Although I have been preoccupied with the crises in Iraq and Lebanon, I have nevertheless been keeping half an eye on the ongoing discussion here, here, here, here, here and in other places about whether the Carnival of Feminists should actually be called the white Carnival of Feminists, about woman-of-color-only space and whether or not it “excludes” white feminists, about the relative racism, or not, of white feminist bloggers, and about white feminist anger towards feminist women of color, black feminists, in particular, and vice versa.
I have a few thoughts, they are not comprehensive by any means, and they are kind of random, but I haven’t seen anyone else talking about these things, so I will.
I think that women of color have arrived on the blogosphere. Have they ever. I’ve been around the internet, posting to feminist bulletin boards and other kinds of bulletin boards since 1994. I remember when there was precisely one feminist blog that the online feminists I knew, anyway, knew about, going back to 2001 or so, called A Feminist Blog (which no longer exists, so far as I can tell.) There were feminist websites and bulletin boards, but not really blogs back then. Then came the blogs, overwhelmingly white, at first, overwhelmingly male. Then came the white feminist women’s blogs. Then came the feminist women of color blogs, lots of them. I think they’ve done a really good job of shaking things up, and I think it’s a beautiful thing to behold. There are so many fine, fine woman of color bloggers– ohmygosh, I have the hardest time keeping up with reading them all and linking to them as I come across them. There are also, of course, many, many fine white feminist woman bloggers. It’s a new time, it’s a new day, it’s a new demographic for the neighborhood. I think difficulties and conficts are to be expected as everybody reads everybody and gets to know everybody. So I think this figures in to what seems to be a kind of acrimony that has settled in. Those who have had the power and the voice in the feminist blogosphere — white feminists — are having to move out of the way, are having to learn to take turns, to share, and especially, are having to think about things they may never have had to think about before, and so there are growing pains. Those of us who have been around the feminist internet for a while remember that we went through the same process from time to time in our own encounters with feminists of color. We said dumb things, we behaved poorly, we didn’t get it, we made everything about us. Sometimes we alienated good women (and men) who could have been our allies, and sometimes that never got fixed and maybe never will. But we learned from it, which is a good thing. I am betting the same will be true for those involved in the current conflicts.
I am personally infatuated with some of the woman of color bloggers. I really can’t get enough of what they write. They are an ongoing source of fresh, challenging insights, ideas and observations. I’m not going to say who because I’ll leave somebody out and I don’t want to. I do want to say that I hope none of them gets so discouraged that she stops blogging (which would be understandable, I’m just sayin’.) I also love the way the very visible presence of women of color on the feminist blogosphere has put a long-overdue halt to ongoing racist foolishness and ugliness on the part of a few vocal white feminists. Not so long ago, whenever there was a discussion of racism on the larger white blogs and other feminist venues, there were always a few white feminists, not going to mention names, they know who they are, who would show up to defend, for example, the flying of the Confederate Flag, or Howard Dean’s stupid truck remark, or who would write these lengthy posts about how slavery wasn’t really all that bad, or who would argue that Sally Hemmings really loved Thomas Jefferson, or who would argue that the n-word really wasn’t necessarily a bad word to use, or who would insist there was no difference between institutionalized slavery in the South and institutionalized racism in the North, or who would, with a straight face, for example, refer to non-Southern people going to New Orleans to aid the relief efforts after Katrina as “carpetbaggers.” I cannot even tell you how many hours I wasted arguing and dick-ering with these people, and what a waste it was, because the truth was, cowards as many of them are, what they had found was a venue in which they could get away with this egregious shit and get a real kick out of it. I don’t see that going down anymore, and I think that’s because they know they can’t get away with it anymore, and why? Because of the very visible and impressive presence of feminist bloggers of color. I think this is an amazingly, amazingly wonderful thing. But again, it’s a shake-up. What used to go down, isn’t going to go down anymore. If somebody tries that now, for sure, somebody is going to pop up with a hearty and resounding, “Say what?” That pisses people off, as challenges to racism always will, and do. But the truth is, feminist women of color have successfully raised the bar in these matters as to the internet. And that is all to the good, for all of us, for internet feminism, generally.
One thing that really bugs me about this is, these people do know who they are, they know what they’ve posted in the past, and they are sitting silently by, letting Nio and others who have stepped right into it up to their knees and hineys in some cases — but still not as bad as the people I’m talking about have been known to — just take the (understandable and appropriate) heat, without speaking up, without saying anything, without copping to their own racism, talking about their own foolishness and the dumb things they’ve said and argued for. I think that’s shitty and cowardly. But it also tells me, maybe they still hold the racist views they’ve always held, they’re just being quiet and sneaky about it now, which is a really bad and destructive thing. But again, bad as that is, it’s better than having to read racist crap defended by self-identified white feminists on feminist blogs!
Which is all to say I’m so glad the feminist women of color bloggers have arrived. Damn, they’re good. And I’m sorry they have had to go through all of this shit. They didn’t deserve it, it’s a huge energy drain, it is demoralizing and discouraging, and I wish things had been different.
I also wanted to say something about woman of color only space. From my perspective, it is preposterous for white feminists to even offer any opinion on that issue. That has nothing to do with white people, including white feminists. Of course women of color need their own spaces! All affinity groups need our own spaces from time to time. We shouldn’t have to ask anybody for them, shouldn’t have to defend them, don’t owe anybody any explanations or apologies. Dear goddess on high, it is absurd to suggest that women of color meeting together are “excluding” white feminists! When in fact the whole world, including white feminists, excludes feminists of color 24/7, in a million visible and invisible ways.
I will soon be packing up my camping gear, rounding up my daughters and an extra womon or two 😉 for our pilgrimage to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which is woman-only space. Within that space, there is a Woman of Color tent. My daughters will be welcome to go to that tent and participate in all the many activities scheduled there, and if they choose to go, I will encourage them with my whole heart, even though I can’t go with them because I am white. I know that this is something women of color must have, for so many reasons, including my daughters. I can’t give them what they can get there, and I don’t belong there– even though I am their mother. The existence of this space does not “exclude” me. It gives them something they could not have, were I present.
I wanted to finish by with two quotes, one I read quite some time ago, written by Trula Mama, who rocks in so many, many ways, as far as I am concerned. I love Trula Mama. In her typical, powerful Trula Mama style, so eloquent, she says:
… almost every time I or anyone else post about a race issue it turns into a big fight…I get so tired of people getting offended by any discussion of stuff that affects black people and/or black women. I don’t understand why this is so hard for so many non-black feminists to get, particularly those who claim to not be racist. On this board [Note: She is talking about a completely different venue, not the blogosphere] there has been a persistent denial or refusal to see how our issues are ignored, marginalized, and flat-out dismissed.
I feel as if I don’t say anything when someone fronts over this, if I try to let it slide, then I have allowed myself to be silenced. I have also allowed myself to be shamed at my shock, anger, and dismay over stuff like this. Because when I do say something it is usually interpreted as me starting a fight, or stirring the pot, or causing a ruckus. and my shock, anger, and dismay is interpreted as being unjustified. I am interpreted as being too sensitive. I guess people think I’m not supposed to be angry or hurt or shocked or dismayed anymore at the many ways racism affects my life as a black woman. I guess even white feminists and other non-black women think black people should be ‘over’ it even though ‘it’ is still going on.
I am a member an awesome online community of black women and I have black women friends IRL I can talk to about stuff like this. For some time I told myself I just wouldn’t post stuff like this here … since it seemed to cause so much ire and discomfort among some people there, and constantly having to defend myself over race issues, on a supposedly feminist and progressive board, is so tiring and draining.
Lately though I have been feeling that this is deeply wrong on many levels. If this is a community I care about and that supposedly cares about me and all the other black people here (while I may be the most visible/vocal I am definitely not the only one), if this a community of women that is supposedly inclusive of everybody, that is supposedly anti-racist, then why shouldn’t I talk about issues that affect black women. ’cause gosh darn it, Aren’t I a woman too? Sojourner Truth said that in 1851…here it is 2006 and black women still have to fight to be heard among our non-black feminist ‘sisters’.
This is why we withdraw. I already have to fight racist white men and women. I shouldn’t have to fight white feminists too…
I totally understand that racism deeply affects white people too, to the point where often their whole worldview is distorted. I wish more of them would try to change that within themselves; to understand that it isn’t always about them. Ya’ll don’t always have to ‘relate’ or look at things based on your own experiences to understand it, to even discuss it. However good came out of all of this. It made me examine how I define myself. I have been saying feminist/womanist for many years, now I know I am most definitely a womanist. I no longer identify with a term or group of people that consistently exclude me.
Does this sound familiar to anybody? Is this not precisely what Nubian and others have been saying, over and over again, with the patience of Job? Trula Mama isn’t talking about anything that’s gone down in the blogosphere here– she’s talking about what’s gone down in a different venue. I’ve seen the same thing time and time again in all sorts of feminist and nonfeminist venues. At some point, as white feminists, we are going to have to cut the crap and listen to what is being said to us, even if the hair is standing up on the back of our necks we feel so misunderstood, angry, defensive, humiliated and ashamed. We’re in good company. We’ve all been there. In time, the hair will lay back down. 🙂
Following is some amazing wisdom and insight from a radical feminist theorist and lesbian elder (in my opinion). This might, for some reading, speed the process whereby the hair begins to lie down on the back of our white necks. At the very least, it is honest, gut-level, and direct and reflects the work the author, Marilyn Frye, has invested in divesting herself of her privilege as a white person. It is well worth reading.
It is from Frye’s book, The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory, from the chapter, On Being White: Thinking Toward a Feminist Understanding of Race and Race Supremacy:
…the topic of racism has arrived per force in the feminist newspapers and journals…because women of color have demanded it.
…many white feminists have to a fair extent responded to the demand; by which I mean, white feminists have to a fair extent chosen to hear what it was usually in their power not to hear. The hearing is, as anyone who has been on the scene knows, sometimes very defensive, sometimes dulled by fear, sometimes alarmingly partial or distorted. But it has interested me that I and other white feminists have heard the objections and demands, for I think it is an aspect of race privilege to have a choice– a choice between the options of hearing and not hearing. That is part of what being white gets you.
This matter of the powers white feminists have because of being white came up for me very concretely in a real-life situation a while back. Conscientiously, and with the encouragement of various women of color — both friends and women speaking in the feminist press — a group of white women formed a white women’s consciousness-raising group to identify and explore the racism in our lives with a view to dismantling the barriers that blocked our understanding and action in this matter. As is obvious from this description, we certainly thought of ourselves as doing the right thing. Some women of color talked with us about their view that it was racist to make it a group for white women only; we discussed our reasons and invited women of color who wanted to participate to come to the meeting for further discussion.
In a later community meeting, one Black woman criticized us very angrily for ever thinking we could achieve our goals by working only with white women. We said we never meant this few weeks of this particular kind of work to be all we ever did and told her we decided at the beginning to organize a group open to all women shortly after our series of white women’s meetings came to a close. Well, as some of you will know without my telling, we could hardly have said anything less satisfying to our critic. She exploded with rage: “You decided!” Yes. We consulted the opinions of some women of color, but still, we decided. “Isn’t that what we are supposed to do?” we said to ourselves, “Take responsibility, decide what to do, do something?” She seemed to be enraged by our making decisions, by our acting, by our doing anything. It seemed like doing nothing would be racist and whatever we did would be racist just because we did it. We began to lose hope. We felt bewildered and trapped. It seemed that what our critic was saying must be right; but what she was saying didn’t seem to make any sense.
She seemed crazy to me.
That stopped me.
I paused and touched and weighed that seeming. It was familiar. I knew it as deceptive, defensive. I know it from both sides; I have been thought crazy by others too righteous, too timid, and too defended to grasp the enormity of our difference and the significance of their offenses. I backed off.
…What is it our Black critic knows? Am I racist when I (a white woman) decide what I shall do to try to grow and heal the wounds and scars of racism among lesbians and feminists? Am I racist if I decide to do nothing? If I decide to refuse to work with other white women on our racism? My deciding, deciding anything, is poison to her. Is this what she knows?
Every choice or decision I make is made in a matrix of options. Racism distorts and limits that matrix in various ways. My being on the white side of racism leaves me a different variety of options than are available to a woman of color. As a white woman I have certain freedoms and liberties. When I use them, according to my white woman’s judgment, to act on matters of racism, my enterprise reflects strangely on the matrix of options within which it is undertaken. In the case at hand, I was deciding when to relate to white women and when to relate to women of color according to what I thought would reduce my racism, enhance my growth and improve my politics. It becomes clearer why no decision I make here can fail to be an exercise of race privilege. (And yet this cannot be an excuse for not making a decision, although perhaps it suggests that a decision should be made at a different level.)
…In a certain way it is true that being white-skinned means that everything I do will be wrong– at the least an exercise of unwarranted privilege– and I will encounter the reasonable anger of women of color at every turn. But “white” also designates a political category, a sort of political fraternity. Membership is not in the same sense “fated” or “natural.” It can be resisted.
…Feminists make use of a distinction between being male and being “a man,” or masculine. I have enjoined males of my acquaintance to set themselves against masculinity. I have asked them to think about how they can stop being men…I do not know how they can stop being men, but I think it is thinkable, and it is a counsel of hope. Likewise, I can set myself against Whiteness: I can give myself the injunction to stop being white.