Saturday, June 18, 2011

Resources for Inquiry into the Politics of Being White, and the Limits of White Feminism

image of book cover is from here
For more on the above book, please see *here*.

image of book cover is from here
For more on the book above, please see *here*

image of book cover is from here
For more on the book above, please see *here*.

Feminism isn't whites-only--or unraced, but if you judge by some blogs that don't identify their race you might think "Radical Feminist" means all-white all the time. (The blogs that don't identify their race are almost always white because white folks, arrogantly and annoyingly, think of ourselves, quite mistakenly, as unraced). You, dear reader, might have been misled to believe that "radical feminist" means whites-only. Not so.

I've been making a rather well-evidenced case for years that radical feminism is comprised of the experiences, analysis, and justice and liberation struggles of women across the globe--and always has been, even before the term "radical feminism" came into existence in the English language. Yes, white radical feminism has its own history, but in my opinion it shouldn't be conflated with "radical feminism" generally.

I have welcomed discussion among white women about the meaning of being white. I have expected and unsurprisingly found it to be the case that most discussions of whiteness do not take place among white people. Similarly, most discussions of heterosexuality do not take place among heterosexuals, in my experience. Often enough the outsiders are the inquirers, and radical interrogators, and justice-seeking activists. The outsiders are made to feel and are forced to be outside the mainstream because of the unquestioned power, position, and privileges of the relative insiders.

White women and men of color in the United Rapes of Amerikkka do not hold powers of absolute authority and prestige to nearly the extent that white [het] men do. This tends to produce mixed alliances, with each group vying for some attention from and status given from WHM, while WHM give up nothing at all to maintain their own status. Both men of color and white women are known for one thing, among others: the systematic betrayal of women of color in justice-seeking efforts and liberation struggles.

Primarily through friendships, I have witnessed how often this occurs. It is painful to see it happening--especially so frequently; I know it is far more painful to live it than merely to observe it happening in the lives of people close to me. I have lived variations of this, but not this exactly. I have seen, for example, how white Jews jockey for position to achieve the same levels of status, recognition, and reduction of stigma as that which occurs more easily and "naturally" (meaning, structurally, without dominant cultural or political opposition) among white Christians in the US. I have seen white gay men do the same thing. In each case, Jewish white women across sexuality and lesbian white women across ethnicity, respectively, are often betrayed.

Left out of such observations, curiously, is how being Jewish and white, or gay and white, positions oneself to be a better or worse ally to women of color across sexuality. It is uniformly hoped among oppressed people I know that knowledge--emotional, intellectual, and visceral--of being marginalised or oppressed in at least one way (such as by gender, race, religion, ethnicity, economic class, sexuality, disability, age, language, or region) will make understanding the marginalisation and oppression of other people more possible. By "understanding", I mean experienced by proxy to the point of being actually felt in the hearts and minds of those with fewer experiences of being structurally below the top of social hierarchies.

I have little doubt that me being Jewish and gay, as well as white and male, has made identification with some of what women of color--Jewish or not, lesbian or not--endure regularly and routinely, as a matter of course living one's life in a racist-misogynist environment.

I don't know the full brunt of misogyny, but get to feel some of its sting when degraded for being "feminine"--as het men define and determine such arbitrary qualities of human existence. I don't know the full force of racism from whites, but I know how it feels to be seen as Other by white Christians and white Gentiles; to be deemed someone who is not "one of us", where "us" means "better than you and your people".

I have wanted my blog to be a place where intersectional realities come to life. Where stories about abuses and forms of endurance experienced by people across many social divides (divisions in status and stigma, power and privilege, position and location), are made existent and are not hidden or turned into something else, like trivial, an interference, or beside the point.

Part of this discussion involves analysing the meaning and experience of being a white woman. Most of my experiences of white women happened while growing up and throughout my early adulthood. In those years white women were "women" (unraced). My feminist mentor, a white lesbian, was the first person to highlight for me how being white can lead the white person to think they are unraced, or, rather, how it is allegedly only women of color (and men of color) who are raced or shaped profoundly by racism.

Proponents of Liberal Humanism interfere with deeply understanding and challenging how we are all shaped by racism by making anti-radical proclamations such as "racism goes both ways" and "we are all oppressed in a racist system". I disagree strongly with both contentions. I've written about why that is elsewhere on this blog. If interested, please do a search on the right side using the keywords "white supremacy", "whiteness", or "When White isn't Right" for more.

The first person I encountered who discussed whiteness in depth in published work, was Marilyn Frye. She, along with my mentor, also a white feminist and lesbian, gave me hope in the 1980s that being white didn't necessarily mean being in gross denial about the force and fury of white supremacy.

I will be discussing writings by white feminists in future posts. For now, I want to link you, the dear reader, to some resources for further reading. To understand, from reading materials, what whiteness is and does, I recommend reading the work of women of color. I'd say read the work of people of color but in my experience men of color do not sufficiently comprehend how whiteness shapes and insults the lives of women of color. So, do read the work of people of color--who are women.

Here are those links. The source website for these is *here* at With hugs thanks to them!!! (I only wish there were more essays and articles by women of color, for whites to read and learn from. There's plenty by Audre Lorde, bell hooks, and so many more writers, theorists, and activists.)

Feminism and Whiteness

Identity Politics and Race: Some Thoughts and Questions by Elliott batTzedek, from Rain and Thunder Issue #5, Winter Solstice 1999.

White Woman Feminist by Marilyn Frye, from Willful Virgin: essays in feminism (Crossing Press, 1992).

On Being White: Thinking Toward a Feminist Understanding of Race and Race Supremacy by Marilyn Frye, from The Politics of Reality: essays in feminist theory (Crossing Press, 1983).

Anthropology by Chrystos, from the "Dyke Humor" issue of Lesbian Ethics (Vol 3 No 3 Summer 1989).

From Practice to Theory, or What is a White Woman Anyway? by Catharine A. MacKinnon. From the excellent anthology Radically Speaking: Feminism Reclaimed. This article is a must-read, a direct challenge to those who would assert that there's no such thing as a woman.

Please see also these articles at other sites:
White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh
Detour-Spotting for White Anti-Racists by jona olsson (pdf)

I am interested in reading the response essay to MacKinnon's above, called "Whiteness and Women, in Practice and Theory: a Reply to Catharine MacKinnon" by Martha R. Mahoney. Just below is a link to the first page of it. I'm also curious to know if C. A. MacKinnon has responded to this:

A friend of mine is trying to locate the whole of it. We'll see what we get.

In the mean time--sometimes far too mean time, here's to more community-building forms of discourse. As someone once remarked to me, "Radicals eat their young." This was meant as a caution about how vicious people can be when defending their own intellectual and political turf. It appear to also be the case that the young do their level best to ignore or dismiss their elders.

The masters of these and other, far more deadly, games are those with the most structural power in society. And in this society of mine, that isn't radicals. But I have noticed, among white radicals in particular, an odd kind of meanness that seems to not understand the meaning of care and compassion at all.

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