Friday, July 8, 2011

When White's Not Right: A Substantive Challenge to the White Bloggers at Rad Fem Hub

image is from here
Revised and edited on the 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th of July 2011. With apologies for the on-going changes.

Dear women at Rad Fem Hub,

I write to you with congratulations and concern. First, I am impressed to see so many women bloggers come together declaring yourselves unapologetically radical feminist, putting forth a woman-centered and woman-first politic and practice. My concern is with the significant white-centeredness and unacknowledged white supremacist entitlements and privileges put forth by the white members of the group. Not just that, but the radical political meaning of whiteness and the real harm it causes to women of color around the world, isn't discussed on your blog, at least in the places I visited. If such a critique of whiteness is present, I surely welcome you to alert me to where that exists.

Given how many white women you have as part of the group, I was hoping that some of you would make identifying and calling out racist-misogyny a focus or at least a part of the political practice there so that other whites who come to the blog as a central source of information about radical feminism will have a good example of how this is done responsibly among whites. In my experience, whites rarely bring to one another's attention how our whiteness shows up in racist-misogynist ways in our perspectives, values, and practices. It is my genuine hope that this letter is received by you not at all as an attack or as an act of aggression, but as a statement of concern and challenge brought forth with the desire to see more accountability among whites and less burden on women of color to call out white racism.

I'm very open to discussing this matter of white dominance, white exclusivity, white supremacy, and white- and euro-centrism that I see existing structurally at Rad Fem Hub. (You of course may disagree that some or any of that is present; I'm willing to publicly put forth why it is I've come to that conclusion and if you're unclear about anything that follows, I'll do my best to be clearer and appropriately responsive in ways that further explicate my statements.)

I hope you will address writings by women--of color and white--that I didn't see linked to or referenced on your blog's resources pages. If they are new to you, please take to heart and mind what they say, so that your politics and practice might indeed be radical with regard to race. As it currently exists, what I see on your blog is liberal to conservative with regard to race. For this reason, I don't know any Black or Brown radical feminist women of color who would want to join such a white-dominated, white unconscious, and white-protected space. 

Black, Brown, and white radical feminist writers I hold myself accountable to or regard as significant feminist theorists and practitioners have presented a very clear and cogent critique and analysis of white supremacy as it is manifest in white radical and feminist discourse and other behavior. Two of the women I got to know through their posts as bloggers, who have brought forth a critique of white privilege and entitlements showing up in white women's spaces or in white women's writings are brownfemipower, formerly of La Chola and currently the host of flipfloppingjoy, and dedgurl of The Vagina Conspiracy. Bev Jo, a long-time white radical Lesbian activist and blogger has also clearly articulated what's white supremacist and oppressively misogynistic about white racism in feminist spaces. I have read her challenges on some of your individual blogs; she has also courageously challenged some of you on anti-Lesbian and heterosexist practices. I appreciate the work of all of these women.

Over the last thirty years, I have only encountered a small number of Western white radical feminists who have carefully examined what their own whiteness means. Perhaps the best known and most published of these women is Marilyn Frye, who has written explicitly on this subject. I hope you will consider including her excellent books of theoretical essays, The Politics of Reality and Willful Virgin, in which she discusses whiteness, in your reading resources list. While you do recommend one of Audre Lorde's books of poetry, Cables To Rage, I was saddened to not see listed her extremely important and classic radical lesbian feminist book of essays and speeches, Sister Outsider. Several of those writings are excellent learning resources for white women. I'll link to those at the end of this letter.

I'm concerned that you also made no mention of the books by the extraordinarily prolific radical feminist bell hooks. She has written a great deal on the subject of white women's racism being an obstacle to women's liberation. Her first book on this subject was Ain't I A Woman? Her writings cover so many topics relevant to radical liberation struggles across gender, race, and class. I hope you get to read a lot more of what she has put forth for serious consideration. *Here is a link* to many of her books.

I also recommend adding the work of Andrea Smith, an Indigenous radical feminist. A book that greatly impacted me was Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide. In Deals With the Devil and Other Reasons to Riot, Pearl Cleage deals superbly with interpersonal politics and the importance of whites and men maintaining a posture of listening, not defensiveness, when challenged on racism or sexism by women of color. 

Of all the many radical feminist books that are available in English for white women to learn about and be responsible with their white power and privileges, not one book, essay, or speech makes your recommended readings and resources lists. This deeply concerns me because without such perspectives and challenges white radical feminism stays stuck in a tradition of entrenched white-centrism which while not always intentionally harmful, is always effectively oppressive in misogynist-racist ways. I'm curious to know if you believe the white-only or white-majority lists you promote speak for all women and to all women's struggles in patriarchal societies? Is this form of white supremacy something you are wanting to perpetuate? Regardless of matters of intention or oversight, it is unacceptable and not at all radical in my view, if women of color matter to you as women. 

For an astoundingly superb understanding of whiteness and white supremacy, I strongly recommend all of you who are white at Rad Fem Hub reading Yurugu: An African-Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior, by Marimba Ani, which has one of the most comprehensive and sophisticated analyses of euro- and white-centrism of any book written in English. I also recommend that you list the many books of the radical and feminist writer-activist Angela Davis, including the feminist classic, Women, Race, and Class. More of her books are listed *here*.

Vandana Shiva is a radical feminist whose books, in my opinion, ought not be ignored or passed off as something other than radical feminist. Whether or not she identifies as a radical feminist, I truly believe radical feminism needs her contributions of experience, perspective, and values, in order to thrive and address the many problems killing women. *Here is a comprehensive list of her many books*.

Do you see your own unacknowledged and unexamined collective whiteness—among those of you who are white—as a significant political obstacle to radical revolutionary action and community-building? How could it not be a seriously oppressive obstacle given that whiteness-in-action is always an obstacle to liberation for women of color?

I entirely respect you setting up your blog to be woman-only. I wish there were more woman-only spaces on- and off-line and in an era when women's space is disrespected by so many people, I will defend your right to create woman-only spaces as you define them. I therefore welcome you to visit me here on my blog, to discuss how white feminists historically and presently practice conservative to liberal racist-misogyny.

I welcome engaging with you on the matter of whiteness and how white-majority spaces regulate what can be expressed within them, just as majority-man spaces determine what women can say and do there. I believe that the very fact of being white-majority and white-centric means that many radical feminist women who are not white are not likely to feel at home at Rad Fem Hub. Does that concern you in terms of your own collective objectives for the kind of space the blog is and will become?

In my experience, as long as any blog or social space is unaccountably or unconsciously white-dominated, white-led, white-majority, and white-centric, it cannot be effectively radical and revolutionary. One of the first radical feminists who drew my attention to this was a woman I know many of you admire, Andrea Dworkin: you can read her challenge to white, class-privileged women in the introduction to her 1974 book, Woman Hating. There she discusses the exemplary revolutionary feminism of Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, noting that revolutionary feminism will not succeed if white and middle class women do not contend with and responsibly negotiate the power of their privileges.

I'm wondering if you believe that the forms of unacknowledged whiteness that are replicated at Rad Fem Hub are any less oppressive, hurtful, and lethal to women of color than men's male supremacy? Marimba Ani and many other radical women detail how whiteness, including that practiced by white women, is very destructive. It's not that I think your blog is in any way lethal to anyone; it's that I think it participates in a history of unconscious and/or willful white behavior that is very harmful and exclusionary to women of color and racistly possessive of the term "radical feminism". It's those structures and practices, globally, that are indeed grossly oppressive and commonly lethal. I hope you will consider making your blog a place where those structures and practices are not present.

It seems to me that one of the ways for those of us who are white to invisibilise and deny the racism so often embedded in white radical feminism is to only take up issues that appear to be free of it. For example, your blog may appear to some privileged folks to not be overtly racist and classist; I'd argue these forms of oppression are blatantly present in the views you present to the readers. Narrow, while importantly anti-patriarchal, views of prostitution, pornography, and some forms of heterosexist sexuality may be discussed at (or linked to from) Rad Fem Hub without recognising how the discussions themselves are imbued with and shaped by white and class privilege and entitlement. When we who are white and class-privileged deal also with immigration, economic class warfare, imperialism, colonialism, genocide, and globalisation, there is a greater opportunity to witness ourselves as the structural and institutional oppressors of women of color internationally.

If and when prostitution, pornography, some trans politics, and PIV sex are spoken about, discussed, analysed, and challenged only on the grounds that they perpetuate patriarchal oppression of women-unraced, we lose both the opportunity to know how women (and trans people across gender) of color have different experiences of those oppressive systems and practices and how white women have their own experiences as well. What tends to happen a lot in white radical feminism is that the white experience gets turned into a "human experience" as if whiteness isn't particular and partial in its political location. We have all seen how many times white het men frame up their sexed experiences as "human experience, ungendered". Obviously the point isn't that whites and males aren't fully human; it's that whites and males are not all humans and ought not speak as if we are.

Another way I've heard white women dismissing and discarding any radical feminist theory and analysis that is white-critical is to turn away from an intersectional understanding of oppression and to view intersectionality itself as entirely located within a seemingly unraced liberal academic post-modern politic. In my view, such a (de)valuation is blatantly and unabashedly white supremacist, anti-radical, and anti-feminist, if the intersectional work being turned away from belongs to women like Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Barbara Smith, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and bell hooks, to name just a few US radical feminists.

I hope you support intersectional analysis at your blog. If you do not, could you please explain why you don't. If you do, can you please explain why no texts utilising this analysis appear in your recommended reading list? Why, for example, doesn't the excellent and tremendously important philosophical and sociological work of Patricia Hill Collins not make your list? I believe Black Feminist Thought and Black Sexual Politics ought to be on any radical feminist reading list. And it seems to me that any white, class-, and education-privileged English-speaking women who identify as radical feminist have no excuse if they are unfamiliar with the works of Lorde, Walker, hooks, Collins, and so many other US and international feminists who are both intersectional and radical, and not at all "post-modern" in the sense in which that term and tradition is critiqued by some radical activists.

You also don't appear to acknowledge radical feminism's past and on-going debt to Indigenous feminists. The blog in its current form appears to firmly hold to a white- and euro-centric view that radical feminism rises primarily out of European Marxism. Do you see how erroneous and racist that is, given that most women's lives are not historically rooted in Western political philosophies or conditions? I recommend directing your readers and colleagues to read Sally Roesch Wagner's history of white appropriation of Indigenous feminist practice in her book, Sisters In Spirit, or to Andrea Smith's "Without Bureaucracy, Beyond Inclusion: Re-Centering Feminism".

I'll close by recommending some of the writings of one of the women who is most responsible for shaping my understanding of deeply ethical, woman-loving radical feminism:

Audre Lorde, "An Open Letter To Mary Daly", and "The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism", and "Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference", which may be viewed *here at Google Books*, in the astoundingly brilliant radical lesbian feminist text, Sister Outsider.

From the latter essay:
“…white women face the pitfall of being seduced into joining the oppressor under the pretense of sharing power. This possibility does not exist in the same way for women of Color. The tokenism that is sometimes extended to us is not an invitation to join power; our racial “otherness” is a visible reality that makes that quite clear. For white women there is wider range of pretended choices and rewards for identifying with patriarchal power and its tools.”

I look forward to your answers to these questions, and to hearing your own questions and concerns.

I wish you well.

In the struggle,

Julian with dedgurl

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