Sunday, August 21, 2011

Considering The Unbearable Whiteness of Being a Radical Feminist Who Isn't White

photograph of Sojourner Truth is from here
Almost two years ago I posted *this* from displayed the above image. Approximately one and a half years ago I posted *this*. In the time prior to then, and since then, I've seen almost no examples of white radical feminists taking responsibility for their whiteness or organising a white radical feminist movement that places the eradication of racist misogyny (including all the effects of globalised white male supremacy) at its center.

I have criticism here of whiteness--usually white men's. But as an ally to radical feminist women of color, I include in my critiques the often unacknowledged, unowned, and irresponsible display (via invisibilisation and denial) of whiteness in what is termed "radical feminism". Such critique, like my critique of sexism and misogyny, is seen as hatred of the oppressor group, or unfair, or mean, or, especially, insulting. How is naming something that harms people "insulting" to the people in charge of the perpetuation of the harm?

There are so many examples of this unacknowledged and irresponsible use of whiteness in "radical feminism" that many women of color I know won't use the term to define or describe themselves.

But if radical (and feminist) means "getting to the root" and "pro-activist" and "revolutionary", then surely what many women around the world are doing, in the realm of theory-building, community-building, and pro-revolutionary activism, is radical feminist. Asian women, Black women, Latina women, Indigenous women are most women. White women are not most women. Yet many white radical feminist perspectives, shaped by white experience and white privilege and power, are considered central to what radical feminism is and does.

I support and advocate perspectives which come out of white radical feminism of the last forty years. My own work has been deeply shaped and directed by the work of white radical feminists such as Mary Daly, Andrea Dworkin, Catharine A. MacKinnon, and Sheila Jeffreys. But their work is not the center and foundation of radical feminism to me. It is complimentary; it is an addition to the core radical feminist work which is usually not termed such by whites and which may not be included in anthologies about the history of radical feminism, edited and published by white women and white presses. And when men term a woman "radical" or "feminist" often enough all they mean to do is stigmatise and insult the women.

White women's radical feminism, which will likely be termed here "white radical feminism" or "white racist radical feminism" or "white supremacist radical feminism" is critically important to me while it is also glaringly problematic--and harmful, and misogynistic--in its unbearable whiteness of being.

Radical feminism (by radical feminists of color) is the core, foundational work, to me. In North America that is often the work of Indigenous and Black women. Globally it is also the work of Latina and Asian women.

In my view but not mine alone, African American radical feminists, in the last forty years, such as Flo Kennedy, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde (who is also Caribbean-American), bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, have presented a far more comprehensive analysis of society from radical feminist perspectives and they don't leave out critiquing whiteness as most white racist radical feminists do.

A member of a (pro-)radical feminist collective I am part of has been in contact with a prominent white racist radical feminist who won't answer the question about whether or not she is racist. This is added to all the other experiences of white racist radical feminists who, in addition to not owning or acknowledging their own racism, will deny it quite defensively. I have seen this happen over and over and over again to the point that I consider the denial of whites' racism to be a key part of how whites keep white supremacy oppressively in tact and in control.

I can see the racism of white radical feminism and it's not difficult to spot if one is willing to call it what it should be called: one expression and manifestation of white supremacy.

No whites will use the term "white supremacist" to define themselves nor will they use "white supremacy" to define the ideology fused to practice that is their own practice. Not white men, not white trans people, not white women. Wherever whiteness exists, you can bet it will only be people of color who are willing (and, it appears, able) to name it accurately and appropriately.

The prominent white racist radical feminist argued to one member of the collective that there is a difference between racism or white supremacy and "race-blindness". Putting aside the problematic able-ism of that term for a moment, how is race-unconsciousness NOT racism-in-action? How is making that distinction NOT the practice of liberalism applied to race politics?

I know of no radical feminist women--of any color--who argue that men ought to be able to define and control terms and their meanings. Especially terms that refer to what men do that is oppressive to women. So "gender-blind" or "gender-unconscious" doesn't get to exist as a term, generally, among anyone I know who is anti-sexist and anti-misogyny. Why, then, should the term "race-blind" get to?

If a white person doesn't see race (which clearly the problematic term "race-blind" implies), doesn't that mean they operate in a multi-racial/racist world as a racist? How can they not? How does not seeing one's own whiteness result in one being anything other than racist and white supremacist in practice, interpersonally and institutionally, structurally and socially?

No white person I know, including myself, can explain how that might be possible. There's nothing radical (or pro-feminist) about protecting and defending whiteness, white supremacy, white privileges, white power, or white unconsciousness about race and racism. Because, especially in the last seven years, I have seen how much white women's racism negatively impacts (hurts, harms, demeans, subjugates, and oppresses) women of color, I look forward to the days when "radical feminists" popularly (and in practice) means "women who are organised to radically critique and challenge all forms of oppression that harm women--in the name of liberating women from all forms of oppression" and is no longer used synonymously to mean "white radical feminists". Most radical feminist women I know are not white and are not "color-blind" either.

And, contrary to the assumptions of many white radical feminists, the radical feminist women of color I know are clear about the need to end pornography, prostitution, trafficking, sexual slavery, and are far more conscious of the need to eradicate all of those forms of gross harm, each of which is founded on the existence and protection of racist misogyny, than are white radical feminists I know.

There is a white radical feminist conceit that only white women can really "get it" about things like pornography and prostitution and that being of color in North America means one is necessarily "Third Wave" or Liberal. Lost in such condescendingly white myopic analysis is the fact that neither pornography or prostitution are the "primary emergency" issues in the lives of many women of color. Also lost is the profoundly liberal politics of whites ignoring racist misogyny as a central form and expression of woman-hating.

If you are a radical feminist of color and are interested in co-organising a radical feminist women of color blog with other radical/feminist women of color, please contact me at