An Open Letter to the White Feminist Community:

April 17, 2008 - 152 Responses

I say this with the greatest respect for feminism and its importance in the world today, and as a (for the most part) white-identified feminist myself. Because feminism is not merely a movement about middle-class white women and their interests; it is about queer women and straight women and women of all colors. It is about making the world a better place for women and men alike, and it is a cause that should unite all of us.

Are we agreed on that? That’s basically the rhetoric of inclusion we like to think we espouse, right?

Good. Then please consider the following highly incomplete list:

Aaminah, Angry Black Bitch, Angry Black Woman, Annaham, Anxious Black Woman, Belledame, BlackAmazon, Bluealto, Brownblackandqueer, Brownfemipower, Cara, Cassandra, Danadocus, DeviousDiva, Elle, Firefly, Florence Craye, Holly, Ilyka, Karnythia, Lisa Harney, Luci-Kali, Lucy, Magniloquence, Naamen, Nubian, Rachel, Renee, Sadie, Sara no H., Sin Vergüenza, SlantTruth, Sokari, Sonia, Sudy, Sylvia/M, Vanessa, WOC PhD

Note that this is a short list because I’m a relatively new reader of the blogging community, though I’ve been a feminist for quite a long while. So yes, it’s short — it’s incomplete — but already far, far too long. How many dedicated women of color, who spend their lives fighting oppression, have to scream at us, or commit blogicide, or throw up their hands in disgust and abandon the label “feminist” before we actually take their comments at face value and LISTEN? In each of these posts WoC bloggers or allies express outrage at being hurt, slighted, ignored, disgusted, or silenced by the behavior of mainstream white feminists. Yet we white feminists keep claiming our innocence. We insist we’ve done nothing wrong, that Marcotte is being wrongly victimized, that Seal Press shouldn’t be blamed, that Full Frontal Feminism helps advance the cause for us all, that we should excuse Steinem and Ferraro for their racist remarks because they’re just old school, and so on and so forth all the way back to the first wave.

Women of color have spoken up again and again. But just look at some remarks that have been made by us in response on various feminist blogs:

“And if you’d rather fight fellow feminists, than fight Jerry Falwell, then you have your head stuck in the sand… I’d rather focus on the REAL oppressors than battle people whom I’d LIKE to consider ‘allies.’”

“It’s [referring to criticism by WoC] a little scary; a little Stalinistic.”

““Amanda, like other prominent white feminists, seems caught between a rock and a hard place: if she doesn’t write about issues like immigration, she’s ignoring an issue of vital concern to women of color. When she does produce an intelligent, provocative piece on the subject, she’s accused of having stolen the idea.”

“As a woman, I don’t find the cover [of FFF] objectionable, nor do I find it offensive that it’s a white torso… There are far worse things to fret over. And if the book is lacking substance or doesn’t eddify you, write your own.

“Contrary to some modern racist opinion, white perspective does not equal racist perspective.”

“So, does this mean that, since the discourse on immigration and feminism seems to be owned by Brownfemipower, nobody else can talk about it on her/ his blog? Or should the discourse on immigration and feminism perhaps be owned by immigrant women?”

“You all are correct that many white feminists ignore the concerns of women of color, but when you do your level best to eliminate any and all white allies, you lose your moral ground for whining about their absence. “

“what an incredible mean bunch of hyenas” [referring to WoC bloggers]

“Instead of whining to Seal Press and playing the damned race card, these WOC writers should either start their own publishing house, or do what the rest of us do and get their asses to work finding someone to publish them.”

Not so many months ago I commented on the Angry Black Woman’s blog in a thread on feminism, expressing shock and dismay at the anger directed at white feminists. In my naivete I assumed that feminism = a struggle against ALL oppression, a movement inclusive of women of color. I could not understand why anybody would reject it.

Good lord was I wrong.

The comments above are taken out of context but if you follow the links you will find conversations in which the concerns of WoC are trivialized and dismissed, in which WoC are attacked, in which major white feminist writers and voices basically join up to turn their collective backs on the concerns of women of color (often while claiming to do exactly the opposite). Then of course, many of the more “level-headed” among us like to take this tack:

WE ARE ALL WOMEN FIRST and every one of these women who call themselves feminists seems to have forgotten that infighting doesn’t further the feminist cause.

This kind of divisiveness hurts us. And it drives away young women of all races and classes who feel that such discussions, with nothing more, serve little useful purpose.

This may sound reasonable on the surface, especially with comments like “women of all races and classes” giving a nod to the idea of inclusion, but what it really amounts to is, “When you complain about racism in the feminist community, you cause divisions. So shut up and don’t complain.” We wrap ourselves up in all these cries for unity as if the division itself were the root of the problem. As if the problem is women of color having a problem with racism, and *not* the racism itself. It’s a way to sideline the issue of racism and shift the blame to the WoC who point it out. That way we never have to address it and actually fix it.

But here’s the biggest thing about these arguments. The icing-on-the-cake, the piece-de-resistance, the ginormous-cherry-on-the-sundae-of-hypocrisy. If the issues concerned a bunch of women and men in arguing over whether something were sexist or not, there would be no question of who was right. When you have a group of men ganging up and claiming that the women in the room are being oversensitive and irrational and seeing sexism where there is none (we have all been in this room before, I think), we all know the men are full of bullshit. It is an egregious show of male privilege.

So when all the WoC in the blogosphere are telling us that there are problems in feminism…

Um… yeah.

Now I’m relatively new to the feminist blogosphere. I wasn’t reading any blogs at the time of the FFF blowout. But looking over some of them following the recent Seal Press and BFP stuff, I saw the same kinds of things happening – white feminists reacting defensively to criticism, women of color being silenced or ignored or attacked.

There’s a sick irony in the whole Marcotte case, too. Because really, the whole point of her article is to help women of color, right? It’s to address issues pertaining to women of color and give them some kind of representation, some kind of voice? But as countless bloggers and commenters have pointed out, Marcotte has failed to actually acknowledge the voices already in existence. Most tragic of all, the whole controversy has lead one of the most prominent of those voices to vanish into silence. And THIS is how we help WoC? And to add insult to injury, we rush to the white feminist’s defense and accuse the WoC of being divisive?

No wonder so many WoC are through with us.

I’m sick of this cycle. I’m sick of seeing white women dismiss the concerns of women of color. I’m sick of our self-righteous claims of inclusivity while we marginalize the voices of women of color when they speak out. We marginalize them if they do it with anger, or do it in the wrong way, or do it while disagreeing with us, or #%$@cking do it at all. I’m sick of us exercising our white privilege and then accusing our sisters of color of causing divisiveness when they refuse to submit to our racism. Mostly it’s unintentional racism by white women who want to believe that we are saving the world. But we are not. We’re oppressing and silencing the very people we talk so eloquently about being allies with. I’m sick of seeing so many of us refuse to take a stand for fear of alienating our white sisters.

We are the enemy and the oppressors of WoC. Do you realize how wrong, how screwed up, and how profoundly anti-feminist that is?

So please.

Please, please, please,
please, please, please,
please, please, please,
please, please, please,
, please, please,
please, please, please,
please, please, please,
, please, please,
please, please, please,
, please, please,
please, please, please,
please, please, please,

Please, my fellow white feminists,

Quit goddamn fucking up.


EDIT: Please note that I do not speak for the people whose work is linked above. I speak as just one feminist disgusted with the white feminist community. I have linked to others’ words because they are powerful — more powerful than mine. The blogs of woc have been out there forever, a huge variety of voices and experiences; we just haven’t been listening. So go check these people out.  Also, see the update page for the sh*tstorm of events that followed.