White Feminism™ needs to talk about race.
I’ve written about White Feminism™ before but as a reminder, it is the specific kind of feminism that solely focuses on the struggles and fights of white women and usually centers our narratives. Being white and a feminist doesn’t automatically mean you are a White Feminist™ but it’s really important that those whose identities do cross between white and feminist (including me) be intentionally intersectional and also aware of the ways we present narratives.
White Feminists seem to really have a hard time first acknowledging racism in relation to gender and feminism and second really talking about these issues in substantial ways. Mainstream feminism seems to have no problem whitewashing but that should not be the case. It’s so important that these conversations are had in clear cut ways because white America is very good at avoiding responsibility for its racism and when we separate race from gender or anything like that, we alienate and ignore the people who sit at the intersections of those identities.
A part of this conversation is really digging in deep into our whiteness and all the baggage, power, and privilege that comes with it. Black people and other people of color are not responsible for our feelings regarding racism, nor should they be expected to. And there are several ways in which to confront racism as white people without bringing white tears to the table or saying that “we’re all Africans” (which only alienates black women and completely erases intersectionality among other things). Mamta Motwani Accapadi wrote an article titled “When White Women Cry: How White Women’s Tears Oppress Women of Color” that really digs into race, gender, and privilege.
With this conservation, it’s important to realize that feminism isn’t a white person thing nor has it been. Many women of color have and continue to be large parts of the feminist movement plus working on racial justice and working on intersectional issues. Black Lives Matter was started by three black women (Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi) after the acquittal of George Zimmerman. Women of color have long played a role in feminist history and that should not be ignored.
There are women like Shirley Chisolm, the first black congresswomen and the first major party black candidate to run for president; Septima Poinsette Clark, an educator and civil rights activist; Mary Church Terrell, a women’s suffrage activist, journalist, and one of the first African American women to be awarded a college degree. There are more women like Yuri Kochiyama, an Asian American activist who has worked on civil rights; Dolores Huerta, a labor leader, co-founder of the United Farm Workers, and feminist/immigration activist; Shaista Patel, a Muslim feminist who has done work in building solidarity between Muslims, other racialized people, and the Indigenous peoples of Canada. And the list could literally go on because feminism is not a white or western phenomena.
Feminism, at least in the US, has been frequently been portrayed as a white woman experience but the reality is that women of color have long been a part of feminist history, as they rightly should. Feminism needs to be intersectional and inclusive of all the women and needs to start talking about race and racism. Just as I am here for my trans sisters in the struggle, I’m here for my sisters who are women/people of color. I’m here for my black trans sisters, my indigenous sisters, my sisters struggling to find work, and for all the women who experience different intersections. And mainstream feminism needs to start reflecting that.