It was another light week, but my piece, When Feminism Dovetails With White Supremacy, got some interesting responses here and in my mentions on Twitter. For those of you who missed it, the premise of the piece is that there’s an underbelly of White supremacy in elite feminism, and a few events from last weekend revealed it.
As I’ve said before, I’m open to challenges to my ideas, but I think anyone who pushes back on this piece without discussing White supremacy and racism or tries to hand wave them away is telling on themselves rather comprehensively. And yes, that’s happened: People have tried to undercut my positions by basically saying #NotAllWhiteFeminists, employing the #NotAllMen tactics they claim to despise. I’ve also been condescended to about the history of feminism — again with no mention of racism or White supremacy. I’d classify this as a form of whitesplaining. I understand that this is an uncomfortable issue, but pretending it doesn’t exist when it’s the reason so many women of color adamantly refuse to go by the label “feminist” (even with the qualifier “intersectional”) is a really bad look.
I wrote in the first edition of these weekly discussions that I’m very careful about who I engage with on matters of race. I really take to heart Toni Morrison’s admonition that deliberate, wilfully maintained ignorance is a feature of racism and that all the explaining and debunking it requires is designed to waste our time and stop us from doing our work. I don’t engage with #AllLivesMatter logic, and I won’t engage with #NotAllWhiteFeminists arguments. I just don’t think they’re being made in good faith, and the attempt to change the subject looks exactly the same from where I’m sitting. I spent most of my adult life in elite, predominantly White institutions full of liberals and have witnessed White women consistently throw people of color under the bus (sometimes deliberately and with malice aforethought) then hide behind their feminism. This isn’t my first rodeo.
I get that being told you’re behaving like a White supremacist is a tough pill to swallow — especially for a liberal. It’s nowhere near as bad as being a victim of White supremacy, though. As I said in the piece: White Feminists are better placed than pretty much any other offending group to understand systemic, institutionalized racism. They also have the tools to understand how it mutates as society progresses and their role in perpetuating it. I’m not pretending otherwise, because they want to avoid self-reflection and personal responsibility. The bar being on the ground is part of the problem.
Kelly Blackburn brought up something important that I neglected to mention: who gets to be angry and under what circumstances.
One thing that’s bothering me about White Feminism is being told to “get angry.” I’ve been angry for a long time. I carried the burden of that anger alone. Ironically, I find white women to be among those who are most uncomfortable with my expressions of anger.
After reading your article I see the irony in white women telling people to “get angry” about inequality. (Just one irony among many.)
Expressing anger under the wrong circumstances in front of the wrong people can have dire consequences. I think the problem of anger, who gets to express it, how and when is part of what happened last weekend. Bette Midler, et al., got angry expecting the only pushback to come from Kavanaugh supporters, and they were surprised so many of the people they thought of as being on their side weren’t rolling with it. Enough people were, though — that’s why Midler doubled down at first. It was fine to be enraged. I was. Throwing Black women under the bus wasn’t fine, though. Defending that definitely wasn’t fine.
People reveal a lot about themselves in anger. That’s one of the reasons denying room to express the emotion is a tool of dehumanization. It’s why Brett Kavanaugh was allowed to behave the way he did and be rewarded for it — he’s one of the people who’s allowed to be fully human.
Sherry Kappel has a long history in the women’s lib movement, and shared a really interesting perspective.
I don’t even know where to start or how to self-define anymore. As a child of the 60’s who celebrated Roe v. Wade, bowed down to the wisdom of MLK, and helped build mini shanty towns in protest of apartheid, I had this crazy idealistic dream that (most) people are inherently good — and that understanding one’s own pain would make them sympathetic to others’. Atheist though I am, I thought most Americans really bought into this “love thy neighbor” and those other commandments. I thought most people cared about people. I feel stupid.
I feel stupid sometimes too. Part of growing up is realizing just how imperfect we all are. I try not to idealize other people and empathize with how toxic so much of the culture that shaped us all is. It’s still shocking to realize how many people just don’t give a damn about the rest of us when it comes down to it. I’m not sure what to do with that knowledge…
The truth is, feminists who are white (vs. “white feminists”) are a mixed bag, as is any group of any size. I was pleased to participate in my local women’s march the past couple of years because women of color helped lead and organize, were well represented, and many of us marched together (vs. simply side by side). Yet the truth is also everything you said, and it is far too prevalent. I watched numerous white women duke it out during the march plans, over who was the bigger ally and how the march could best support our “friends of color” — instead of asking them to simply tell us.
A lot of people do the right things for the wrong reasons (attention, praise, influence). Learning this is another tough lesson of growing up. It’s hard not to be cynical. I’ve gotten better at recognizing the patterns though. Never allowing an opportunity to take credit slip by is a huge tell. As is consistently talking over and condescending to the people you claim to be helping. There’s actually a trait called “playing the servant” psychiatrists look out for to help them identify manipulative people. It opened my eyes a lot when I learned about it.
We (feminists who are white, not white feminists, and really all good-hearted Americans) absolutely have so much we could learn from you, and by following people of color. The best event I’ve had the good fortune to participate in is the Moral March, led by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II and the NAACP here in Raleigh, where I see so many causes supported by a rainbow of supporters.
There should be a Moral March in every city where there’s a Women’s March, and then some. This isn’t just a good thing, but a necessary thing. Right now our country is at a crossroads where evil is out in the open, out-right condoned, and we need all good people from all backgrounds to come together, support each other, learn from the many lessons that the more oppressed people have gathered over the centuries, and yes — follow the lead of those who have the most experience eliciting change. Like it or not, none of us has a demographic majority and so we need each other.
But then, we should have figured that out years ago and we clearly haven’t. Maybe there aren’t enough good people. How do you even find them? “Liberal” is rapidly being equated with hypocritical, a lot of progressives were too self-centered to vote when they didn’t get their candidate, and yes — you’re absolutely right — we whites tend to be recalcitrant children when we’re not given the reins. White women are as suspect as white men. So how do we find good people? How do we get them to be even better? How do we develop trust? How do we make people care about people and not just power?
Sadly, I’m at a loss.
Our entire global society has to be reprogrammed, and it’s so daunting a prospect I don’t even know how to wrap my head around it. The catastrophes climate change is bringing means everything has to be accelerated. I think part of moving forward is realizing that the way we’ve thought about the world and how to manage it is just wrong. We have to re-examine questions that seem self-evident. It’s a huge opportunity, but as you’ve asked: How do we get enough good people mobilized? I’m at a loss too. We just have to keep learning and asking and demanding and hope it all comes together in time.
Going back to Toni Morrison’s wisdom: I also think we have to stop wasting time trying to convince people who don’t want to be convinced. We’re past the stage where we can afford to hand-hold people. We have to focus on people who have already put in enough work to be on the fence or close to it. We don’t need majorities, we just need critical mass. We also have to find ways to change the parameters of the arguments and re-frame the discussion. Radical problems require radical solutions.
One thing I do know: Indigenous people have to be at the forefront of all this. They have to lead, and the rest of us have to find the humility to follow. It’s the conclusion the new climate science reports draws as well. What needs to happen is genuine decolonization. That means huge numbers of people divesting from White supremacy, Eurocentrism, patriarchy, and capitalism. In ten years… It’s one of the reasons I went so hard in the piece — to try to shake even a handful of people out of the complacency. The more benevolent-seeming forms of White supremacy have to be done away with too. Pretending things aren’t what they are is just going to slow things down, and we can’t afford to waste any more time.
Side note, I was off the grid last weekend but as a Carolina fan I was thrilled that Eric Reid had joined the team and happy to hear that he took a knee; hopefully this other thing will die a quick death? I hadn’t heard about it elsewhere.
The #TakeAKnee against Kavanaugh thing was thankfully scuttled pretty quickly, and I think it’s dead. I was thrilled for Eric Reid, too! It’s one of the reasons I was really displeased with what happened: he deserved the spotlight in that moment. I’m really glad he continued to protest.
I was really heartened by this sentiment from Melinda Lejman:
In utmost sincerity I want to say thank you for writing this. And I have to admit that I, too promoted and co-opted the Take a Knee sentiment without even thinking about its implications and was swiftly corrected. I have much work to do and that includes continuing to learn from those who know more than I do about how best to be an ally.
My entire adult life has been spent deprogramming myself out of harmful beliefs I’d been indoctrinated into. That includes White supremacy. We’ve all been conditioned to buy into and defer to it, and the messages reinforcing it are impossible to escape and can be quite subtle. I still slip up. I fall into old, bad habits. I don’t think things all the way through. I’m a naturally cautious person, who until recently didn’t spend much time on social media, so the fallout has been minor. I don’t know if I could have taken the public chastisement Bette Midler had to for her mistake. Nevertheless, many of us are putting together how truly broken things are, and setting things right means we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard.
Believing yourself to be a good person or good ally isn’t enough. There’s a reason I don’t raise my voice much when trans people talk about the ways they’re being failed by their allies. (I’m not even sure I’m comfortable giving myself the title ally, to be honest.) I listen to what they say and examine my behavior. I cringe at how ignorant I was most of my life. I never thought of myself as a bigot and couldn’t understand for the life of me why some of my law school classmates were so uncomfortable when one of our colleagues transitioned. I wasn’t hateful, but I was ignorant and didn’t really take any steps to rectify that. It made me talk about trans people to non-trans people in ways that were harmful and contributed to the beliefs and systems that oppress them. It wasn’t enough to mean well or not be a virulently bigoted asshole.
That’s it for this week. Sorry if I didn’t get to your comment, but this turned out to be a pretty long one. I’m struggling a bit to get my arms around a longform piece I’ve had the idea to write for a while. It may (or may not) keep my posting schedule light again next week.