Bette Midler, unfortunately, played herself. The legendary actress is now walking back some problematic comments she tweeted about women being the “N-word of the world.” No surprise, a tweet like that quickly generated backlash for its ignorance and erasure of black women.
Bette Midler’s first defense summoned Yoko Ono and John Lennon, whom she cited for their 1972 song “Woman Is the N***er of the World.” The actress tweeted that the song “rang true then, and it rings true today, whether you like it or not. This is not about race, this is about the status of women; THEIR HISTORY.”
This really didn’t help her case, because that song also deserves some criticism for its narrow way of comparing the women’s movement to the disenfranchisement of black people. The song was, allegedly, inspired by Zora Neale Hurston, who is probably turning in her previously unmarked grave. In Hurston’s classic novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie Crawford's grandmother says at one point, "De n***er woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see."
What Midler, and Lennon/Ono, fail to understand is the intersection of misogyny and racism that oppresses black women across the globe. By claiming women are the “N-word of the world,” the existence of black women and their experiences are effectively overlooked.
Midler acknowledged as much in her apology tweet. “Angrily I tweeted w/o thinking my choice of words would be enraging to black women who doubly suffer, both by being women and by being black. I am an ally and stand with you; always have. And I apologize,” Midler wrote.
So there’s that. Either way, this is a necessary reminder to always put respect on Zora Neale Hurston’s name.