synonymous anymore, but I’ll stick with self-deprecating, observational humor.
We have yet to raise our voices and declare Black children UNTOUCHABLE! It is high time we did. When we stop the verbal onslaughts, the cessation of physical attacks on street corners and at gas stations will stop. But not until we lift our collective voices, much like the ADL, and say,”NEver,never.never agagain!” You speak perversely to or about our children and we are coming after you. The Onion must reveal the perpetrator, and he/she must be dealt with as publicly as that nasty statement was made!
We have yet to raise our voices and declare Black children UNTOUCHABLE! It is high time we did. When we stop the verbal onslaughts, the cessation of physical attacks on street corners and at gas stations will follow. But not until we lift our collective voices, much like the ADL, and say,”NEver,never.never again”! You speak perversely to or about our children and we are coming after you. The Onion must reveal the perpetrator, and he/she must be dealt with as publicly as that nasty statement was made!
It was blatant disrespect and an outrage. People have gotten so comfortable in ignorance that they don’t even see when the line needs to be drawn. Nothing about this was funny and if it seems to be… well, we haven’t come that far after all.