August 11, 2020 by Cláudia
I’ve not always identified as a feminist, but it has been one of my epithets for a few years now. I’ve always prided myself of working in the empowerment of women and striving to build a more equal and just society and yet… with extreme disappointment I’ve realized that my feminism was alarmingly white-centric.
The first time I heard the term Black feminism was about a year ago, in Luxembourg, in an event called Tea for Feminism. It was also the first time I realized that not every woman felt represented and included by the movement. I guess that as a middle-class white woman, the issues debated within the mainstream feminist movement felt comprehensive enough for my own experiences and challenges. The struggles that I was facing as a woman were being addressed and I suppose it didn’t even cross my mind that other women’s realities were not being taken into account.
I went to this event with an open mind and it made me think a lot about privilege, allyship and the feminist movement. I left, however, with a really uncomfortable feeling about how the white women were acting. White women did not have any problem taking up more than half of the space of speech, relativizing Black women’s experiences, asking questions that they could have easily searched for and even blatantly erasing the need for Black feminism. I thought about that session a lot since then and ended up writing a blog post about it, even though I said nothing at the event.
One year later, now more familiar with Black feminism and the concept of intersectionality, I attended another event about Black feminism and the experience was disappointingly similar to the one last year. The discussion itself was incredibly enlightening and thought-provoking. From the beginnings of feminism and current issues, very soon we were discussing connections between seemingly disparate issues. Eventually, we were talking about sex work criminalization, housing rights, ableism, fat-shaming and diet culture, trans rights, the incarceration system etc. etc.
However, when the floor was opened for questions, white women immediately jumped to the opportunity to take the floor and take the place for their own concerns: “Is racism just a matter of ignorance?” or asking about far-fetched authors (as a way of seeming educated?). I didn’t feel like we were listening.
These experiences made me realize that white women are actively perpetuating racial aggression towards Black women, even in supposedly safe spaces such as feminist circles. I completely understand that what I’ve witnessed is a drop in the ocean. But the examples that I’ve witnessed are enough for me to understand why I’ve seen several women of colour be uninterested in mainstream feminism: from inappropriately trying to relate to Black people’s experiences (“yes, people also always try to touch my hair!”), to claiming that there should not be Black feminism but just one feminism (“I’ve read a lot about this!”), to giving unwanted and unasked for advice that is completely unsuitable for the reality (“I think there needs to be healing from historical racism”). Or “well-intended” massive aggressions such as that white woman tweeting that Black women will “save us all”, completely checking out of actually putting the work, while furthering Black women’s burden and trauma.
If there is not the intentional and action-based inclusion of women of color, then feminism is simply white supremacy in heels.
Rachel Elizabeth Cargle, When Feminism Is White Supremacy in Heels
We as feminists need to rethink what is feminism and whose problems are being addressed, not just in terms of race but also of class, ableism etc. It’s not enough for me and my female circles to feel represented. It’s not enough to hear the voices in the room. We need to look for voices who are not in the room and meditate on why that is.
Feminism claims that women are uniting against inequality, but which women? Even though Black women have been fighting alongside (and on the frontline) of the feminism movement and other revolutionary social movements, these same movements evolve to not prioritize their needs, which is extremely violent.
I’ve come to realize that not all the strides made by the feminism movement apply to all women.
I too contributed to the problem because I too was feeling so included and comfortable in feminist circles that I didn’t notice the missing voices. Only when I was slapped across the face with the violence perpetrated by white women I understood that there was a problem. I know it’s late, but hey, I’m here now.
It’s truly embarrassing for me as a white woman and as a feminist to see fellow white women perpetuating white supremacy and not including Black women in the fight for gender equality. This is a massive and inexcusable failure.
It’s not feminism if it leaves women behind.
To my fellow white women, it’s time to step up. No more victimization. No more avoidance of talking about racial inequality and white privilege.
I will soon write about intersectionality so I dare you to read the following resources alongside with me so we can discuss it together.
- Kimberlé Crenshaw, Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Policies
- Rachel Elizabeth Cargle, When Feminism Is White Supremacy in Heels
- Barbara Smith, Reina Gossett, Charlene Carruthers, Black Feminism & the Movement for Black Lives
- Jacy Topps, Angela Davis and Black Lives Matter: Why my Feminism is Intersectional
- Brittney Cooper, Intersectionality
- Understanding the adultification of Black girls