|image of book cover is from here|
Revised on the 26th , 29th, and 30th of August 2012, and December 2, 2015.
I just found a website that has a photocopy of Audre Lorde's classic essay from Sister Outsider, titled: "Man-Child: A Black Lesbian Feminist Response". If you haven't yet, I encourage you to read it and to read the whole book along with it. Here is the URL and link to that one chapter: http://www.scribd.com/doc/103750751/Audre-Lorde-Man-Child.
I have been saddened to see how many younger people online believe that radical feminist = white woman. I know that many, but not all, of the people publicly naming themselves radical feminist or the more contemporary and racially narrow term, rad fem, are white women. I've written about how I don't equate the terms: radical feminist and rad fem. I've hopefully respectfully challenged the white supremacy of white-majority and white-led organising by people who identify as rad fem *here* in an earlier post.
Of course most of the whites who organise politically are not feminists. They are anti-feminists, racists, and misogynists, protecting white male power at all costs. But unlike anti-feminists and other misogynists, rad fems and I share a lot in common: our critique of pornography and prostitution as male-protected and mass produced forms of men raping and enslaving women and girls; a serious analysis of human sexuality as it is constructed and acted out in heterosexist and male supremacist contexts; and a de-marginalising of male supremacy and patriarchy when analysing and challenging increasingly globalised systems of oppressive, terroristic, and deadly power.
In fact, many of the people who claim to be the definitive example of "human" are white men. And we certainly know that even though white men write most Western history books--that have systematically left out or distorted the accomplishments, the history, of white women, women of color, and men of color--that surely doesn't mean only white men are human. Nor is it the case that only white women are radical feminists, lesbian or not. Many of my role models growing up through my early adulthood were Black and Brown radical lesbian feminists.
My focus, here at this blog, on women of color is seen by some whites and many men as divisive. Some view this centralising of women of color at a pro-feminist website as one way to focus on the differences between women rather than the similarities. I hardly see how focusing on women of color is divisive. Nor do I see it as divisive to point out where white supremacy lives and breathes. Whites want to keep white power all to ourselves thereby dividing humanity into raced "haves" and "have nots". Exposing and challenging white supremacy is an effort to end divisions of social power among humans; its aim is to equalise the control of and the access to resources among humans, including intellectual resources.
Another way to approach the issue would be to ask: Is focusing primarily or entirely only on the written and other activist work of whites divisive? Because that's what most whites do, often thinking they are representing "all men" or "all women" or "all queer people" when doing so. So it comes across to me as problematic when a white person, in my case a white male, who doesn't wish to marginalise women of color is seen as promoting divisions among women. Why isn't this blog seen as unifying women by focusing on the work of women of color? And, if whites wish to deal with our white supremacy in public ways, how does identifying where it lives further divide humanity?
I'd argue that routinely and systematically ignoring, tokenising, or marginalising the activist work of women of color is divisive. It maintains white supremacy and male supremacy. So too does using terms like "radical" by whites who don't include "white" when naming ourselves. The name of this blog certainly participates in that pattern. It would visibilise (and challenge) whiteness more if I termed it "A Radical White Profeminist". It would also serve to make it visible as a particular and non-universal political condition.
I now consider any white person refusing or neglecting to name our structural location by race when we describe our political position, as supporting and reinforcing white supremacy. Were I to start my blog now, I'd name it with "white" being in the title.
I have grown up hearing Audre Lorde and Barbara Smith be regularly identified by whites as Radical Black Feminists or Black Lesbian Feminists. Mary Daly and Sheila Jeffreys have only ever been identified by whites as "Radical Feminists" or "Lesbian Feminists". I hope it's clear how that way of naming white people reinforces whiteness as somehow not worth mentioning. But the "worth", or value, of not mentioning it is the white power that is so well-protected in the practice of whites not naming ourselves with that term. This is a crucial, and often enough unconscious, practice of protecting the very brutal power underlying and enforcing unnamed whiteness. The brutality is aimed squarely at people of color, with especially horrific forms leveled against women of color.
Conscious or not, it is an undenibly political decision to not mention our whiteness as a structural place of power in a white male supremacist system. (This is not, as some have indicated, primarily an issue of naming one's "identity"; this writing isn't advocating what is sometimes termed "identity politics".) If it is not deemed collectively necessary for whites who name ourselves as "radical" to also name and own our own whiteness as a political reality, how do we practice being responsible and accountable to those we structurally oppress by race?
It's not a radical practice for white folks to "disappear" our whiteness in our writings and other work, in my opinion which has been informed by dozens of radical activists of color, most of them feminist. It's not even liberal. It's politically conservative; it has many of the same effects as mainstream neo-Conservative and more publicly marginalised White Nationalist agendas.
White males making our race invisible but our gender visible serves white and male supremacy because the two systems, particularly in the West, are inextricably linked and are mutually reinforcing. Both work together to oppress and destroy women of color. Put another way: let's consider white radical Andrea Dworkin's definition of "feminist" which has been summarised as follows: if it hurts women, feminists are against it. Surely white supremacy as well as male supremacy hurts women (of color). So to ignore race in one's feminist and pro-feminist work is to participate in the deeply racist practice of pretending women of color are not "women"--unless they, too, are somehow presented as unraced. Ironically, whites are very reluctant to do that. Only whiteness is to be systematically ignored-while-protected.
The same is true for men of color who name their race as a structural position of marginalisation and oppression but not their gender as a structural position of power over all women. Men of color not identifying their gender as a structural source of oppressive power serves not only male supremacy, but also white supremacy. Because protecting any male power, as such, bolsters white men's power as men, but particularly as white men.
As I see it and hear about it from radical and feminist women of color, those two systems of power--male and white supremacy--together with capitalism, are the main dividers of humans into--according to power elites--those who are meant to survive and those who are not.
This matter is addressed in those terms in at least two pieces of writing by Audre Lorde. One is in a speech in the book Sister Outsider titled "The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action". This is also contained in another book discussed below. Another discussion of this theme is in a poem titled "A Litany for Survival", which may be read in full, along with several other of Lorde's poems, here.
Finally, I offer a link to a relatively new book (2009 hardcover, 2011 paperback), of Audre Lorde's work. The book is titled: "I Am Your Sister: Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde", edited by Rudolph P. Byrd, Johnnetta Betsch Cole, and Beverly Guy-Sheftall.
I have had the pleasure of hearing Johnnetta Cole speak, many years ago. Calling the three editors only "editors" would not be to understand their role in the creation of this book. Rudolph Byrd offers a significant introduction of the works contained in the volume. Johnnetta Cole offers a chapter in the section of the book called "Reflections", which also contain chapters by Alice Walker, bell hooks, and Gloria I. Joseph. Beverly Guy-Sheftall closes the book with her epilogue.