White Feminists: It’s Time to Put Up Or Shut Up on Race
Listen up, white feminists.
We have a problem. I’m including myself because none of us are immune from this problem. We all fuck up. And you can say “fucking up is natural,” and that’s true, but it’s time for us to start identifying our fuck ups, and not just learning from them, but acknowledging the hurt they cause other people.
We need to acknowledge that we cannot know what it’s like to be an oppressed racial minority. Cannot. The end. Period. We don’t know because we’re queer, because we’re disabled, because we’re Jewish, because we were the nerdy kid in school. These things may have hurt us severely, but we need to stop playing Oppression Olympics and acknowledge that when we’re talking about race we Do. Not. Know. No more metaphors.
We need to accept that when a person of color tells us we’ve fucked up, the answer is not to get defensive. When we get that instinct to say “geez, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way at all,” it’s time to stop right now. It doesn’t matter how you meant it. It really doesn’t. Someone doesn’t have to have racism in their heart to do something racist. And doing something racist doesn’t make you an evil person who can never do good again, should never be an activist, should run off and hide in a hole somewhere. It means you did something hurtful, you made a big mistake, and you need to own that mistake. You need to say “I’m sorry.” Full stop. I’m sorry. And if the person who called you out is generous enough to take time to explain what you did wrong, you need to have a seat and listen.
I’ve fucked this up plenty of times in my own life. I’ve used social justice as a shield, to show how liberal and progressive I am. I couldn’t possibly be a racist, right?
It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter, because all of us who couldn’t possibly be racist are doing racist things, and we need to cut it out.
We need to acknowledge that being a POC is not the only identity someone has. POC disagree with each other, and there’s not always one big Anti-Racist Answer. Maybe that’s hard to sort through. Well, life is hard. It’s not our job, as white people, to show up with “the answer.” Again, have a seat.
We need to acknowledge that a WOC balances the identities of “woman” and “of color,” along with many other identities. It is never okay to tell someone to set aside race while we focus on gender or feminism for a while. Gender is informed by race. Feminism had better fucking include anti-racism or this ship is sunk, let’s all go home. By the way, this isn’t always blatant and obvious. It happens when a POC raises what seems like a minor point in the language of a document, and a white leader in the group says you know, we’re really voting on the main resolution right now. It happens when a group of mostly white feminists suggests that one of their POC members be in charge of “dealing” with a race issue. Don’t tolerate this bullshit.
We need to acknowledge that any movement must address the needs of its most marginalized members, or any cries of elitism are absolutely true. We need to go beyond token efforts to include POC, working class people, disabled people, immigrants, and others in our feminist movements, and when we bring marginalized voices to the table, we need to listen. We need to accept that maybe the thing we’ve been fighting for our whole lives isn’t as important as another thing that is hurting someone else. We need to pay attention to books written by marginalized people that aren’t part of the “canon,” and listen to their priorities. We need to focus on prison reform, on violence against transgender sex workers of color, on what’s happening in immigration detention facilities, on the continued genocide against indigenous people in the US and all over the world.
I believe that feminism is viable, and will kick some serious ass if we stop being idiots about race and other issues. I’m launching QueerFeminism.com at the start of 2012 to focus on how to rescue this movement and redefine feminism as “radical opposition to patriarchy,” a definition that explicitly incorporates the horrors of racism and colonization. I hope some of you will join me in that effort.
In the meantime, if you do nothing else today, white feminists, read this article by Flavia Dzodan: My Feminism Will Be Intersectional or It Will Be Bullshit.
Posted on December 2, 2011, in activism, feminism, movement building, privilege, race and tagged favorite posts, feminism, feminism and race, feminists of color, racism, racism and feminism, racism at slutwalk, white feminism. Bookmark the permalink. 186 Comments.