To feminist women of color,
I got the idea for this letter a few weeks ago, when I overheard one of your brethren saying how she had opted not to go out that night because (and I quote as best I can remember) “WP’s act like children when drunk” and “WW’s are the worst because whenever you go out with you friends you always end up playing babysitter”.
Frankly, I’m a little miffed that you think I can’t figure out a code as flimsy as “WP’s” and “WW’s”, but I digress. I’m not going to be offended about that. Frankly, I agree with you. White women especially can get pretty awful when drunk. I understand where you’re coming from on this.
What I can’t understand, though, is why you stick up for these people. Here’s the thing: the individuals this particular woman was talking about were all young, progressive-leaning women of college age who identified as feminists. Young, white feminists. In other words, they are your allies as feminist women of color. Yet, why do you support them?
On the surface, you all purport to hold the same ideals dear: gender equality, an end to rape culture, sexual and reproductive freedom…etc. Still, I am one of those individuals who always finds himself looking deeper, and I can’t help but notice that in practice, white feminists have very different aims from feminists of color.
Feminism is a white movement. It has been from the beginning. One might even say that the feminist system has it its core an implicit whiteness that sometimes has trouble reconciling the needs of the other. It certainly seems at times to uphold the idea of the white woman as the perfect feminist icon. How does that make you feel?
But this is a little abstract. Let’s examine an example: Sheryl Sandberg. As a woman who has achieved monumental success working within the male-dominated tech industry and who provided the inspiration for the Lean In movement, she is without doubt one of the most notable feminist icons in the United States today.
We are, of course, talking about someone who has taken flack for using and attempting to extort others, who has not been so egalitarian when it comes to who she helps “lean in”, and who seem to not want to talk about diversity at Facebook. Worst of all, it wouldn’t be off-base to accuse her of co-opting the Lean In movement for reasons of personal marketing and using false statistics when it makes herself seem relevant.
I bring this up because this sort of behavior is symbolic of how all white feminists have treated their feminist sisters of color, treating them as props for social status and using them as stepping stones on their career path, if not ignoring them completely.
Search your feelings. You know this to be true. Feminism was never about you. It was about white women, and you’re just a footnote to them. Have you ever felt that sometimes white feminists were being disingenuous around you, or maybe even toward you? Trust those feelings.
Now, I admit it, white feminists are powerful allies. I can understand if you don’t want to break with them entirely. Still, it seems clear that their interests are not your interests, and tying yourself to them completely will serve only to help them get what they want at the expense of you getting what you want.
If you’re really as proud as you say you are (and I certainly don’t see why you shouldn’t be), than you should know you can do better than that. No matter how much white feminists may talk about “empowerment”, you’re smart enough to know that’s a myth. That aren’t empowering you. They’re using that sort of rhetoric to keep you down. Deep down, they understand a fundamental truth about power: Power that is given to you is power that cannot be relied upon. The only power you can completely trust is that which you have worked for and seized for yourself.
White feminist pulled one over on you so they could sleep around and do as they please without consequence while still being guaranteed a comfy job in marketing or human resources once they were done, using you when they needed and ignoring you when it was convenient. Solidarity is for white women indeed…
Now, I get it. They may not be perfect, but they’re still feminists. They’re still your sisters. I get it. They’re also still white. I’ll leave you to decide which matters more (no judgment).
Finally, one last thing. Ta-Nehisi Coates recently made the case that blacks deserve reparations for slavery and their treatment throughout the history of the United States. Might feminists of color deserve reparations from their white sisters too?