Racism in the Feminist Movement
By Suzanne Reisman on August 21, 2008
BlogHer Original Post
Last week, I asked people to point out great feminist writing on the internet. Liz Henry suggested two posts that address racism and feminism, On Feminism, Part 1 and On Feminism, Part 2 by The Angry Black Woman. If they haven't already done so, I hope that anyone who believes that feminism should be a movement in which all women are equal will read all the posts excerpted below in their entirety.
Regarding several racist incidents by prominent white feminists, Angry Black Woman notes:
...it seems like what white feminists want is to become white men. They want what white men have going on, up to and including privilege and the ability to ignore voices of color unless it suits them.
Some of you may feel this is an unfair generalization. And others of you are sitting at your computers right now shaking your head and saying, “Nuh uh, not me!” Maybe so not you, and maybe so I am being harsh. But you take a look around the blogs right now and tell me that the view from where I’m standing doesn’t bear that out. And take a good look at yourselves. Think about if you can honestly say that you’ve considered your own privilege when dealing with the issues of feminism and race lately. Some of you have, of course, but some of you absolutely have not.
I’m tired of having to decide if I want the label of “Feminist”, not because someone might think I hate men, but because someone might wonder why I would want to associate myself with people who think my voice and experiences are less important because I refuse to put my gender ahead of my race.
In her post about the lack integration in Women's Studies curricula, Brownfemipower at La Chola writes:
It’s time for all of us, but in particular, women’s studies departments, to stop pretending that these interactions between women of color and white women never happened or don’t count. It’s time to stop pretending that the voices of white women speaking about women of color is sufficient enough of a history for women of color. It’s time to stop pretending that universal agreement between women of color is necessary before white people can interact with an engage with a particular critique of women of color. It’s time to stop pretending that any critique by women of color exists within a timeless vacuum that demonstrates some ancient racism of a feminism from time past.
I’d like to know why “the personal is political” is a mantra pushed on us–and yet our (woc’s) personal is expected to be the same personal as white feminists.
And I’d like to know all this as a person who credits women’s studies as having changed my life.
Anxious Black Woman at Diary of an Anxious Black Woman looks at how racism affects the feminist movement from another perspective:
I do not now nor will ever believe that feminism belongs to white women. They did not start it, and even though it looks like they're "running things," that's simply not true. It's because I'm fully aware of the women's rights movement history why I will not disavow feminism, I will not find alternative "names" like womanist to define me, nor will I decide - whenever white feminists or Global North feminists (of which I'm one of them) or any other privileged woman does something heinous to another woman - to leave feminist movements. Instead, I will declare the guilty party to NOT be the feminist one, I will ask those culprits to "please turn in their membership card," and to get in line and treat each other with respect and equality, or get the hell out and don't let the door hit you.... We are the feminist movement, and it exists in the blogosphere, in the streets, in households, in community shelters, in classrooms, and everywhere there is a woman fighting for her right to just be.
I'm a white feminist. I grew up comfortably in a middle class household in an upper middle class community. I have an enormous amount of privilege in my life, but I became a feminist when I was young because I wanted to change society. I wanted to live in a world in which people could just be themselves; a world where no one was forced into a role based on the body in which he or she resided. My idealistic view was that this was exactly what feminism was about - removing stereotypical barriers of all kinds. When this is not the case - when feminism is reinforcing biases against others - I believe that feminism as a movement fails. Obviously, there are already individuals working hard to correct this ongoing wrong. But, if other feminists are not doing our part to "fix this mess," as Angry Black Woman describes it, what are we doing? Speaking for myself, I have never really written about racism and feminism before because I don't know how honestly I've dealt with my privileged status and how it affects my views and actions. At the same time, I never want to speak for people with different backgrounds than my own. As Anxious Black Woman says, it's time to stop pretending.
Suzanne also blogs about her life at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants She is currently seeking submissions for an anthology of women's stories about menstruation at Congratulations, You're a Woman Now.
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