Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hiding in Plain White: the problem of protecting institutionalised power in allegedly radical political theory and practice

archived photo of feminist activists is from here

Across the web and offline as well, there are many arguments being made about "men" or "women" or "transgender people" that fail to mention this: only a small minority of people in any of those groups are speaking on behalf of everyone else.

So, we ubiquitously hear white rich men speak about the value of capitalism all the while ignoring how it is fused to both white and male supremacy. They do not speak for "the 99%" of men who do not benefit from capitalism.

We also hear socially empowered transgender people speak about what it means to be trans, using elitist terms like "transmisogyny" and "cisgender" without considering that most trans people are cisgender and most trans people internalise misogyny that is acted out against women and trans people too. We also see some white lesbians speak out against trans people as if trans = M2F or F2M transsexual people. As someone who has described myself as intergender--a politically problematic term I continue to wrestle with--I see most trans people as not being described or represented anywhere in dominant social discourse.

The invisiblisation of most trans people, most women, and most men, by social elites, be they whites, men, or the wealthy, is part of the problem for those of us seeking to end all forms of oppression and for those seeking to survive those systems of callousness and cruelty.

When we put forth theory or advise others on political practice, we ought to consider who we speak for, who we represent, and who has the ability to do what we promote if we promote acts of resistence and revolution. To what extent are our views white? To what extent do they reinforce male supremacy? Do our theories center the experiences of girls and women of color? Of women who do not live in white-majority countries? Of women who are not part of the Western world?

This blog supports the work of women who name how race, region, sexuality, and class impacts their own and other women's lives. Whites--women and men--who refuse to do this are not acting in radical ways. Pretending "white-majority" views are not only representative of all women but are also radically feminist is a well-known practice of misogyny and racism both: it is white male supremacy in action. What's "radical" about that?


Christina said...

To what extent do they reinforce male supremacy?

We currently live under strait white male supremacy and we have been doing so probably as far back to the beginning of the human race. Male supremacy is something that is extremely powerful, far more powerful then many of us care to admit.
We have been brought up to accept it and never to stand-up to it.

When feminists especially white feminists want to “promote acts of resistance and revolution” against strait white male supremacy, though their intentions may be good they seem to be unable to truly escape this power over them and they end up not truly standing up for what they should be and instead as you say “reinforce male supremacy.”

In countries like the US and UK where strait white male supremacy is inescapable this must make it even harder. The best way to overcome this problem is for all feminists whether white or not to be open and accepting of each other, taking time to see each others forms of oppression and not just their own.

Feminists need to lean to be more empathetic to the needs of women and girls who are both different and facing very different situations to their own.

Julian Real said...

Hi Christina,

What I see in many communities is that the privileges, advantages, insensitivities, and power-over structural positions in various hierarchies, such as because of race in whites, because of sex in men, and because of wealth in class-caste systems, are not interrogated at all or enough by whites, men, and wealthier people. And so even while there are progressive people within those groups, they often express concerns, build theory, and promote political practices of resistance that, as you say, do not consider the disadvantaged positions of people who are not white, male, or wealthy. I have almost never read accounts of "women" by whites that center the experiences of women of color, for example. Usually one of three things happens:

1. Women of color are simply ignored, and it is assumed that attending to the specific conditions negatively impacting white women will trickle down to also address the conditions of women of color. This approach ignores a very deadly reality: white women ignoring women of color, and how whiteness--in women and in men--oppresses women of color, is part of the political condition that women of color must radically change and eliminate. It would be supportive of women of color's radical and revolutionary work for white women to join in the struggles women of color identify, rather than wondering why more women of color aren't addressing precisely the same issues that white women are taking on.

2. Women of color are tokenised. There are so many examples of a "special issue" of a white feminist magazine coming to publication dealing with "Asian women" or "Black women". By cloistering the concerns of women of color in white-run or white-majority magazines or at online websites, whiteness remains in control, and white supremacy is made stronger.

Or at a white-controlled, white-majority, and white-centered conference, women of color are only brought in to address some issue that is seen to only effect Black or Brown women, for example. What whites like to believe is that we are not raced, are not racist, and are not experiencing the world in a race-specific way.

In "radical feminist" anthologies, for example, we can see how many women of color are writing about the concerns of women across race, and how many white women are addressing the specific conditions facing women who are not white.

When whiteness is invisibilised, it is made into something that whites pretend is universal. The same is true for maleness. When whiteness or manhood is radically analysed and critiqued, we get to see its contours and structures. Rarely do whites or men critique the power of whiteness and manhood and consider how it is used to brutalise and oppress women of color.

3. Women of color may be welcomed into white-majority spaces, such as conferences, anthologies, and activist campaigns, but only on white terms, doing things in white ways, using the white people's worldviews and terminology. In this way white supremacy is preserved even in seemingly progressive work.

Christina said...

Your views and observations are sadly very accurate, however your attempt to highlight this concern though noble as it is will most liky achieve very little especially in countries like the US and UK. As these countries are controlled, dominated and oppressed by strait white males it is only natural that most of their citizens think in line with WHM supremacy and privilege. Even left wing WHMs who claim to care about women of colour do so in line with the dictates of WHM supremacy.

To truly take into account the real needs of WoC we have to destroy WHM supremacy and privilege thus being able to replace it with a system that actually cares about the very people who get treated like dirt under WHM supremacy.

Dark Daughta said...

Julian, so good to see you here blogging. I started trying to process the piece around the cultural and ethnic dominance of white people in trans political movements literally yesterday. I wrote something that I have to tweak. It's about my experience with radical feminist racist white trans people on a site I've joined. No analysis of their being majority amerikkkan, no analysis of class, no analysis of whiteness and how this influences the formation of trans theory or the ratification of languages used to critique gender or the aesthetics constructed as most gender challenging and how denial of the oppressive roots of how the culture is being formed negatively impacts anyone whose social location positions them outside the dominant trans "norm". All this to say, thank you for writing about this, Julian. Be well, darkdaughta

Julian Real said...

Greetings, darkdaughta!

I'm sorry for taking so long to get your comment posted here. I've been preoccupied with off-line stuff lately. :(

I'm really glad this post came along at a time that supports some of your own concerns and validates some of your experiences.

Every woman of color I know is contending with various communities of white folks who don't seem to want to take their whiteness seriously as something to interrogate and be responsible with and accountable for regarding women of color. Sad to see. Not surprising, but sad.

I'd be interested to know of the site you mentioned, and if you think it's appropriate, please email me more info about the group/site at

And, generally, please keep in touch. :)