So as anyone who has read my previous articles may know, I’m a bit of a feminist. I’d very much like to call myself a proper feminist – the term is intersectional feminist – but according to a high volume of articles, that’s seldom possible to be if you are White.
I find it frustrating when I read articles such as many of those featured on EverydayFeminism, or the Belle Jar’s. I agree with all of the points made – but the way these articles are written makes any White reader feel like they are doing something wrong: “Your Internalized Dominance Is Showing: A Call-In to White Feminists Who Believe That AllLivesMatter” is the name of one such article. Of course it’s important to acknowledge positions of privilege, and the complex ways in which this status allows injustices to continue to thrive, but these articles make the assumption that their White readers have not yet tried to unlearn their privilege. Yet most of the time the people reading articles about intersectional feminism are intersectional feminists.
These texts often take the view that unless you’re a triple minority – a Black lesbian, for example (oppressed gender, race, and sexuality) – that you have no authority to an opinion or stance on feminist issues. It is more than likely that a triple minority person has experienced more oppression than a White person, but to portray White heterosexual people as ignorant or intolerant, while often the case, is a generalisation. If you are a White, privileged male, you are made to feel like you are the enemy even if you are an intersectional feminist. I thought anti-racism and feminism were about getting away from stereotypes?
Here’s my issue, for me on a personal level. Ethnically I am Eastern European, Celtic and Chinese-Malaysian. Culturally I am British and German. So I’m predominantly White and Western. But I have also encountered racism, or at least racist microaggressions, for being Chinese, for being White - yes, it’s true - and for being German. Secondly, I am a (cis) woman. Thirdly, I am a woman who is sometimes interested in other women. I wouldn’t describe myself as fully bisexual, but I fit somewhere on the scale as not completely straight (I’ve started identifying as queer). So I read these articles and feel like I’m the oppressor, because I’m mostly White and mostly heterosexual. But I’m also the other things that make me oppressed. There doesn’t seem to be room for this middle ground (where do mixed race identities fit into this Black/White binary categorisation?) and, furthermore, I feel these articles alienate a massive part of their target audience in their assumption that all White straight people are racist/ sexist/ homophobic. Having privilege does not necessarily mean that you cannot accept intersectionality or other academic notions of oppression; many people have educated themselves on the topic and are aware of all the issues surrounding feminism. Often those who are not at the very bottom of the ladder feel like they can’t legitimise their own feelings – even if those feelings concur with everything that intersectional feminism is about.
The texts I am referring to all make valid points; for example as the Belle Jar article argues, White feminists should not think that their experiences of marginalisation are universal. They aren’t. But the article concludes with: “White feminists: this is a call for you to get your shit together. The point of equality isn’t to claw your way to the top so that you can treat other people just as badly as white dudes have treated you – we need to elevate each other, amplify each other’s voices, and maybe let someone else tell us if we’re allowed to be on their team. Because, as per Flavia Dzodan, if your feminism is not intersectional, then I’m sorry but it’s complete bullshit.”
I feel this sort of stance demonises White feminists, and undertakes the assumption that White feminism is never intersectional; aside from a small disclaimer at the end, the generalisations are ubiquitous. I understand the point that this can be the case – Patricia Arquette at the Oscars exemplifying this – but it is unfair to assume that being White and an intersectional feminist are incongruent. Everybody’s experience is different, yes, and this does indeed need to be addressed. However, to argue that we are not on the same “team” is counter-productive. I’m glad that these sorts of articles highlight the mistakes made by many feminists and how we can improve on them; however, at the end of the day we all want to fight oppression. If we are divided, they will continue to conquer. Let’s examine what people are doing wrong, for sure, but let’s do it in a way that allows all feminists to unite.