Viola Davis’s message to white women: ‘Get to know me’

“Through Her Eyes” is a weekly show hosted by human rights activist Zainab Salbi that explores contemporary news issues from a female perspective. You can watch the full episode of “Through Her Eyes” every Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on Roku.

Award-winning actress Viola Davis has a piece of advice for white women: “Get to know me.”

As an African-American actress in an industry that’s still predominantly white, Davis is pushing to change how women of color are portrayed in film and television — and how white women perceive their own privilege.

“Sometimes privilege is seen very differently,” Davis said in an interview with Yahoo News’s show “Through Her Eyes.” “Sometimes, for instance, beauty and how femininity is seen. The sort of ‘damsel in distress’ and the woman that needs to be saved sometimes does not have the face of a woman of color.”

But Davis does see a path forward: empathy and becoming educated on one another’s experiences.

“Know that my journey is different than your journey,” Davis implored. “But we're in it together. We really are.”

Despite being the first African-American to win the “Triple Crown of Acting” — a Tony, an Emmy and an Oscar — success didn’t come easy to the 53-year-old actress. Davis endured abject poverty as a child growing up in Central Falls, R.I., where she lived in a rat-infested home and didn’t always have enough food to eat.

But Davis told “Through Her Eyes” that one of the worst parts of poverty was the anonymity — and the feeling of being rejected by society.

“The one thing that I learned when I was poor — and this is something that people just need to say out loud — is that you are invisible,” she recalled. “Nobody sees you because you have access to nothing.”


And Davis is still living with the consequences of poverty. Several years ago, she was diagnosed with prediabetes — an experience she talks about in a new documentary called “A Touch of Sugar.” Although people of all socio-economic backgrounds are at risk, Davis points out that so-called food deserts — areas with no access to fresh, organic foods — make poorer communities especially susceptible to the disease.

“I've seen my whole family suffer from this disease. I saw a great aunt die from it, her legs amputated, and she lived for decades in a wheelchair,” Davis recalled. “She just sort of accepted her fate, as did my grandmother.”

“I said, am I just gonna have the same fate as my aunt, not knowing that there's a way to manage and live with the disease?”

Davis admitted that the diagnosis scared her — it meant she may not be around for her daughter, 8-year-old Genesis. Davis adopted Genesis with her husband in 2011, and says the biggest lesson she could impart to her daughter is love.

“I'm always gonna love her,” Davis said, “no matter who she is, no matter what she is. And I think that there's a lot that you can do in your life when you know that you're loved.”

Listen to the full episode on the “Through Her Eyes” podcast, and listen to past interviews with Queen Latifah, Aly Raisman, and more from season 1.