It's been about a week since I published my essay on my definition of "white feminism" and it's gotten a lot more traction than I expected. Generally, knowing that my writing is being seen by so many people is pretty cool; it means that my voice is being heard, and even if someone disagrees with me, they're discussing something that I thought was important to talk about in the first place. But there are drawbacks.
I'm very fucking annoyed that so many people seem to have gone out of their way to get defensive about the essay, but unfortunately I'm not surprised. I think, more than anything I'm irritated at this reaction because I tried very hard to be reasonable and clear in my assessment. I not only explicitly defined what I meant when I used the term, (and excluded those to whom it did not apply) but I also made sure to say that I was speaking only for myself, and describing the way that I used the term in feminist discourse as well as the way I had seen the term used.
And yet... I still have white women coming at me to comment that they feel "persecuted" by my words. That "white feminists" necessarily means" all white feminists" when even semantically that doesn't add up. People obliviously missing the point and ignoring that I am trying to talk about the way in which feminists in the mainstream seek to shut down discourse intraracially between WoC by demanding that their attention instead be directed towards coddling their feelings and sense of self.
What is so frustrating is that so many feminists (who are white!) were able to read my essay and immediately understand my point. I got so many tweets, comments and emails telling me that they understood how the expression was being used, and understood why the expression was necessary. They recognized the essay for what it was: a call-out of the racism within the mainstream (read: largely white) feminist movement.
I literally do not understand how people can be dense enough to claim they are not the problem, while doing exactly what I've said people who are the problem, do. The irony is just deliciously terrible. All of the polite requests to "please use different terminology because no one is going to understand that and I don't want to be lumped in with that group" still amount to demands that I reframe my narrative in way that makes you more comfortable. They are still privileging your feelings over my life. In other words, exactly what I said the problem was in the first place.
But here's the thing that these people really don't seem to understand; It is NOT MY JOB to make you comfortable. It is NOT MY JOB to make you feel better about your realization that you are complicit in a system that oppresses me. It is NOT MY JOB to coddle your feelings, or personally excuse you from culpability. My life is not centered on your perspective.
My job is to speak my truth; to frame my narrative and to talk about my experiences. My job is to share my stories and open up dialogue that lets other WoC feel comfortable to share theirs. My job is to foster a space that helps give a voice to women who look like me, but may not have the words to describe the discrimination they might feel. I don't really care that your feelings are hurt because you just realized you're actually a lot more racist than you were willing to admit to yourself.
Ironically, one of the best explanations of my essay came from a commenter. She summed up my viewpoint very succinctly:
"What people don't seem to get is that "White Feminism" is feminism for white people, and never exclusively feminism by white people. It's more about who it benefits exclusively than who is perpetuating it exclusively. It's really not as much of an accusation as people are making it out to be, more like a word for the institution we're trying to separate ourselves from." -TheWhistlingFish
Emphasis mine. The term "white feminism" is not an accusation and it never was. It is a descriptor for a complicated interconnected system that privileges a particular group, just like the word "patriarchy."It is a term that references a specific set of behaviors and practices. It speaks to a system of oppression, not any one individual. What I find most entertaining about the pushback is that it employs exactly the same kind of silencing and derailing tactics that men use when feminists dare to take on the patriarchy.
"Not all men harass women on the street!"
"Not all men think they're entitled to sex!"
"Not all men rape!"
"Not all men dismiss women's opinions!"
We've all been through it. And every time, what do we say?
It's not about you.
It's not about any individual man. It's about a system that privileges men over women, and provides them with unearned advantages at the expense of women. It's about a system that benefits men even though they may not be asking for those benefits. It's about a system whose default state is inequality.
Sound familiar? It might be because I ALREADY SAID THIS....
"White feminism is a set of beliefs that allows for the exclusion of issues that specifically affect women of colour. It is "one size-fits all" feminism, where middle class white women are the mould that others must fit. It is a method of practicing feminism, not an indictment of every individual white feminist, everywhere, always."
Then there are the people claiming that using a word that describes a racial identity inherently makes the term racist. That particular derail shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what racism actually is, and a disregard for the existence of the matrix of domination. I cannot oppress you when you have the power, and within the feminist movement, white women are the ones with the power. You're the ones who control the conversation on feminism. As I've been saying since long before I published that essay (and copy-pasting since the fuckery started):
"What white people always forget is that one of the privileges of whiteness is individuality. One white person's actions aren't seen as a reflection on all white people. Minorities don't have that luxury. That's why after 9/11, all ambiguously brown/Muslim/Arab people are considered terrorists, but no one pathologizes white male teenagers as school shooters. IT IS WITHIN THIS CONTEXT THAT WE AS PoC CAN MAKE GENERAL STATEMENTS ABOUT WHITE PEOPLE. It is because we know that no one is going to reflect one set of white people's bad behaviour onto all white people. It is because you are already given the benefit of the doubt. We don't need to give it to you as well."
In other words, the difference between general statements about white people and general statements about minorities is that general statements about white people do not change the way that world views white people as a group. While on the other hand, general statements about people of colour influence the way we interact with them for decades to come, and in some cases can influence racist policies that contribute to their further oppression. Because white people control the system, this is not something they ever have to worry about.
Coincidentally, #whitewomanprivilege trended on twitter earlier this week. Started by twitter user Auragasmic (who is white) the hashtag dealt with the many ways, big and small, that white privilege gives white women unfair advantages over women of colour, within and without the feminist movement.
And yet, women of colour were the ones bearing the brunt of the backlash online. If that's not white woman's privilege then I don't know what is. At the end of the day, I promised myself that I wouldn't be engaging with the willfully oblivious this year, and that includes racist white feminists who refuse to self-reflect and be better allies to the women of colour they claim to be in solidarity with. If you think that recognizing that not all women have the same struggles is a "distraction" from feminism, then you're not in solidarity with me. Talk done.