Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On "radical" identities and the consciousness of some white bloggers

image is from here

NOTE: This is not directed at every white woman I know. It is directed at many white women I do not know.

I've been encountering some white privilege, power, and entitlements in my regular encounters with folks. This is nothing new. Recently the whitness is showing up in a variety of ways but it there is one form that I will address right now.

Just so you know--if you're new to this blog, I stand strongly in political and spiritual solidarity with women of color who are, as far as I can see, always fighting at least two institutionalised ideologies: male supremacy and white supremacy, if not also other forms of oppression and domination such as capitalism, heterosexism, anti-Semitism, anti-Islamic violence, anti-Indigenous genocide. I will call out any expression of white supremacy I encounter.

There are some white women online who are calling themselves "radical" who deny that women can oppress women. This is as messed up a viewpoint as men claiming they cannot oppress other men due to race, class, and other conditions. Some men do argue this, of course. Some white het men believe it because they deny there are any systems of oppression, any social-political hierarchies, working at all. Some WHM (white het men) claim they wish to be spoken about as if they are only individuals, not as part of an institutionally protected, privileged group. With that as their request, they then proceed to understand women only as a group--and are numbingly stupid about the diversity of perspective and analysis among feminists.

Especially, patriarchy- and white supremacy-protecting WHM argue that feminists are all man-haters, never bothering to offer up a substantive argument other than throwing around quotes. (They also stay astoundingly silent about all the published men who state quite clearly that men are rapists by nature--a position not belonging to radical feminism.) Their two-dozen favorite quotes (see *here* for more about this) by all-white feminists are allegedly all the proof they need that "those damned feminists hate men so much!" Why they seem so determined to ignore the work of radical feminists of color is beyond me--unless it is because they assume women of color aren't worth paying attention to. Anyone with a computer and a mouse can easily gather up about a thousand times as many quotes online from white het men who demonstrate disgusting levels of misogyny, and racism, homophobia, and general callousness to cruelty committed or controlled predominantly by WHM.

These WHM activists go on and on about Black people as one group, lesbians as one group, Mexican people as one group, and Asian people as one group, Indigenous people as one group--if they care to notice there are Indigenous people at all. This often means that these political WHM cannot comprehend the existence and diversity among lesbian women of color and how their experiences might vary from white lesbian women's. Other men believe, for example, that if men are poor or not white they are not capable of oppressing women. I've heard and seen plenty of arguments by het men of color that they are only oppressed, and are not oppressors to women in their own communities and regions. Bullshit.

The willful ignorance isn't limited to het men, however.

Here's a quick anecdote about a white, class-privileged gay man I once knew through a mutual friend. My friend and this white gay man worked together in retail and I ran into him when going to this store.

The man I didn't know especially well, but who welcoming of getting to know me better, thought he's impress me with his humor. He told me a joke that was racist. I won't repeat it. I was deeply upset by it and he was quite surprised I would be so alarmed. This is often my experience with whites--we assume we're all good with the racism. I'm not. So I didn't laugh and indicated that I didn't find his "joke" funny. When he realised this he went on to explain to me why it was okay for him to tell it. He said Whoopi Goldberg told the joke, and he was gay so he can't be racist. (Because, you know, he's oppressed by sexual orientation so apparently that means he can't oppress anyone else.)

I asked my friend how it could be that this white guy thought I'd welcome hearing that joke. He told me the following: [racist white guy in denial] told me a joke--kind of like the one he told you but not with the racist parts; I told him you would probably like it. So that's how come [racist white guy] thought it would be okay. I told my friend the actual joke shared and he too was shocked. Neither of us are friends with [racist white guy in denial].

Every feminist friend I know would call him out on a bogus argument that gay men can't oppress women because the men are gay.

Enduring one form of marginalisation or subjugation doesn't mean one is positioned socially and structurally to not oppress anyone or any group to which one doesn't belong. Every woman I know personally understands that men who are gay can be oppressive to women--particularly lesbian, in some communities, if we share social spaces. Although the Sheila Jeffreys' book, Unpacking Queer Politics, is being trashed without thoughtful engagement or analysis by many people occupying many different social spheres, it does engage the reader in an important conversation about how gay men's behavior and values oppresses lesbian women. At the time of this writing, I can count on zero hands the number of white gay men who have responded responsibly to her arguments.

Every woman I know also understands that men of color can be oppressive to women across race and sexuality. How does it happen then, that white and het women cannot be oppressive to any other women (or, for that matter, to men of color, and to gay men if the women are het)? With what understanding of social harm and hierarchy, and through what privileged and protected lens does one get to believe that? How convenient for not taking full political responsibility for one's whiteness or heterosexuality, eh? And, what's more, these women have all had plenty of opportunity to learn about their white supremacy and heterosexism as they've been called out on each of these rearing its oppressive head in many social spaces.

To believe that because one is a [white het] woman--with just about every form of privilege and entitlement on Earth--one cannot be an oppressor either individually or institutionally, totally invisibilises how a very central force in many societies works: that force is white supremacy. It also renders white women invisible as whites and women of color invisible as people who are both women and of color, all due to white women's political slight of hand which they summarise as "women can't oppress women". Apparently, for race- and region-privileged women do not have any other structural locations on Earth other than as women: unraced.

When I learned recently that a few radical-identified white het women believed this, I realised I'd heard it before, many times, and that it might help explain why it is that so many white "radical" women do not deal with their racism, their white privilege, and the meaning and forms of their white power and entitlements. I'll press pause on the unacknowledged or blatantly denied heterosexism issue for now. The racism I've witnessed isn't only demonstrated and denied by het white women.

I reflected back on the drag shows co-organised by white lesbians and white gay men. The lesbians called themselves "radical" because they sincerely thought they were. When I challenged them on co-creating spaces that were overtly hostile and insulting to lesbian (and other) women of color, to poor women of color, to men of color also, they pretended my concern was not as important as their need to be entertained by each other. They treated the matter as if it were abstract. To them, it was abstract because they've never taken the time to immerse themselves intimately in the communities and lives of people without race privilege. They don't ever have to live the lives of lesbian women of color and they can believe that white lesbian experience is all they need to consider or show concern about when organising to defend lesbian experience.

I will continue to call out white supremacist queer people who also misuse the term "radical"--according to the radical women of color I know, not primarily according to me. Too often patriarchy protected practices like gender bending are promoted as radical or revolutionary. There are several problems with that viewpoint. One is that their political practice is based on understanding the social problem as "gender" or "the gender binary" and not male supremacy--and white supremacy and heterosexism and capitalism, among other forms of organised harm and horror.

It isn't that difficult to translate dynamics that are male supremacist to those that are white supremacist. One central reason it isn't difficult is because both systems of harm and dehumanisation inform each other, shape each other, and feed off of one another, in white male supremacist societies.

Here are a few clues one, if a blogger, might be acting out of white privilege, power, and entitlements.

--your blog doesn't identify your race as white if you're white
--your blog or identity doesn't include your stated understanding of how and where you step on the backs of others to be where you are. I mean collectively: how your people got to be where they are
--you believe you are radical because you comprehend how white women are oppressed by white men, but don't understand any other form of oppression and apparently don't make it your business to do so
--you feel very entitled to "own" and "define" the term "radical" because you are white; it doesn't occur to you that you're not radical if you promote your own white supremacy by ignoring your white privileges and power
--you put down white trans people because the white trans people you know have liberal political agendas, meaning pro-status quo; you don't consider how being white supremacist is deeply pro-status quo and dangerously conservative

I have similarly called out sexist and misogynist men of color who believe themselves to be radical; often enough, men of color who see themselves as radicals will limit their political consciousness to understanding how white supremacy degradingly effects men of color.

Now, most of the white power I encounter belongs to and is exercised by men; I don't wish to pretend that white women hold more white power than do white men. Intersectional analyses of power means that one benefits in complex ways when one holds more than one position atop a hierarchy. Being white and male, for example--as I am--means something different than being white plus male. It's not only an additive thing to me--this life that is lived in positions of power relative to other groups of people. It's also exponential. This is why I view white men's white power as greater than white women's. Also because if white women exercise any form of power in ways that white men disapprove of, it will be the white men who get their way--institutionally if not always interpersonally. But often enough, white men will kill white women if the men don't approve of how the white women are behaving.

One key way I see white women ignore and deny their own white power is to pretend that violence only happens interpersonally. Typically, white blogs that are pro-feminist deal with issues of rape, harassment, the practices of heterosexuality, and other interpersonal and intimate harm, but not, for example with issues of poverty, racism, HIV, and starvation that isn't only isn't individually experienced but is also politically imposed as a form of genocide.

This is because poverty, racism, and most other forms of atrocity and terrorism are profoundly interlocking institutionalised realities (as is rape; as is sexism). Poverty, in particular, isn't always so easily identified as only something individuals do to other individuals. We can note that rich people don't have to walk down the street harassing poor people individually; they do, often enough, however, work behind the scenes to pass city legislation to ban poor people from congregating or home-making in various parts of a city. The deals are made out of view of the poor people who will be most negatively effected.

I'm not comfortable defining myself as "radical" unless I am open to looking at and working to challenge all areas of my privilege, in collaboration with women who are negatively effected by that privilege; this necessarily means engaging with women of color across sexuality and with lesbian women across race and ethnicity. "Radical" is not primarily a mindset or a viewpoint, to me. What it is, is a commitment to action demonstrated actively. Action to call oneself out, to hold oneself accountable, and--importantly--to be personally and socially available to be accountable--to not hide out in only-white or only-male or only-het spaces for example.

These same white het women promoting ideas that they cannot oppress the women they do, in fact, oppress were also working to silence Lesbian women. It appears they don't see their heterosexuality as a position of power over and against women marginalised by sexual-political orientation--which really means by the het supremacy that women also participate in.

The anti-trans perspectives among some white non-trans women "radical" bloggers is fierce and self-righteous. If only their critiques of whiteness were as rigorous.

Suffice it to say if we work with this as a definition of what radical feminists oppose--"if it hurts women, feminists are against it"--we are left to know, beyond any glare of doubt, that racism is anti-woman if the women are women of color. This means that racism is also a form of misogyny. To any white woman who is against misogyny: are you against the misogyny you promote and protect, that negatively impacts the lives of women of color, by you ignoring your own white privilege and power?

White women, usually, like pro-status quo white men, do not care enough to consider how their lives are not at all like women without race privilege. I've witnessed how women of color are expected to pass white women's litmus tests of whether or not they are radical--such as on pornography or prostitution. They don't consider that their own use of "radical" ought to be up for question if they can't identify what it is women of color face the world over that white women do not.

I call this out as a white male, knowing that if a white woman called out the same stuff she'd be verbally harassed and otherwise threatened for doing so by other white women seeking to maintain the very real power of the White Sisterhood. Both because of my male privileges and power, and because I do not seek solidarity with racist white women, I don't feel as vulnerable to such ostracism as some of my anti-racist white sisters do. So I'm speaking out here because if and when I don't, the task falls, as usual, to women of color. If the white women promoting this racist nonsense don't wish to hear it from a white male because being responsive to me is engaging in sexist practice to them, perhaps they'll listen to white radical lesbian feminist, Marilyn Frye, *here*.

I hope they'll consider the very radical act of believing what radical women of color say about white women's privileges and power to be oppressors. They could start with Audre Lorde, bell hooks, and Andrea Smith.

(For more on radicalism and blogging, see *this post*.)