Feminism and race

// 28 April 2008

I have recently come to realise that I am woefully uninformed on issues of race, particularly as they intersect with feminism and women’s lives. I grew up in what was more or less a sea of white in Cambridgeshire, went to a school where you could count the number of Black pupils on one hand, and have always had that horrible white guilt dilemma thing about not knowing how to refer to people who aren’t white and being too worried about offending people to ask (Black children? children of Colour? of colour? – please let me know what is appropriate). Despite being involved in anti-BNP action on the ideological basis that I am against racism, discrimination and anti-immigrant sentiment, I almost never think about race because, well, I suppose in the little bubble of white privilege that is my daily life, I don’t need to.

I know that this has to change: if white people like me actually put in the effort to listen to people of colour then, at the very least, we would know how to refer to them, ffs. Maybe then we (I) could actually start confronting our (my) white privilege in order to help bring an end to racism, just as feminists want men to confront their privilege in order to help put an end to patriarchy.

But I will admit right now that it is literally only in the last few weeks, in light of the recent furore surrounding blackamazon, that I have begun to do this. To my shame, I have, up until now, scrolled past feminist blogs in blogrolls that seem to have a heavy focus on race, subconsciously thinking ‘That’s got nothing to do with me’.

Perhaps I’m just particularly bad, but I’d hazard a guess that I’m not the only white feminist that has done this. Like I said, this has got to change.

Latoya Peterson of Racialicious has a really useful introduction as to why issues of racism and sexism intersect and why feminism must also address race:

There seems to be a fundamental lack of understanding that other things inform the sexism that women experience. Some feminists can discuss women being viewed as weaker and less capable, never realizing that some of us are not ever allowed to hold that label. I’ve never been called “weaker” in my life. The stereotype that comes with black women is that we are supposed to be unbreakingly strong. Unceasingly capable. We are not supposed to be weak.

I have never been asked to fetch coffee. Never. Does that mean sexist shit doesn’t happen to me at work? No. But that sexism is informed by my race, so instead of assuming this cute young woman should sit prettily in the corner and make coffee, they assume that this name “Latoya Peterson” will manifest into some neck-swiveling straight from the ‘hood stereotype. The white girl being relegated to the coffee machine still has a job. My resume is in the recycle bin.

I’ll put my hand up now and say that this perspective had never occurred to me. And if I don’t start taking the perspectives of women of colour into account, what use is my feminism to women’s liberation? How can I claim to want to liberate ALL women if I subconsciously base my definition of women solely on my own experience and reality?

I can’t. So my journey to a place where I am no longer an ignorant white girl starts here. (Thanks for the link, Helen G!)

Comments From You

Samara // Posted 28 April 2008 at 5:02 pm

This reminds me of a conversation I once had with a boy at school when I was about fifteen. I’m Jewish, he was black, and I can’t remember how we got onto it, but we ended up just educating each other about the shit that we had to put up with that the other person probably would never have noticed because they didn’t directly suffer from it. He told me about being searched by the police for no apparent reason several times, being asked to leave shops and other public places for no apparent reason, that sort of thing. I told him about the random threatening phone calls and having other kids at school throw bacon at me. I think it made us both realise that whilst we were underprivileged in some ways we were vastly privileged in many others.

yeomanpip // Posted 28 April 2008 at 5:42 pm

All I can say is Well Done for your post.

You have taken a very big step.

As PortlyDyke said at Shakesville, “getting white people to talk about racism is like … getting white people to talk about racism “

Helen Gallagher // Posted 28 April 2008 at 6:22 pm

Interesting. Reena – only aisian female at work – never gets asked to get coffee. Me and the other young white female are generally expected to do the Nero run.

However basing stuff on your own perspective is human and normal! so long as you care about other people and do the research you shouldnt feel guilty. Confronting white privelege? I hate terms like this because it assumes a dogma and set of beliefs generally accepted as true without explaining why!

How can we convince/teach/learn if we talk in buzzwords?

Laura // Posted 28 April 2008 at 6:34 pm

Hi Helen,

I agree that basing things on your own perspective is normal, but it’s just not good enough when people are being oppressed and discriminated against. From a gender pov, how do we get men to change their attitudes towards women if they don’t try and see things from our perspective? Like white people, many men benefit from the status quo (though it isn’t necessarily good for them, men are also oppressed by the gender binary, so maybe that’s not such a good comparison), so they don’t need to challenge it. The desire to challenge it comes in when we realise how the status quo affects other people, and we can only do that 1) by listening to them and taking their perspective into account and 2) by recognising the way in which that status quo benefits us and how we help to perpetuate it.

So do you not agree that most of the things on the white privilege check list are generally true? I think they are, though it is focused on the US and things can be different here.

Helen Gallagher // Posted 28 April 2008 at 6:43 pm

Yeah, which is why you should totally put yourself in other people’s shoes and work from the basis of that assimilated information. I just think that feeling ignorant or guilty is completely counter productive. Every woman of every race has a different challenge to face perhaps ours is to learn and improve our behaviour without seeing our race as something to ‘confront’. I didn’t create our current society – but I can change it.

Chem_fem // Posted 28 April 2008 at 6:48 pm

I was interested in the issue of what to call people of each colour too as I get the impression that America where much of the more prominent feminist and race blogs are have different terminology and while I may take their lead if I comment on those sites, every British site I have visited tend to use black and asian.

This has really been something that I have tried to become more aware of since the F-word linked to that article about ways people avoid racism. I now try and reflect on how racism may have been in existence around me in the past without me noticing it and trying to notice racism around me now. I also try and take issue with racist comments made in my earshot now, although I’m not the most eloquent of people so I hope I’m not making things worse.

Annika // Posted 28 April 2008 at 7:27 pm

This is a great post, Laura.

I am mixed race, half black-jamaican and half white-british. I do not consider myself white or black, I am simply a mix of the two and thats that. I do find that sometimes in feminism, I cannot always relate to some people, because some things aren’t written with mixed race/black/asian groups in mind.`It doesn’t bother me, as there is alot more to me than the colour of my skin. I would like to read more posts where race is considered, because though we are women, we are a very diverse gender aswell, and must recognise all kinds of inequality and discrimination. Its hard enough that a woman is discriminated against because of her gender, but add race/religion/culture/disability/sexuality on there aswell. To understand discrimination, we have to understand all aspects of it. If we can do that, then we can truly understand feminism.

I was at FEM 08 on Saturday, and I had a really good time! What would have been nice would have been to see some more BME faces. Feminism is always associated with white middle class women, and thats not the case. Thats something we need to get away from. I’m not sure what is the best way to do this, but I’m certain that it needs to be done.

I’m glad you’ve written this post, I’m glad that you’ve acknowledged race and was even honest about it. I respect you hugely for that. Hopefully we can move forward from here.

Also, can we have a mixed race box on the monitoring form at next years FEM conference? Ta x

Latoya Peterson // Posted 28 April 2008 at 7:27 pm

Good post Laura.

I want to reinforce, again, that there is no harm in being ignorant of something. The harm comes in when you are unwilling to hear other view points or unwilling to educate yourself about anything that does not directly affect you. There are lots of things I am ignorant of – including trans issues and sexual orientation issues in general – so I tend to LISTEN more and try to understand a few different viewpoints before jumping in with an idea.


I am not surprised at all by your statement about coffee at work. Even when I was the only woman among four white men, no one ever expected me to do anything domestic – even though I was the assistant. It’s something with seeing people where you expect to see them. So, your Asian coworker may not ever be sent to fetch coffee, but she may be subject to men in your company hissing lewd things at her when she is alone with them because that is an Asian female stereotype. So these things are not a benefit – I never serve coffee, but people also don’t automatically see me fitting the role of “receptionist” because in their mind that equates to young, pretty white girl.

Also, if the word privlege bothers you so much, think of it this way – privelege is just shit you don’t have to think about. That’s all. And since you don’t have to think about it, you probably aren’t the best person to speak on that subject.

That’s all it is.

Laura // Posted 28 April 2008 at 8:17 pm

Thanks, Latoya :-)

Annika, I noticed the lack of BME faces at FEM08 too, what do you think can be done to spread the word? I see that BME is the term I should be using!

Helen // Posted 28 April 2008 at 8:20 pm

Ah see this is why I said in a previous post that I thought my opinion would be considered irrelevant in a debate of this kind. You’ve also totally misunderstood my point about the coffee – I was making the observation that your point was correct and the only Asian girl at our work never got sent for coffee. And yeah she does get lewd comments – but so do all the girls, from the same guy, and the company is considering getting rid of him, for that reason.

I’m sure disagreeing with you will get me abuse here but you saying that because I am not aware of my ‘privelege’ means i can’t talk about it is really offensive. Did you read the bit where I said I wanted to learn about other points of view? Is it just that I’d rather do it in a productive way as opposed to just begging forgiveness that annoys you?

Helen // Posted 28 April 2008 at 8:24 pm

And my point about using the term ‘white privelege’ was that I hate using buzz words and terms like that that have such connotations. Especially when it’s used in such a way that assumes everybody knows what it means and everyone agrees with said terminology. It’s exclusive and i hate concepts which shut others out.

Laura // Posted 28 April 2008 at 8:29 pm

Helen, you won’t get abuse for disagreeing with anyone here, as long as it’s done politely of course!

I see what you mean about using terms that people may not be familiar with, and you’re right that this can shut people out. I will put a link to the white privilege essay earlier on in the post when I first mention the term in order to make things clearer.

Annika // Posted 28 April 2008 at 8:29 pm

BME is just easier to say and covers most, in my opinion. Though, I am not sure what category I would fit into… Thats another discussion for another day.

I honestly don’t know how to spread the word. Seriously, I don’t know what to suggest. All I know is that we have to understand discrimination in all forms, before we do anything. Maybe this is a good opportunity to do some awareness raising around feminism and race/culture/religion/sexuality etc.

I’m sure if everybody puts their heads together we can all come up with something productive.

Other than that, I think it is great that you highlighted this anyway, and hopefully something will come of it. If I knew on Saturday that you were going to write this post, I would have sat with you in the University Arms and had a good chat with you about it. I’m not so good at this writing lark, and often struggle to get my point across in the way I intended.

Laura // Posted 28 April 2008 at 8:44 pm

I think that’s exactly the kind of thing a feminist conference should be covering, with more opportunity for a diverse range of women to get together and talk about these issues… but more on that later when we publish our write up!

Jender // Posted 28 April 2008 at 8:55 pm


I was just writing much the same thing in my FEM08 comment form, and thinking about writing up a post on the topic! I was also concerned about the way that issues like prostitution and lapdancing got to be at the plenary sessions while issues like poverty and race were largely relegated to the parallel ones (and thereby also treated as wholly separate).

Latoya Peterson // Posted 28 April 2008 at 10:31 pm

Helen –

Let me first say that I am disgusted my hypothetical posing was actually correct in the case of your office mate. Fucking hell.

Also, please note that in general, when people say they have a problem with the term white privilege, it means they have a problem swallowing the whole term. They tend to conflate it with a whole host of other privileges (like class privilege) that may or may not be true.

But like I said in the beginning, privilege in general just means all the stuff that doesn’t affect you, so no, you are not the best person to run around making definitive statments on things you don’t really know about.

Does that mean you can never discuss things outside of your own experience? No, and respectful questions are encouraged. But when people point out privilege, it is usually to discuss a blindspot that the speaker has. So a blanket statement like “I don’t understand why poor people spend all that money at check cashing places instead of just getting a checking account” reveals class privilege. They have never had to be in that position, so they don’t know why people *appear* to make these non sensical decisions. (When in reality – in the US, mind – there are all sorts of factors like bank fees, penalties, bankers hours, the chexsys systems which prohibits people from opening accounts for a variety of reasons.)

I don’t understand why people take the idea of privilege as such an affront. Everyone has privilege on some level or another. That’s just the way life is. And in general, when people with privilege are actively talking, they drown out the people without privilege who are trying to inform you of their actual problems.

I don’t know why you’d be assume that I’d be annoyed by anything that wasn’t begging for forgiveness. That wasn’t what I was talking about at all, and I really don’t give a fuck if people are falling all over the place to apologize if the behavior doesn’t change. If you want to be proactive about things, you would go into spaces where you can learn and not get defensive about a silly little word like privilege. Andrea Rubenstein’s blog, the Offical Shrub, is a good place to start as she has some of the best resources on privilege I have ever seen.

Also, a note on exclusionary language – I can understand your hesistation about conntations and all, but as a non-academic who spends a lot of time reading the work of academics, things like Wiki and Google and Dictionary.com have really levelled the playing field. If I go into an area in which I am not familiar – like trans issues – it is not their responsiblity to slow down the conversation to teach me. I can read, I can google, and eventually, I can be at the point where I can participate in a conversation without people yelling privilege at me. Because, if they are yelling privilege, it means that I am probably doing something privileged.

Hope that helps.

Jess // Posted 28 April 2008 at 10:50 pm

Yes, Jender, I noticed this too – and although I was quite restricted in the sessions I could make it to, everyone speaking on all the panels and at the sessions I attended was white. It did strike me as a bit weird that there was a main session set aside for anti-violence men put across their views, but no BME women in those slots.

I hesitate to criticise Kat and FEM 08, and do so in the context of knowing that there is more that I personally should be doing on this issue, particularly in encouraging more BME women to contribute to The F-Word. I don’t have any answers on how this is to be done, in the context of our model of relying on submissions.

I felt like the Million Women Rise march was the most diverse feminist event I’ve been to; and it demonstrated that feminism and women’s rights are not just white women’s concerns in this country. But other events, groups, etc – and the UK feminist blogosphere – tell a different story. I was left feeling like there was almost a whole other set of activism going on, and we’re not connecting up somehow, if that makes sense.

Jess // Posted 28 April 2008 at 11:02 pm

“And my point about using the term ‘white privelege’ was that I hate using buzz words and terms like that that have such connotations. Especially when it’s used in such a way that assumes everybody knows what it means and everyone agrees with said terminology. It’s exclusive and i hate concepts which shut others out.”

Well, with new concepts comes new terminology, Helen. I don’t think there’s any need to get on the defensive about this.

zohra // Posted 28 April 2008 at 11:43 pm

Hi all

Re the sessions at FEM: I spoke in one workshop (on ethnic minority women and poverty), and chaired another (on porn), and my colleague at Fawcett, a black woman, ran a workshop on ethnic minority women in public life. So there were a few of us (women of colour) on panels, etc.

Re terminology: BME suits some people, and not others. Generally BME is excepted in the anti-racism ‘sector’ in the UK, but I disagree with it (it doesn’t make grammatical sense for one thing). ‘Ethnic minority’ is always a safe bet (in the UK) and is technically correct (in terms of the law and policy in the UK), and ‘black’ is handy in activist/political circles, but harks back to the 70s so doesn’t make sense to people who don’t know that histroy. ‘Of colour’ is also handy in activist/political circles that don’t mind the North American influence.

Shea // Posted 29 April 2008 at 12:22 am

Great post Laura, the whole BFP and Blackamazon scandal has really opened my eyes with regards to privilege, although I am hesitant to regard it solely as “white”. I think alot of the vitriol levelled at “Privileged White Women” in general, has had less to do with the actions of a certain A.Marcotte and more to do with the politics of envy ( and totally obscured the relevant point about apropriation and the marginalisation of WoC bloggers and their work).

It seems sometimes that PWW are the last legitimate target for criticism on the grounds of race issues and yet are the focal point for criticism by the “backlash” (that is those who regard feminism as redundant, because equality has been supposedly been achieved), regardless of the class/gender/ethnicity/ religion arguments. A good example is a close friend of mine, who was recently lambasted at a seminar on race and feminism by the black speaker, as being totally ignorant of her “white privilege”. She is actually of Roma descent and her family (and her people) have suffered far more racism and discrimination from the general population and local authorities (a total of seventy eviction orders, in fact!) than I have as a WoC .

I do think that any discussion of race has to include those points or face being reductive and simplistic. (Especially in this country where class based discrimmination is far more of an issue than in the US, where the debate seems much more polarised.)

Actually, though I think that Helen is right about facing abuse for disagreeing with the central tenets of feminism and race discourse. I think it can sometimes be oppressive. I come from an academic background and I have been actively taught and encouraged to critically question and assess the assumptions put in front of me, no matter how awkward or uncomfortable. It isn’t that those assumptions are per se right or wrong, but that if they are valid they should stand up to scruntiny. I think it is far too often the case that the commenter gets attacked rather than the comments (although I am certainly guilty of this) and get pigeonholed as “racist” for simply disagreeing or questioning. All this does is to obfuscate the rationale of what is being said.

I do think alot of what is said about “white privilege” is a directed as explicit criticism (aggressively so) and I can see why that is offensive. Its hard to be criticised for something of which you are unaware, (and by seeking out sites like this one, you are actively seeking to inform yourself). I think alot of the dialogue surrounding race is inaquedate at best (and in agreement with Helen,it is exclusionary). “Women of Colour” to me is also an exclusive term. To say that white or dual heritage women aren’t WoC is offensive, are they devoid of colour then, and all the positive connotations? All we are really talking about here is a variation of melanin pigment, do we really have to create such a vast and artifical semantic gulf ?

I will stop ranting now. So much for trying to be concise………

John // Posted 29 April 2008 at 12:25 am

White is the colour of photocopier paper not that of the skin of most of the northern peoples. Is your skin really white, or is it like mine a pot-pourri of pinky, browny, blue?

When describing a skin colour “black” is only as much a slur upon a people as is “white”, and to say that some other people are “of colour” while we are not for being “white” indicates poor sight, a lack of vision. If we are not of colour are we colourless?

Physically, “white” is the presence of every colour, not the lack of any, and “black” is not a colour at all. It is the absence of light. So who are the “people of colour?”

Jennifer-Ruth // Posted 29 April 2008 at 9:04 am

Helen –

I don’t really get how “white privilige” is a buzz word. Everyone has privilige of some sort – male privilige, able-bodied privilige, mental health privilige, cis-gendered privilige….the list is massive. And having privilige isn’t something to feel guilty about because you didn’t notice it – that is how privilige *works*. You aren’t aware of it because it is making your life run more smoothly. You are only (mainly) aware of your lack of it, if you don’t have it. I am sure you can recognise this in male privilige.

I used to get very defensive too, about issues of race. I’m the whitest of white girls and I found the idea that I could be/say something racist horrible and frightening. *I* wasn’t racist – that was those other white people! It was actually learning about privilige that taught me to be able to step outside of my own experience and look at things from another perspective. Learning about privilige and what it means really, really opened my eyes…not just to issues of racism or sexism, but to all injustices based on arbitary factors. Most of all, it taught me when to listen and that it wasn’t always about *me*.

So, don’t discount it as a buzzword. Privilige permeates society at every level and I think if more people were aware of it we would all communicate better.

(I hope this didn’t come off as an attack – I really don’t mean it like that! I just believe that understanding privilige is very important. And I know what it is like to feel defensive about its implications.)

Laura // Posted 29 April 2008 at 9:18 am

Thanks for the clarification on terminology, zohra.

John, my understanding is that ‘people of colour’, along with White and Black, is a political concept rather than a description of skin colour. Though, as Shea points out below, it clearly has its limitations.

Helen // Posted 29 April 2008 at 9:33 am

didn’t think I was getting defensive Jess. I thought I was doing exactly what I said, in objecting to terms that exclude the vast majority from what should be an inclusive debate. One of the biggest barriers to studying feminist theory are the bollocks words that are only understood by other feminist theorists. And I kinda think it is our responsibility to ‘slow down’ so other people can understand it – while Michael Moore isn’t great, is emotive, propagandist and all the rest, cos he made his brand of politics accessible it reached more people.

Perhaps things like wiki have levelled the playing field for some people, but when i was studying feminist theory I was doing it in books and wasn’t aware of the tools you have mentioned. And I really really hated not being able to understand and improve my knowledge because I didn’t understand the ‘language’ of what felt like an elite feminist club. I learned, eventually, but if I hadn’t been personally interested I would have given up.

Latoya I was less defensive about the idea of white privelege than I was about feeling attacked; you did essentially say that what I was saying was uninformed and unimportant, rather than saying why. Did you read the previous post regarding Blackamazon? I said in that that I was not aware of the problems blackamazon said she had faced; but that as my male peers often said they were unaware of problems women faced in general, she could well be subject to pressures I was not aware of.

Jess // Posted 29 April 2008 at 10:51 am

“I do think alot of what is said about “white privilege” is a directed as explicit criticism (aggressively so) and I can see why that is offensive. Its hard to be criticised for something of which you are unaware, (and by seeking out sites like this one, you are actively seeking to inform yourself).”

Well, I think it’s only explicit criticism in the same way that as women feminists, we expect men to understand their male privilege. It is fundamentally their responsibility to do so.

I don’t see pointing out privilege as an attack (although I can see how it might come across as such, I think it’s important to understand that a defensive reaction is, indeed, part of the problem “oh, sexism, racism, etc is not about me! What are you saying?!” – Racialicious is brilliant at calling this out).

It is not fundamentally any individual’s fault what their background is; but I would say it is our fault if, presented with the tools, we fail to investigate and understand how this dynamic allows us to be blind to social injustice at large, and also how we might be contributing to it by floundering around. It’s obvious that in the case of this Amanda Marcotte book, this white privilege allowed not only the publishers, but the author and reviewers quoted on the cover who have spoken out about the issue, to totally bypass the racist imagery in the illustrations. That doesn’t mean that they would ascribe to the world view espoused by those images, but they just – as they said themselves – didn’t notice. That, to me, is why this talk of privilege – of all kinds – is so important. It’s also useful because there are concrete tools – the privilege lists we’ve linked to repeatedly are a case in point – which do not rely on any kind of special knowledge to understand.

This has very practical implications for how we interact with the people in our lives: personal, professional, activist, etc.

“One of the biggest barriers to studying feminist theory are the bollocks words that are only understood by other feminist theorists. And I kinda think it is our responsibility to ‘slow down’ so other people can understand it – while Michael Moore isn’t great, is emotive, propagandist and all the rest, cos he made his brand of politics accessible it reached more people.”

I absolutely agree with this, Helen. It’s not like I’ve ever actually studied feminist theory in a classroom myself. (Although I am – again, another kind of privilege – reasonably at ease with academic language from studying literature, and, therefore inevitably, post modernity, etc.)

Helen gallagher // Posted 29 April 2008 at 12:35 pm

I wasn’t objecting to her saying I had a particular kind of privelege; it was the “you aren’t completely savvy with all of this so shut up” attitude I was objecting to. And If ‘white privelege’ is used as an attack then it immediately alienates people, which I see as counter productive. Sometimes if you’re constantly putting people on the defensive instead of getting through to them, you need to wonder why.

Jennifer-Ruth // Posted 29 April 2008 at 1:34 pm

And If ‘white privelege’ is used as an attack then it immediately alienates people, which I see as counter productive. Sometimes if you’re constantly putting people on the defensive instead of getting through to them, you need to wonder why.

A privileged white person can often get upset when a person of colour calls them out on their privilege. But the *only* reason to get upset is because they don’t want to confront the fact that they are benefiting from racism, whether they like it or not. I don’t think a person of colour (or anyone who calls out any sort of privilege) should have take the softly-softly approach to not damage the poor white person’s feelings. The person of colour is the one that is suffering from lack of privilege!

To be honest, saying that calling out someones white privilege is alienating and counter-productive is basically the same as when men say regarding sexism “Why do you have to be so angry about it? You attract more flies with honey than vinegar!” – or in other words – “I refuse to listen to your grieviences or acknowledge your oppression unless you are nice to me and wrap it all up in cotton wool!”

Wanting someone to baby you in your understanding of racism and white privilege without any harsh feedback, and refusing to listen if you are not promised that anyone will call you out on your privilege…well, that is an expression of privilege in itself.

Helen // Posted 29 April 2008 at 4:03 pm

“But the *only* reason to get upset is because they don’t want to confront the fact that they are benefiting from racism, whether they like it or not.”

Whats the basis for that? The whole concept of entitlement is a foreign one to me. I’m happy to confront those areas where I may be benefiting from racism. But how on earth am i to do that when I ask what white privlege is (a concept I have never, ever heard of) and want it explained without malice and people go “oooh u don’t want to confront it! obviously the only reason it makes you uncomfortable is that you’re racist!” what the hell does that achieve?

However I have been researching various forms of entitlement and found this article very helpful:


It’s like when the gay mafia at my uni (i call them that because they were a vociferous minority not representing the views of all the homosexuals on campus) stuck up posters saying “Heterosexuality is not normal”. Ok I get the point. A small taste of what the LGBT community has to put up with all the time. Very clever. But *actually* what it did was get a largely neutral group of sporty christians really fucked off, because they felt attacked.

Sometimes it’s right to shove uncomfortable facts in people’s faces but sometimes it really wouldn’t kill you to help other people out.

Helen // Posted 29 April 2008 at 4:06 pm

And why is this ‘privelege’ i have through being born white something to ‘call me out’ on? I didn’t earn it, I didn’t ask for it, I didn’t joyously choose that privelege like a new handbag. Is it because I unconsciously utilise it?

Anne Onne // Posted 29 April 2008 at 4:13 pm

Shea, I agree wholeheartedly that the concept of ‘black’ and ‘white’ is simplistic, though I do prefer ‘of colour’ because it can apply to all sorts of different pigmentations. I’m also not sure quite when ‘white’ becomes ‘white’, rather than a POC (eg Latina) who happens to have less pigment in their skin. The terminology we have is a bit confusing, because being a POC isn’t always actually linked to your skin colour, especially if you’re mixed race, or just of a not very obviously-non caucasian descent (Ethnically Jewish people spring to mind). A lot of people get discriminated in very subtle ways, and the term ‘ethnic minority’ has slightly fewer drawbacks.

I’m not even sure where I would consider myself on the spectrum, actually. I always considered myself ‘white’. Coming from the continent, I am only a bit darker than what I suppose your average white person would be like. And more hirsute, but that comes with the melanin, I guess. When young, I used to get racial slurs (Though the kids didn’t even know what a ‘paki’ was, or where they came from), and even as an adult, I’m aware that I don’t fit with what people see as ‘white’. Most of my friends are Asian or Middle Eastern, and people tend to assume that I am, too, because I don’t physically look different to them. Because I considered myself white (and probably still basically do, though I hate categories), I quickly learned that I have privileges over those who are not, and why that needs to change. I accept wholeheartedly that I benefit in many ways, passively, from being ‘white’, ways I had neve considered or realised.

At the same time, I have learned a lot more about why I felt I never fitted in, or how people reacted to me in the past. It’s only been by examining racism in all its forms that I’ve realised it’s affected me, too, in a small way.

My always feeling like I didn’t fit what ‘white’ people were expected to look like really contributed to my awareness of race issues and how much privilege I have because I happen to look less obviously ‘different’ than the people I know and love who are different races. At the same time, I’m very aware that I’ll never be, never fit with the way people imagine a ‘white’ person to be like. I don’t really know what category I’d belong to, so I’d say non-aryan white person, but I can’t think of a way of classifying things. It’s hard to classify, because to some extent, when it comes to hate, it doesn’t matter how you see yourself, but how those that hate see you. This itself depends on the context, and it’s worryingly on the increase recently. Another thing that makes me wonder how we define racism and xenohpobia is the rise in anti-Polish senitment we’ve had in the UK recently (as if anti-Islamic sentiment and everything else isn’t bad enough!), against people who are also white. I guess my point is there is no winning in a racist, xenophobic system. The BNP has been trying to beguile people (even non-celt types!) into voting for them, but they will never accept anyone other than people exactly like them. It’s a bit like women co-opting into the patriarchy by tearing other women down. Sure, you get a couple of benefits, but in the end, you’re still not in the club.

That’s why it’s important for everyone, no matter where they stand on the spectrum, to confront their own privileges, and not accept racism. It affects us all, one way or another, and we need to look out for the most affected, first.

That’s enough self-indulgent rambling from me on that particular issue, but if anybody has any ideas on how to define things, I’m all ears.

In the end, I’d say I undoubtedly have white privilege, because there’s no denying I get less visible, serious hassle than people who are black, Asian or much more obviously foreign. At the same time, I don’t legally, culturally or even visibly fit quite in the anglo-saxon mould. Privilege isn’t something we either have or don’t – I think it’s something we have by degrees. There’s no easy way to deal with such a complicated issue, but I think the first step is realising that it’s very, very complex.

Helen, it’s true there should be spaces where those who want to learn, can, and others who will be willing to answer questions can. The feminism 101 blog is a good place, and if anyone knows any good anti-racism/ race- and gender-related foundation theory sites, we really need some reccommendations right now.

On the other hand, not every space for discourse should slow down to teach and explain every time that someone new comes on to the scene, or we’d never get around to discussing anything else! As a commenter, sometimes we all write something without thinking, or that we’re not very well informed on, and may get back a harsher reply than we’d like. We still do that even after we’ve cut our teeth in the arena (whether it be a bad day, lack of sleep, being drunk/high or whatever). It’s hard, but in the end, the people in these spaces get bombarded with trolls who also say really stupid things. It just makes people a little sick of dealing with people who don’t know the issue at hand, when they’d rather be discussing it with people who do know the theory.

Sometimes the best choice really is to read first, think hard, and decide whether to comment. When it’s a topic of privilege, it comes down to what you or I have to add, as a commenter. If you or I don’t know much about the issues at hand, we can choose to comment or not to comment. Once a comment is there, people have the right, and the responsibility to react to it. Nobody’s suggesting you write nothing if you feel that something needs to be said. But bear in mind that if you really have nothing relevant to add, or really don’t know anything about the issue, you’re more likely to say something that deserves getting a correction in response, or told to do some research. There’s no real way around it. In the end, experience and knowledge matter.

Jennifer-Ruth // Posted 29 April 2008 at 5:29 pm

Helen –

Entitlement and privilege are two different things. You asked if we unconciously benefit from privilege and the answer to that is yes, we do. All the time and every day. The problem is that privilege can only really be noticed when you *don’t* have it – think about the benefits afforded to men that you can see you don’t have simply because you are a woman.

For example – think about make-up. When you walk into Boots or wherever and look at the make-up counter, do you see any foundation that is in a skin tone other than white? Have a look next time and I bet you won’t see anything darker than “tan”. Sometimes, there is a special section for make-up for coloured skin. But that is only in the bigger stores – and even then, having a “special” section is basically highlighting the fact that being coloured is NOT the default. The default is white. Just like male and straight are often defaults. Coloured is treated as a the abberation.

Every time I walk into Boots to buy make-up, I never have to think about the colour of my skin. I am catered for. It isn’t an issue. I am the default. This is my *privilege*. But I bet that a coloured person has to think about it every single time the go out. And this is just in ONE area of life – something as trivial as make-up!

If you want to read more about white privilege, you could read this:


It has lots of examples of how white people benefit from the privilege of being white.

Laura // Posted 29 April 2008 at 5:29 pm

Um, gay mafia?! Seriously?! For running a clever campaign that was clever for precisely the reasons you object to – it made those that attack the LGBT activists (if not directly, then through their ideology) feel attacked and irritated. If they had any kind of ability to empathise, they would take the next step and realise that saying homosexuality is not normal is offensive and constitutes an attack on homosexuals. I really don’t think most het people would find their campaign offensive, only those who are closed minded – the very people they wanted to target. How exactly can you sit down and kindly explain to religious homophobes that their beliefs really aren’t very nice? “Helping them out” isn’t an option, and I think the campaign you describe is spot on.

Anne Onne // Posted 29 April 2008 at 6:01 pm

Helen, saying that the minority should educate those that oppress them heaps on even more responsibility

Privilege doesn’t mean you get life handed to you on a platter. It does mean that you probably worry about being assaulted less than people without that privilege (POC, LGBTQ people etc), that the judicial system will work in your favour, that you will get considered for a job, that people don’t look at you and cross the street in fear. If you really do want to learn about how life affects these people, go to their blogs, or go to educational resources and read.

You didn’t EARN privilege, or ask for it, but you DO benefit.Yes, you benefit unconsiously most of the time, without even realising other people don’t get the same perks. Kind of like men don’t worry about walking home alone, or worry much more about being falsely accused of rape than about their wives, siisters and daughters being raped. When people say you have privilege, they mean you get to see the workd from the point of view of someone who doesn’t have to deal with some of the crap that others must deal with. Hence, you don’t think about them. Those problems don’t seem as so much of an issue, because they don’t affect you. It’s human.

Up to a point, you can’t avoid this (you can’t change the way people beneficially treat you as a white person, such as quicker service, being taken more seriously etc), but you can listen to the experiences of those who don’t have that privilege, who aren’t normally listened to. That’s what dealing with your privilege is about. Listening, and learning, and not making it all about you or me, but about those who don’t normally get a voice.

It’s not particularly appropriate to a LGBTQ-friendly site to call a group of homosexual activists you object to the ‘gay mafia’. They don’t have the power to be any kind of mafia, or cause huge disruption or upset to Christians on campus. They don’t threaten to beat up Christians, don’t rape Christians to try and ‘turn them gay’, don’t picket their hoses, spray ‘STRAIGHT’ on their cars, threaten their family or in any way endanger them. This is what ‘Christians’ and anti-LGBTQ people do. Your gay mafia have had to put up with things like that. and all they have done in return is put up a couple of signs.

Those Christians may have been neutral, but they had privilege. They felt attacked because they are used to having their viewpoint listened to above all others. They get to give their own religious viewpoint on homosexuality, on the grounds of freedom of speech. But if someone else excersises freedom of speech? Saying something that the oppressor disagrees with?

Confronting privilege is realising that people are going to say things that make you uncomfortable. They won’t always reassure you that your lot, the oppressing group, are OK really, or that you are exempt from their criticism. They deal with a lot of crap on a daily basis, and you will have to prove, by what you say, and actions, that you really are more than just another oppressor, and that you really are thinking about their point of view.

There are places where advice and help and explanations are given willingly, and people who are willing to explain theory basics. However, no member of the oppresed group owes their oppressors tuition. Dealing with privilege means accepting that people aren’t always going to explain things for you.

It also means accepting that talking about privilege will make you defensive. It’s a normal, natrual reaction of someone who has privileged to feel a bit put out and unfairly treated if we don’t get every courtesy like we are used to, and if the conversation doesn’t revolve around us. The privileged are used to privilege, so when the oppressed make no effort to include us, have their own discussions or say something about the group to which we belong, we feel justifiably irritated. But the key to that is to try and look at it from their point of view. And to remind yourself what it feels like to be oppressed in your own life, when you are part of the oppressed.

Helen, you sound like you do want to learn, and I wish you luck with that. Truly. But nobody can do the work for you, you have to really want to change, to think about something from another’s point of view.

Helen // Posted 29 April 2008 at 6:07 pm

Oh no. They were the gay mafia because they only conducted their behaviour based on the opinions of about five persons of the LGBT student group, which many of my LGBT friends left because they felt their views were marginalised and belittled in the name of politics. The flip side to the coin was a group of Christian radicals who disrupted a blood drive because it had been instigated by the LGBT group.

That particular campaign exposed LGBT people who were not involved in the campaign to serious grief. While yes, it was the fault of the people dishing out the abuse my point is that actually, before, they hadn’t had any feelings about LGBT people, and this campaign influenced them to be prejudiced.

Helen // Posted 29 April 2008 at 6:13 pm

Shea: Thank you for explaining some of those concepts to me, especially so courteously. It is odd how prejudice against the Roma people has stayed so acceptable – even my father, who oddly has no prejudice against any other race, will call them pikeys and say his job would be a lot easier if they just ‘settled down’.

It’s weird as well how dual prejudice can be – my brother works with and socialises with Polish people, and can even speak a good amount of conversational Czech and Polish, which is a hell of a lot more than I can; but despite all that he will still categorically state that they are the reason he struggles to find work.

Helen // Posted 29 April 2008 at 6:31 pm

And you can definitely explain to such people why their views are offensive; not all religious people are the same and if they *are* homophobic and they are at all New Testament you can point out at the very least Jesus preached tolerance and mutual respect. By disrupting the blood drive a particular subset of extremism disrupted an event that was helping others and making the point about the prejudiced view that all homsexuals are diseased. Which has the knock on effect of creating sympathy for a particular cause.

Helen // Posted 29 April 2008 at 6:43 pm

Anne I already do see things from the other person’s point of view and I don’t see that I need to change. Assuming that because someone disagrees with you they are wrong is pretty awful. I referred to them as the Gay Mafia not because they happen to be gay but because of how that particular group of LGBT people behave. One particular girl at my uni didn’t want to come out because she didn’t want to have to conform to an artificial ‘standard’ of being LGBT and my friend Ian was made to feel uncomfortable for not agreeing with their views on activism. Not being against activism or apathetic, just having a different view from the vociferous minority.

I don’t want the conversation/world to revolve around me. I just want a part, like anyone else.

Christians get their own particular brand of prejudice, which I am not immune to, where people assume that all Christians are intolerant, prejudiced, homophobic, insular, traditional and ridiculous.

Are christians privileged? Perhaps more privileged than gay people

Helen // Posted 29 April 2008 at 6:50 pm

Jennifer: see this is what I mean; i do think about those things, I just didn’t know to class them as ‘white privelege’. For example, a trans friend of mine has an enormous collection of flower fairies. It’s fairly complete. He showed me a fairy called Starlight and suddenly realised it was the only black doll in the collection. That may seem like a trivial thing but then you think about the racial make-up of Britain and the dolls that are in toyshops which are still overwhelmingly white. Small problem for an adult but for a young black girl who has to play with a white dolly and internalise that version of beauty? Or that Vogue covers usually feature white models. The make-up example is also excellent.

Larla // Posted 29 April 2008 at 7:39 pm

Unfortunately, I empathise with this post. I’ve grown up in a rural town in Dorset and it’s never really occurred to me that it could have a heavy influence on the world, ridiculous as that sounds. It’s one of the many things I am now trying to educate myself in.

Anne Onne // Posted 29 April 2008 at 8:13 pm

It’s not because you disagree that I would think you are ‘wrong’, but because of what you say. Your words. that maybe Christians (Who have only had the last few hundreds of years with their religion as the default) just might be more privileged than LGBTQ people, who are still subject to abuse in the streets, to death threats, to being beaten up and killed in this country, NOW. Christians are not perhaps more privileged than the LGBTQ community, they are definitely so (there are many Christian LGBTQ people, but we’re probably talking about heterosexual ones that maintain gay sex is like, totally the biggest sin), because they don’t get the same rights as everyone else. Don’t get to marry who they want, in a church or not. Don’t get to do some jobs within the church, or get heavily criticised/ostracised when they do. They are looked down on by a lot of society, whereas Christians are held up as virtuous people who help others, whether this is the case or not. Naturally, not all Christians are bigoted and selfish, just out to justify cruelty with odd passages from good ol’ Paul or Genesis. But it’s up to those that aren’t to not let the intolerant ones speak for them. Christians are not hugely prejudiced against, because most people in the UK (and US where this is more of an issue) would identify as Christians. They are nowhere near a minority. They have many churches to their name, many schools in which they can send their kids if they wish.

You admit that privilege might exist, though you seem uncomfortable with the idea. That discomfort arises because for once, it’s not about you. I know, because I’m human, and I feel it too sometimes, especially when I’m reading some post by a WOC blogger who doesn’t mince words, and bluntly bashes people like me. It’s natural to feel attached when in part, you are being attacked. But this is what minorities put up with every day. Every time a POC, or LGBTQ person, or woman does something, people attribute it to their group. They judge them by stereotypes. When you have privilege, you ge the luxury of being judged for you, and being exempt from generalisations. So, when somebody says bad things about your group, you get offended because you want to specifically be exempt from that generalisation. Even if the one wrting the generalisation has no reason to assume you don’t fit the mould.

There has been plenty explained on the last few posts about racism and privilege, and several really good links reccomended. Expecting any more explanation than that kind of is monopolising the conversation.

I’ll be the first to agree that different types of activists have different levels of success, and that it’s perfectly fine to disagree with a group. But giving them the title of mafia, as if they are in a position of power over others, when they are still oppressed is counterproductive, and plays into hate.

Yes, an individual or group that is part of a minority can be nasty to someone who is in the privileged class. But on the whole, they lack the power to raise anything like the fear, intimidation or oppression they in turn face. I’m truly sorry for your friends, and it must be hard with a particularly intimidatory group for them, because as a member of a minority, people will judge you by the members of your group, and this will not help your friends. I do not know what else said group has done, or how they act towards others, so they could very well be intimidating, and I beleive all groups should be welcoming and willing to talk. I just think that ‘Mafia’ is an offensive term because it implies that they’re running the show, when in reality, they cannot and have not threatened people in any way as much as predominantly white Christians have threatened them.

But picketing a blood drive, if done peacefully is legit. Gay men and women who have slept with gay men are not allowed to (or supposed to) give blood, something which in this day and age of high rates of heterosexual sex leading to HIV, and good testing, is unecessary. I support blood donation, and give blood, but find this policy abhorrent.

Helen // Posted 29 April 2008 at 8:54 pm

This particular group was in a position of power over others. They were using social pressure and supposed superiority to dictate other people’s lives. The fact that these were other LGBT people doesn’t make it less important.

I never questioned the picket’s legitimacy. My point was that a positive and inclusive campaign that highlighted the prejudice gay people face even when trying to help others was more effective and helpful than a campaign that involved proving how clever they were and getting people’s backs up.

Christians do face prejudice, perhaps just a kind you haven’t experienced.

Legible Susan // Posted 29 April 2008 at 9:59 pm

I don’t know of an anti-racism 101 archive parallel to Finally Feminism 101, but some bloggers index their own relevant posts. For example, ABW at http://theangryblackwoman.wordpress.com/required-reading/ has links to post on white privilege and on male privilege, as well as some other useful reading on racism (mostly USA-based).

There’s also a Race Relations 101 series here: http://magniloquence.wordpress.com/category/race-relations-101/

Anne Onne // Posted 29 April 2008 at 10:14 pm

Perhaps your particular group were. But in the context of history and oppression, you’ll have to forgive me for being on their side. Historically, accusations of an uppity minority trying to wield power have usually been thrown around by oppressing groups who don’t like losing any of the power they actually hold. Hence all the trolls on feminist sites telling us that women are already equal, the law actually oppresses men, men are the real victims in rape trials, ect. Given this context, I think it essential to be very suspicious when anybody claims a group generally oppressed somehow wields enough power to oppress their oppressors. Since I have no knowledge of the actual group or what happened, I’ll tend to misbelieve that unless there is evidence.

Christians face prejudice, true. In other countries where they are a minority, definitely.

Here most of the prejudiced Christians would have to face comes from other Christians for not being the right denomination. We had a civil war about it, after all. Which is prejudice, but it’s mostly from other Christians. Other religions do not hold the power to systematically oppress Christians. Most government ministers are Christian.

Maybe I don’t notice because compared to all the persecution people face for not being Christian, Christians don’t get that much flack? Sure, they get some heat from atheists, which they more than reciprocate, and learning that your beliefs aren’t shared by everyone is a part of life. I’m interested as to what prejudices Christians face. I’m not being sarcastic, I really do think I might have missed something. I just doubt that any other religious group has enough power to threaten their personal freedoms. Mostly they just try to do that to others.

Anne Onne // Posted 29 April 2008 at 10:28 pm

And I find it impossible to believe a Christian group would have had absolutely no feelings about homoxesuality. If you are a member of a religion which deems homosexuality wrong, there is no middle way. Such a subject is pretty divisive in Christianity, so they can’t possibly have not cared either way about homosexuality. They might have been a little liberal, but still pretty bigoted, like most people. But either way, they must have had an opinion, a stereotype, an image.

They can either believe that homosexuality is wrong, in which case they would have had strong feelings against the LGBTQ group that no amount of nicety would have solved. No matter how polite you are, if someone think’s you’re the dregs, it won’t stop them from hating you. If they chose to believe that it is a personal choice, none of their business, or support LGBTQ rights, then nothing would cause them to believe that teh gheys are eeevil.

In short, the actions of one particular gropu won’t affect someone’s outlook on that type of person as a whole, unless they already want to believe they’re inferior. A truly feminist man won’t start calling women bitches or beating up the ones he doesn’t like if one woman does something bad to him. But a not-so feminist one might well use the slight of one person or group to justify oppressing the rest.

In short, the Christians

I’m probably missing half your comments because of dodgy internet, which doesn’t exactly help discussion clarity.

Helen // Posted 29 April 2008 at 11:07 pm

Thanks Susan – i’ll check those out tomorrow when i’m more awake :D

Helen // Posted 30 April 2008 at 9:12 am

Sorry it also doesn’t help that I’m writing while at work, because I’m rushing things and not explaining them properly. I went to a Christian college that encouraged team sports. It was more the idiots on the football team – as in 18 year old lads – that objected to the campaign. I just didn’t think that winding immature lads up was the way to go.

Whatever their personal feelings, the Christians at my college largely seemed to believe that being ‘tolerant’ and getting along with people was more important than immediately expressing those beliefs. (perhaps because they wanted to convert us? lol) The Christians who disrupted – disrupted rather than protested – the blood drive were a separate off campus group.

Helen // Posted 30 April 2008 at 9:57 am

Well for example, when I mentioned Christian and Gay, although it were partly due to my lack of clarification, most of you picked up on ‘Christian’ rather than ‘sporty’ and assumed the problem was religious homophobes. That’s the prejudice of stereotyping and assumption – when I first went to my Christian university I made assumptions about their behaviour.

You say they are all Christians – ‘just’ different demoninations. Islam is actually very similar to Christianity and it doesn’t stop clashes there. Being a Catholic is actually completely different to being a Protestant, or Presbyterian for example. They have different tenets of faith and face different prejudices. In Northern Ireland being a Catholic is still tantamount to being a second class citizen. People on both sides faced incredible violence ranging from prevention of going to church – effectively prevention of practicing their faith – to being murdered for no real reason. In the 70’s the Shankill Butchers pulled random Catholics – not part of the IRA or any kind of politics – off the street and brutally tortured and killed them. Both sides also used terrorist/guerilla tactics, which regardless of the havoc and pain they cause, are only really utilised by the powerless. There may be a uneasy truce at the moment but religion really has little to do with it – it was more ‘loyalists’ versus ‘nationalists’ and as more Protestants were ‘loyalists’ and vice versa what actually happened was that ordinary people who weren’t even interested bore the brunt. As an Irish Catholic working for the English government my father got a lot of abuse from others of his faith; he also got photographed by Special Branch for having the temerity to go into a pub that was largely Irish Catholic.

In Britain most of our ministers are Atheist or else keep their religion very very close to their chests; our last Prime Minister didn’t announce his conversion to Catholicism until out of office and from the point of view of his career he was probably correct to do so, because he would not have been taken seriously; he may even have been asked to leave office. There has never been a Catholic prime minister and you still cannot be monarch of England if you are Catholic (though that is less important nowadays obviously).

more later. i need to get some work done.

Catherine Redfern // Posted 30 April 2008 at 10:46 am

To come back to the subject of race and feminism, can anyone recommend any UK-based bloggers writing about race and feminists issues? I’d like to extend my reading! Thanks.

Anne Onne // Posted 30 April 2008 at 12:51 pm

Winding them up wasn’t particularly useful, true. But a group in a position of power gets wound up pretty easily, and someone who is oppressed has to tiptoe around at all times not to upset them, generally. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did get sick of that.

I picked up on ‘Christian’ rather than sporty, because I haven’t heard of people being homophobic because of being into sports, whereas many religious groups themselves openly preach homophobia.

Reacting excessively to a simple demonstration or a couple of placards happens because a nerve is touched, and that nerve is internalised homophobia from society and religion. It is impossible for them to react with homopobic behaviour to something, and for it to not be linked to their religion. That isn’t to say that all religion is by definition homophobic or problematic, but if they react in a homophobic way, what is it about if not what they’ve been taught?

Also, what the majority thinks is ‘tolerant’ isn’t necessarily really tolerant for the minority. People might think they’re being tolerant by letting someone exist near them, but if they still view those people as ‘them’, an other, someone to stay away from and be a little suspocious about, that affects the oppressed. Privilege makes someone think they’re being tolerant when they throw the odd bread crumb to someone who deserves to sit at the table with the rest, so to speak. Letting anybody not heterosexual walk around having come out is absolute minimum standard. It doesn’t mean that they are in reality integrated or treated as equal.

I know that there is a great deal of tension between Catholics and Protestants in some areas, and that their religious practices are very different. I was pointing out that it’s not Atheists or Muslims or Hindus etc doing the oppressing. But much of the time, other religions, or being liberal is framed as destroying Christianity, or trying to usurp it, or that people just aren’t Christian enough these days. I guess my criticism of Christianity comes accross as that of someone who has never met a Christian apart from the worst trolls, but that’s really not true. :D It’s just the trolls are so vociferous and corrosive, so dangerous, that I expect the rest of any religion to try and work against the extremists.

I wonder what percentage of our ministers are acually atheist, though, as opposed to the nebulous form of Protestantism that many people seem to belong to. And we do have ministers like Anne Widdecombe who are openly staunchly Catholic. The point isn’t exactly what denomination of Christianity most politicians are, or how strict they are, or how it relates to policy, but that there are not many notable politicians who are openly critical of Christianity, outright Atheists, or Muslim or Hindu etc.

Helen // Posted 30 April 2008 at 2:23 pm

Surely it is better though, for a Christian group *not* to get pissy about the LGBT group? And accept that as a good start, something to build upon? Because once said people actually meet and mix with LGBT people under the name of ‘tolerance’ they might start to question their possible belief that homosexuality is ‘evil’. I genuinely believe most people are good people and are capable of change.

Atheists do oppress christians though – like the homophobes assuming homosexuals are evil, liberals (including myself) have a terrible tendency to assume that Christians are women hating, regressive, Luddite and repressive. Yeah but what can any group do against a small minority that makes them look bad? The Protestants living in Belfast probably didn’t want the Shankill Butchers to skin that guy alive. They had no control over them, because they were harder, violent, and shouted louder. All they were able to do was disassociate themselves from them and set a different example of Protestantism for people to follow.

I dunno… i think in Britain religion in general seems to be a taboo subject, apart from Sharia law, and thats because it is seriously contrary to ours. Which a Muslim might well consider deeply offensive – but it isn’t so much repressed for the sake of Christians as it is for the sake of how law enforcement agencies, and perhaps, women.

Yeah I lived with some of them in Halls and I got pretty sick of tip-toeing round them as well. So maybe you have a point on that one. It’s entirely possible my dislike of this group was a bit personal – It didn’t affect me much, not being gay, but I seriously didn’t like how they treated people.

zohra // Posted 30 April 2008 at 2:45 pm

Catherine, perhaps this: /blog/2008/04/black_women_mps

The publication itself is here: http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/index.asp?PageID=628

Anne Onne // Posted 30 April 2008 at 3:21 pm

Meeting and mixing is definitely a good thing (isolation definitely breeds ignorance, which is not helpful, as we know), but it’s just that, a start. People are capable of change (I hope so, or I’d die of despair), but that change in part has to be mediated by a desire to do the right thing. Not everybody can change, because some people actively resist it. But some people will find interacting with a group makes them unable to hate them as much, and then they eventually see them as people, and support them. It’s one way to make change happen.

Not all liberals are atheist, though. Assumptions that Christians are a certain way are based on nothing less than scripture, doctrine and the behaviour of many who follow that religion. Yes, it means that tolerant Christians get tainted by association, and have to earn the trust and label of being tolerant by word and deed.

I don’t believe all people are necessarily good, or necessarily bad. They’re capable of both good and bad. But society shapes people to follow certain patterns. Without thinking, we are likely to blame women, LGBTQ people and POC, isolate them, and disadvantage them in a million different ways. The people who comment on Daily Mail articles ARE these normal people, just like all the people you or I meet in everyday life. They don’t always intend to hurt, or isolate (though boy do they get defensive if you point it out!), but they have internalised all the prejudices of society. And unless they work to question them, and subvert them, then they will reinforce those prejudices, even if in only small, inocuous-seeming ways. It’s like that old ‘all that evil needs to truimph is for good people to do nothing’ chestnut. Society gives us a lot of harmful messages, and if we don’t work against them, we start to accept them, to our own and other’s detriment.

I’m not saying your average Christian is worse than your average non-Christian. But they will be homophobic, luddite, misogynist and racist in various ways, not specifically because of their religion (though people use religion to preach those viewpoints), but because society as a whole is. They are one section of a society that is these things.

And to be honest, I really appreciate the secular state more and more, even as someone who identifies as a (albeit a very liberal ) Christian. It’s probably why I’m critical of Christians – I don’t want the ignorant ones, or the extremists to get away with it! A secular state protects people from having to follow anybody else’s religion, or having to take responsibility for someone else’s religious beliefs. It’s a good thing.

Sabre // Posted 10 October 2008 at 4:24 pm

I’ve come to read this post rather late but anyway…

Interesting article and even more interesting comments. I think that UK feminism has a long way to go concerning the intersection of race and gender. This is apparent because despite lots of lovely well-meaning people trying to recognise their privilege and discuss these issues, discussions are still lumped into one category of ‘race and gender’ without much delving deeper.

By delving deeper I mean exploring not just race and gender, but specific relationships between races, religions, ethnicities and gender. Ethnic minorities are not a homogenous lump, neither is ‘POC’ an accurate description for all those it’s usually applied to. As some pointed out, people come in all colours. A black person (i.e. of Afro-Caribbean descent) will face different discriminations to someone from the Asian sub-continent. Mixed race people face a different set of challenges. Muslims face a unique set of prejudices different to Hindu women, and they’re usually the same-ish colour. Women from far-eastern countries have to challenge different stereotypes to others. You get the point!

So it’s not just about white privilege. Within the POC/ethnic minority lump there are lots of different privileges. Black women and asian women are treated differently by society, and there are many hierarchies. And of course with race issues come class issues… it goes on.

The point I’m trying to make is that it’s rare to see feminist discussion over race and gender that goes beyond discussions of how to recognise privilege and actually engage with women of other races and look at the complex issues facing them. And to get women of different races to acknowledge that even though they are not the standard definition of white, they are probably still more privileged than another group.

I realise this is hard, and I have struggled a little to realise my racial privileges. I am asian and here are just some of my privileges:

1. People/society generally don’t think of me as a slut, or promiscuous. Apparently asian women are seen as more sexually virtuous.

2. Asian families are often seen as hard-working and keen on education. This attitude will have helped me do well at school, university and with getting a job.

3. I am medium-dark for an asian person. People, and especially those of my own ethnic background, may have treated me more nicely because of this. Even within the asian community lighter skin is seen as better, and fair-skinned asians are usually considered the most beautiful

4. People assume I can talk English. This sounds stupid I know, but a while ago I was having a conversation with my British Chinese friend at the bus stop when a man interrupted looking shocked and said ‘wow, a Chinese person who speaks English! That’s rare!’. Made me realise the prejudice that Chinese people face in London, some people assume they’re all immigrants or something. Of course if I had been wearing a head-scarf I might have generated the same assumption.

Anyway there are loads more. Of course I face a lot of prejudices and problems too, such as the difficulty of finding affordable skin make-up (yes it’s the more expensive brands that cater for darker skin tones), people assuming I’m quiet and meek (looks of surprise when I speak up in work meetings), and many more (can you tell I’m running out of steam?!)

I find it strange and maybe somewhat telling that this discussion about race privilege ended up as a discussion mainly about Christianity.

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