Three suggestions re feminism and white privilege (1)
zohra // 30 April 2008
1. Try not to patronize/fetish women of colour*:
Black** feminists aren’t right about racism because they’re black, but because they make a strong case (when we do). Otherwise, it’s like saying that women are right about sexism because they’re women (which is exactly what dearwhitefeminists does say unfortunately – in what is generally quite an interesting post). It’s not my social identity that proves me correct, but my logic, rationale, analysis, evidence, conceptual clarity etc. It’s not like there aren’t women of colour who:
- Get it wrong about racism sometimes
- Disagree with other women of colour (uh oh, they’re both black women – which one’s right?!)
Just as there are plenty of women who support patriarchy and plenty of feminists that disagree with each other on all manner of topics, including feminism. Acknowledging lived experience and access to a non-privileged perspective is one thing; treating it as Truth that you can’t or shouldn’t engage with simply because of my ethnicity still makes your engagement with me about my race. Solidarity should include respect – show me some by keeping your brain turned on.
2. Share or surrender the platform:
Really welcome Feministing’s thoughtful acknowledgement of their power. Think their idea to more actively try to link to black women’s sites (not their words) as a way to devolve some of this power (which they frame as privilege) is helpful.
Would like to point out that linking to other sites is a paternal way of sharing power, it’s not a true share-out. It also doesn’t disrupt the privilege dynamic – it’s up to Feministing to say, ‘well done, we like you, here’s a treat’. While the information available to Feministing and its readers will hopefully change through the process, which is good, the underlying power relationship won’t (on its own). If Feministing recognizes itself as privileged already, what can it propose to help ensure this privilege isn’t perpetuated as it makes its decisions about links and who to ally with or promote? Perhaps their upcoming community site offers prospects as they suggest? Perhaps information on how to pitch to the wicked Voices of series and how decisions will be made would help?
This relates to the question on ‘how do we get more ethnic minority women*** to attend our events?’ Short answer? Start showing up and supporting ours. Longer answer: get over the idea that having one woman of colour on a panel to ‘represent’ ‘diversity’ is going to cut it. (I’m assuming here that at least one woman of colour was already secured as a speaker; if all the speakers are white women, well we’re in a whole other level of conversation.) Try something novel like having the whole panel be black women at a ‘mainstream’ (read white dominant) event – and have them talk about something other than their race.
3. Do your homework:
Unlearning is an important part of the political change process. And click moments are both unpredictable and awesome. I’m glad Laura chose to post her brave piece on how she is attempting to confront some of her privilege. What I appreciate less is the general call out to inform her (in her words, ‘please let me know what is appropriate’) ‘how to refer to people who aren’t white’. I read that as ‘can you tell me what I should call you people?’
I’ve been trying to decide whether I would find it as problematic if the same kind of request was made so publicly about another social group. I’ve decided I think ‘yes’. Which is unfortunate as Laura specifically wrote that she was worried about causing offense. D’oh.
Obviously it’s fair enough to recognize that one is ignorant about a particular thing, in danger of mis-stepping as a result and to appeal for help. But there are levels of ignorance. I would categorize a question about how to refer to a social group that one is going to write a blog post about as a 101 question. (As in, beginners’ class.) I would encourage someone in this position to try any of the following for this level of question:
- Google it
- Ask a friend
- Read a book
- Attend a workshop
It should not be up to women of colour to do white women’s work for them; it is not fair to ask us to take on the burden of your education. Make the effort to search for the answers as you would with anything else you had 101 questions about.
That said, Laura’s particular point was around ‘white guilt dilemma’, and she does comfortably use ‘women of colour’ in her second last paragraph. So perhaps she was just being cautious? Certainly labels are tricky, and there’s that pesky problem about how not everyone agrees on which labels to use (e.g. I’m not into BME**** at all).
So here are three reading suggestions I’d like to make to anyone looking for something to read on race and feminism as a bow to Laura’s decision to take a risk:
- Pretty much anything by bell hooks; perhaps ‘Ain’t I a woman: Black women and feminism’ to begin with
- A whole lot of the analysis on Colours of Resistance, and this for a start because it’s funny
- And for anyone still under the impression that anti-racism has nothing to do with feminism, this or this (pdf) or this or this (skipping to the article by Kim McKee about how the abolition movement started the women’s suffrage movement in the UK) (pdf) or this (same thing, but for the US with some more little known facts about the history of feminism)
(What a cheat! That’s really seven reading suggestions, not three, and one of them is my own work!)
(1) Written as a woman of colour speaking to a white woman
*I’m from Toronto and identify as a ‘woman of colour’ in my activist circles there
**I live in London and identify as a ‘black’ woman in my political circles here
***I work in the UK and identify as an ‘ethnic minority woman’ in my job and advocacy work
****BME is short for black and minority ethnic, which lots of anti-racist groups use in the UK, but which is grammatically nonsensical. Variations include BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) and BMER (black, minority ethnic and refugee). A full explanation on all of this is possible but besides the point for this post, so apologies to the anoraks, but I leave the **** here