Requiring Accountability For Racism and White Supremacy Is Not "Bashing" White Feminists
In HuffPo UK, Adele Wilde-Blavatsky published a piece titled Stop Bashing White Women in the Name of Beyonce: We Need Unity Not Division. Yes, the piece is as offensive as the title and I’ve responded to some of it below, her portion in blockquote:
Over the last few days, I have read a few articles in the media rightly congratulating the brilliance of Beyonce’s new album but also bizarrely claiming it is somehow a slap in the face to ‘white feminism’. While it may be true that certain female writers or journalists (including women of colour) may have said things that challenge Beyonce’s stance and influence on certain women’s issues, such voices by no means speak for ‘all’ women, including white women. However, what is clear from these Beyonce articles is that the women writing them appear to claim that such voices do speak on behalf of white feminism (whatever that phrase means) and even more bizarrely all white women.
Beyoncé’s album is subversive to White feminism even if some individual White feminists like the album (versus their usual hit piece after hit piece about why Beyoncé and any other Black woman that is not bell hooks is not feminist). In my essay Beyoncé’s New Self-Titled Album Is A Manifesto of Black Womanhood and Freedom, I addressed how even as many people find interest and empowerment via Beyoncé’s album, the album speaks to very specific experiences of Black motherhood, Black womanhood, sexuality in the intersections, Black empowerment, Black feminism, and Black culture. Beyoncé is regularly posited as antithetical to feminism and it is primarily through a White supremacist lens by which this occurs, whether the writer is a White woman (usually) or a woman of colour. The reasons why this occurs speak to very specific sexual politics for Black women in America, in the past and today. Wilde-Blavatsky seeks to separate herself from White supremacy and posit the idea that only the writers who post these articles are the ones who feel this way about Beyoncé. This White woman is pulling the “not all White people" rebuttal as a way to separate herself from the impact of White supremacy on how Beyoncé is perceived and its impact on feminism itself.
When she states "whatever that phrase means" in reference to “White feminism” she is being purposely ahistorical and ignoring the impact of White supremacy even on “progressive” politics. There’s plenty of evidence that suggests that feminism has suffered from the same bigotry that non-progressive space/politics suffer from. When I (and others) half jokingly half seriously say phrases such as 1% feminism, White supremacist feminism, American exceptionalist feminism, gender essentialist feminism (i.e. TERFs), Mean Girls feminism, "Funny" feminism, Lean In feminism, Mrs. White feminism, Mistress Epps feminism and Mayonnaise feminism, I am speaking of very specific ways that White feminists regularly do the following: 1) ignore White privilege 2) demand silence from women of colour, especially Black women 3) refuse accountability for their racism and think it should be excused based on their gender 4) feel perfectly fine with two sets of standards for feminists to meet where theirs is a pulse and ours is being bell hooks 5) purposely target Black women and other women of colour with hit pieces that their White privilege guarantees major news placement while being as bigoted and as ahistorical as possible within the piece 6) claim any response to the piece is “bullying” by Black women and other women of colour 7) claim our responses impede their first Amendment rights or freedom of expression. Rejecting this is not us “bashing” White feminists or White women. This is rejecting the same racism that we deal with from Whites who do not claim feminism at all.
Yet since when did all white feminists (or women) claim that being married, a mother, sexually assertive etc was not acceptable or feminist? Certainly not any feminism that I, or many others, would sign up to. Mikki Kendall, who has also gained renown for the dreadful Twitter campaign #solidarityisforwhitewomen, is particularly guilty of such ‘white women bashing’. Kendall’s article about Beyonce’s album not only does all of the above but appears to also suggest that ‘white feminism’ is anti-man. Yeah, right.
This is incredibly disrespectful to Mikki’s (@Karnythia) powerful work on that hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen. The hashtag is “dreadful” yet other White women have appropriated it (common activity) and used it for their own influence while excluding its creator? Right. This hashtag globally exposed the impact of White supremacy on feminism and on individual women of colour’s lives. Naturally then it must be “dreadful” to her. Careful reading of Mikki’s article reveals that she did not suggest that White feminists are all anti-man, but often that feminism is positioned this way. Womanism—which is what I think of when I think of Beyoncé—allows the space for acknowledgement of parents, siblings, romantic partner(s) and self. Beyoncé does all of this in her song “Flawless.” She does not have to embrace individualism to have power. This is especially important for Black women. Further, a quick history lesson in feminism does reveal certain White wings of feminism that are in fact anti-man in addition to anti-intersectional, anti-sex work and anti-trans women. This wing does not define all feminism but to pretend as if White women have never posited some of the most bigoted nonsense to shape feminism and make it an exclusionary country club or a brand, not a space for liberation and change, is to just pretend that literally nothing has ever happened before her article was published.
As a white woman there can be no doubt that I do enjoy the privilege of being white and need to be aware of how that privilege operates and differentiates my experience from women of colour. However to ignore the many different intersections of ‘whiteness’ such as language, culture, class, education, sexuality, religion and so on is to literally ‘whitewash’ me and all other white women to a flesh colour. The irony of doing that is the whole point of post-colonial theory was to expose such non-inclusiveness and encourage people to recognise and celebrate their differences not to suggest white feminism is a ‘one size fits all’ for white women either.
"Intersections" of Whiteness do not exist. Intersections themselves do. White people, even if oppressed for other facets of their identity still have White privilege. Thus, calling class, education, sexual orientation, religion etc. intersections of Whiteness reveals that she does not understand the term “Whiteness" nor "intersectionality.” That is fine but the research should have been done before writing the piece. While “Whiteness” itself has transience, White supremacy and racism are global albeit nuanced realities. In the UK where this piece was published and in America where the piece was targeted, guess who has White privilege? Poor Whites. Gay Whites. Lesbian Whites. Theist Whites. Queer Whites. Trans Whites. Uneducated Whites. All Whites. Before Whites start using “intersectionality” as a term to describe a White person who has one area of oppression experienced, they should actually research Kimberlé Crenshaw’s and Patricia Hill Collins’ work on this. At its start, the experience of Black women oppressed for race, gender, class, sexual orientation and citizenship/nation were discussed. It most certainly was not about White women who might not have a degree or money and hate Beyoncé or Black women like her.
On a more serious note, to ‘blacken’ the name of the work and efforts of white women in the feminist movement and to portray them as the ‘enemy’ of women of colour is a great disservice not only to white women but also to women in general. In addition, it only serves to further divide women and empower patriarchy and misogyny.
Insult Mikki and then chose the term “blacken” to describe what she thinks is harming White women—them being held accountable for White supremacy in feminism? (I can’t help but think of Toni Morrison’s book Playing In The Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination right now.) I do not care about what she thinks is a “disservice” to White women. They’ve had centuries of “service.” It ends now. They can pick up the napkin. No one has to cater to White supremacy and most certainly feminists of colour do not. The idea that rejecting how White supremacy impacts feminism and that White women being held accountable for this “disservices all women” is anti-intersectional and laughable. While she is busy dodging responsibility like hot coals and pretending that somehow White privilege eclipses her experience or politics, Black women and other women of colour are busy trying to live. And our experience is simply not one solely defined by gender. She mentions patriarchy and misogyny yet does not seem to truly understand that how White women experience these is different from how Black women experience them.
This space of difference is what she wants silenced. She does this in the most reprehensible way: by misquoting Audre Lorde to support lack of accountability for White women. She adds in the quote "it is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” I find this especially reprehensible even though the entire piece is. She is no different from conservatives who misquote (via decontextualization) and meme Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. while trying to silence the very same people that King fought for. She would do better to actually read Audre Lorde for context and not for memes. Perhaps read “An Open Letter to Mary Daly” where Lorde critiques the very same thing that Wilde-Blavatsky has done with this article—taking important critique from Black women and dismissing it while trying to assert that Black women are wrongly critiquing feminism or that said critique is about White women as people and not about White supremacy as a plague.
So I propose a new hashtag campaign for women (and men) tired of the misguided cultural relativism called #stopblamingwhitewomenweneedunity. It is not acceptable anymore to ignore white privilege and intersectionality in feminist discourse but at the same time let’s stop blaming white women for issues that clearly effect them too. Issues such as marriage, physical safety and autonomy, access to good family planning and health care, pregnancy, abortion, rape, domestic violence, slut shaming, denial of opportunities in work and education and so on still effect women across all cultures, races and nations (albeit in differing ways). If we allow race and ‘culture’ to divide rather than unite women then the patriarchs have won. On the other hand, women united can never be divided.
This quest for “unity” through erasure and silence has another word for it; oppression. This is what Wilde-Blavatsky suggests. She suggests that ignoring White privilege isn’t the goal, but then her entire essay is about coddling White women’s feelings and White Tears™. The privileged hate critique. This critique is not “bashing” and it most certainly is not oppression. This is why there is a backlash against hashtags, Twitter and social media itself. Most of the great conversations that I have on Twitter do not involve hashtags but hashtags are useful as a part of a bigger picture. Many of the people who use sociopolitical/feminist hashtags are also writers/activists. Hashtags are just one of the tools in a big pot of activist tools. They work when the goal is to communicate, resist, educate and connect globally. I find it ironic that she called Mikki’s tag “dreadful” yet posited that petulant nonsense of a hashtag as a rebuttal and cannot see how much White privilege is involved in thinking that hashtag is acceptable. White women are not used to critique except from White men where that critique can become oppression, true. But they are not always the oppressed. They are also oppressors. Looking for The Help feminism is something that they cannot expect to find anymore and most certainly not in social media space. The truth is Black women, women of colour and all marginalized people have always resisted. It’s simply that in the age of social media, it’s harder for the privileged to ignore or control those smaller voices that make up a larger one.
White women like Wilde-Blavatsky want silence from Black women and other women of colour yet want their voices heard by the patriarchy. They want no response to White supremacy and racism yet demand a response to sexism when it affects White women. They want no accountability for their role as oppressors yet expect accountability from White men as oppressors. They attack yet want silence and complicity in response and anything but this silence or “yes ma’am” is deemed “bullying.” Funny how so many White feminists claim to hate patriarchy yet will gladly take on the “delicate White woman” stereotype anytime a Black woman or other woman of colour responds. Wilde-Blavatsky herself played the victim role when she was called out for this piece and claimed "this is what freedom of expression looks like, being bullied and insulted off Twitter. Good night. Keep your hostility and anger, enjoy."
All this article did is prove the validity of every criticism about the plague of White supremacy, whether in “progressive/feminist” space/politics or not. It proves that anyone can use terms like “White privilege” and “intersectionality” while being White supremacist and anti-intersectional. I don’t want “unity” with White women, especially when I cannot speak of their role in oppression. I want the end of any and all oppression, not a membership into the country club of mainstream feminism.
"If you don’t understand community, you don’t understand solidarity." - my best friend Megan
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