I want to talk about racism and feminism. Oof, that sounds really big and it is, but well, it’s been in the air lately, like pollen. And like pollen, this discussion has the chance to make everyone extremely uncomfortable. However, when pollen finds its place, it leads to the creation of new fruit. This discussion has the chance to bear fruit (do I get a prize now for squeezing the most out of a metaphor?).
I attended a women and white privilege seminar recently. It was run by a very lovely woman who loved words like “healing” and “goddess.” After an introduction to privilege, we jumped into a conversation that focused specifically on white female privilege. As she was careful to point out, as women, we are an oppressed group, but as white people, we are the oppressors. This intersection between race and gender can be difficult to navigate, but navigate it we must.
The United States is quickly become a racial and ethnic plurality. In my neck of the woods, the nearest major city is not majority white. The future is here ““ we are living it. While the achievements of mainstream feminism cannot be discounted, the changing racial and ethnic landscape demands a similar shift in feminism. White women cannot continue to steer the mainstream feminist movement without regard for their sisters of color. (Please note that this discussion is related but tangential to a discussion of feminism and womanism. For more information on womanism, please read this piece from Renee Martin who runs Womanist Musings.)
Even without such a demographic shift, allowing middle class white women to dictate the direction and tempo of mainstream feminism is wholly unsustainable. It’s unsustainable not only because it ignores the poor women, women of color, queer women, trans women, disabled women, but because it fails to recognize the basic principle that we’re all bound together. I know that’s cheesy as fuck, but there is no way we live in nice, neat, self-contained bubbles.
It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up in mine, then let us work together.” (Australian Aboriginal Group) We cannot be free of the patriarchal oppression until all women are free.
And that’s why I am talking to us, white ladies. Did you read that wonderful piece by hepshiba at the dailykos? Please read it if you have not. In that piece, hepshiba discusses her work with feminist organizations led by white women which paid lip service to diversity, but ultimately, did nothing to stop racism and often chose to perpetuate it. These groups dedicated to serving women and the ideals of feminism failed women, all women. If we are to be feminists, we cannot perpetuate oppression towards our sisters of color.
Anti-racism must become a key tenet in feminism. We need to be comfortable being uncomfortable. We need to learn to shut up. We need to learn to step back. We need to accept that feminism, if it is to continue and be successful, must change in its goals, its organization, and its leadership. We must be flexible. We must make our spaces safe and welcoming, but we must not expect anyone to want to work with us and we absolutely cannot expect to be allowed in every space. Accessible, but with no expectations.
I’m not saying we should stop fighting the battles we’ve been fighting. Nor am I saying that we must charge in willy-nilly, with our White Savior cape and our vial of White Women’s Tears, with no knowledge of or respect towards the work that is being done by women of color in their communities. That’s just a whole different flavor of bullshit. What I am doing is calling for feminism to embrace anti-racism in words and in deeds. I am saying that we need to be active in the process of extending feminism beyond our perspective.