Earning the privilege to be trusted

Following up on some thoughts that relate to what I said in Feminist Infighting, I wanted to talk about something that karnythia said in her post, Seal Press, Amanda Marcotte…Proof That Feminism And Racism Go Hand In Hand:

I can’t take calls for sisterhood or solidarity seriously from white feminists at this point and I’m sure someone is going to call that attitude racist.

karnythia, and indeed every woc, have no reason to take calls of solidarity from white feminists seriously and every reason to mistrust them. It’s not even like this string of incidents was the first one ever, or even the first to occur in the blogsphere; it’s just the latest blow up in a long, racist history of uneasy tension between white feminism and woc feminism.

Most white feminists, yes even the ones who are protesting the loudest here, understand that men aren’t automatically entitled to the benefit of the doubt. They get that, in order to be an ally, a man has to put his money where his mouth is and actually act like one. He has to deal gracefully with the mistrust of feminists who have been hurt one too many times by men professing to like women and to be an ally. He also has to accept that some feminists will only ever view him as an interloper because of the long, sordid, and often personal history that comes with gender relations. No one is saying that it’s fair, but part of being an ally is understanding that the little unfairness that he suffers not only is rooted in real, valid causes, but also doesn’t outweigh the unfairness that the women treating him unfairly have suffered.

And yet, while white feminists are more than happy to apply those standards to men who are trying to be allies, they are all too often unwilling to apply them to themselves. Their white privilege tells them that the root of all oppression is gender oppression, and that it’s the almighty vagina (ie. the possession of one) that creates a solidarity between women. The myth of “universal womanhood” is a powerful one, to be sure, but it is also a convenient way to shield yourself from having to question your own privilege — whether that be white, hetersexual, able-bodied, cissexual, or whatever combination you fall under.

Frankly, it’s up to us white feminists to earn the trust of woc feminists by actually being allies. If we want to earn the privilege of using words like “solidarity” and “sisterhood” then we — not just some individuals, but white feminists as a whole — need to stop giving lipservice to the idea and actually, you know, stop defending our racist behavior. We need to stop thinking only in terms of ourselves and our own personal oppressions, hurts, unfairness, whatever.

Feminism isn’t about you. It’s about all women from all backgrounds and that means that sometimes you’re going to have to suck up your own wounded pride and admit that you did something racist. Or ableist. Or transphobic. If you want to be on your high horse when you talk about sexism, then you need to walk the walk when it comes to areas in which you have privilege. Full stop.

And, until white feminists get to that point, woc feminists like karnythia will have every reason to mistrust us.

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This entry was posted in Feminism, Privilege, Racism. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Earning the privilege to be trusted

  1. BetaCandy says:

    I feel the need to start… something to address this, but I don’t know what or how. We need to do more than just talk, but I don’t know what. Start a webring promoting marginalized feminists? Start a website attempting to redefine feminism as something that can include & support both moderate and radical objectives?

    Start a publishing company of our own?

    Because in addition to our own willful ignorance, there is the problem that the established media will always pick the less threatening voices of feminism – the ones only calling attention to one or two privileges – to promote as the voice of feminism.

  2. Katie says:

    Betacandy, I think more effective more quickly would be to convince our local feminist bookshops to flood their shelves with works from currently extant good publishers.

    http://profbw.wordpress.com/ has a list up … I think from April 28? (Today.)

  3. Pingback: On Facing Your Bias, Owning Your Prejudice, and Allies - Part 1 at Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture

  4. arielladrake says:

    Well, as far as promoting marginalised voices go, em at Sexual Ambiguities as a Call For Papers for an anthology of just that type. Abstracts due 31 May. Here.

  5. whatsername says:

    Hey, I’d like to use this post in the next Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom and Autonomy, if that’s alright with you. And if you have any thoughts on the prompt I’d really love to hear them.

  6. tekanji says:

    whatshername: Of course; link away. :)

  7. emma says:

    What a great way of describing that situation! It’s one that has always bothered me. As a white woman I knew of the myth of universal sisterhood but have never been able to adequately describe why it is a myth. I just found this site and haven’t scolled down to the beginning of that discussion yet, but had to comment right away anyway.

Comments are closed.