White Feminism

Teaching about intersectionality, and the ways that women of colour have been excluded and marginalised within feminism? You couldn’t do much better for illustration than to have a look at what’s been happening round the blogosphere lately. Amanda Marcotte, a prominent white feminist blogger, recently published a book on surviving as a feminist in politically inhospitable environments. Unfortunately, her publishers selected some pretty racist images, and both she and they somehow failed to pick up on this. (I say “somehow”, but the fact is that we all live in racist cultures, and we are all affected by this whether or not we’d like to be. Marcotte and publishers are by no means unique in being well-meaning leftists who still screw up awfully badly.) Quite reasonably, there’s been a lot of outrage. There have also been apologies. Relatedly, things have become inhospitable enough that two prominent feminist bloggers of colour have closed down their blogs. This began with a charge of plagiarism (also against Marcotte). For a list of relevant posts, go here. For brownfemipower’s last post go here. For Blackamazon’s final post go here. Confession: I have not had the time to read all of this in any level of detail, but clearly something important and disturbing is going on that feminist philosophers should be interested in. And indeed that I am interested in. But if we wait for me to get time to read all of this properly before posting….

12 thoughts on “White Feminism

  1. Delurking to say hello: I found this blog while searching for blogs dealing with intersectionality as well as blogs by radical women of color in the wake of reading about Marcotte’s book (cover plus illustrations), appropriation of rwoc’s ideas by white feminists, and the Seal Press problems. I am not in philosophy, but my specialization is creative writing and critical theory (the theory part overlapping with philosophy to some extent), and have been enjoying your posts (and cat macros). I’m about to propose an online graduate course for my department on feminisms online because *so* much is going on here on the internet (and while I’ve been very active in LiveJournal the past five years, I haven’t been tracking blogs as often).

    My dissertation (1992) focused on the feminists of colors’ critiques of 1970s second wave feminism’s focus on gender alone, so it’s been enlightening and frustrating seeing so many of the debates being replayed again (not to mention the overlaps of rhetorics with similar debates in LJ fandom over racisms in fandom, which is one of my current projects).

  2. it’s been enlightening and frustrating seeing so many of the debates being replayed again

    This has been an especially wrenching aspect of the situation for me. I’m far, far too young to have seen the ’70s and ’80s debates in person, but I’ve certainly read about them. I’ve also read heavily in the feminist epistemology that emerged from these debates — Patricia Hill Collins criticised Nancy Hartsock’s standpoint theory for focussing on the lives of middle-class white women in the early ’80s, and the experiences of women of colour within the feminist movement were developed into systematic epistemologies by Sandra Harding, Uma Narayan, and Chela Sandoval into the ’90s, for example. I thought — apparently quite naively — that feminism had sorted this problem out twenty years ago.

  3. I think that the blow-up amongst the feminist blogs has largely been a lesson to feminists and feminist-friendly people to never assume that one is free from racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, etc. just because one identifies as a feminist or holds radical political positions. For me, as a young (white, male, and hetero) feminist, this discussion is a call to take a hard look at the views I hold and see where I succeed in being virtuous and where I fail (and do something about my failures). Many young feminists don’t remember the 70s or 80s where the call to include race might have been seriously considered; and if there’s anything good about this blow-up it is that once again feminists are asked to seriously talk about race and racism. Though, I understand why WOC are fed-up with white feminists who, after being asked and asked to take race oppression as seriously as gender oppression, simply slip-up or forget and reinforce racism.

    But I see a parallel between the call to not silence WOC and the discussion of philosophy as a blood sport in the Rats! series. What WOC bloggers are asking white feminists to do is to take their own beliefs seriously, and I think we ought to be doing the same thing when it comes to doing philosophy. If our intention in philosophy is to be inclusive of all people (and I don’t think that this is all that far-fetched), we ought to be seriously considering our underlying beliefs which prevent us from doing just that. That philosophy is an aggressive sport is one way we prevent people’s voices from being heard. That philosophy, generally, is the study of dead white men, again drives some people away and covers-up the voice of so many others. I’m sure there are other examples, but the point is the same: we ought to be seriously evaluating our goals, intentions and methods, especially if we’re new to this.

  4. That’s a really excellent point, Bret. I want to extend your conclusion, `we ought to be seriously considering our underlying beliefs which prevent us from’ being truly inclusive, just a bit. It’s not just that we should make sure our actions and beliefs are consistent. We ought listen very carefully when someone claims our actions and beliefs are inconsistent, even (perhaps especially) when our initial reaction to this claim is along the lines of `of course my actions and beliefs are consistent!’

    I say this because I think that’s really at the root of both problems. The aggressive male philosopher believes that philosophy is an inclusive discipline, and dismisses the charge from the feminist philosopher who says his actions belie that belief. The prominent feminist bloggers believe that the feminist blogosphere is (take your pick) a meritocracy, welcoming to people of all races and ethnicities, respectful of the contributions of women of colour, and starts waving around the dictionary definition of plagiarism when RWOC claim that their actions belie that belief. The critics react to this unreasonable dismissal with (justifiable) anger and indignation, leaving the conversation when they realise banging their head against the wall would be more productive.

    And so women leave philosophy and RWOC leave the feminist blogosphere.

  5. As robin reid pointed out, this isn’t the first time that WoC have been excluded from feminist discourse. Amanda, et al, have had a really hard time being consistent in their positions on exploitation and marginalization; or, rather, they have been terribly consistent. It just happens that their position happens to be “It’s fine unless it happens to me.”

    We’ve had two powerful voices in the feminist blogosphere silenced by this debacle, and the response has continued to be “We tried hard to make it better, why are you still so upset over this?”

    It’s like they’ve forgotten their history, forgotten that this is precisely what has happened time and time again in this movement. This particular set of circumstances is not even the worst event, but when we see how it is located and situated in the history of the feminist movement, it becomes easy to understand why WoC are angry and incensed by this.

  6. At the generally excellent FEM08, this last weekend, keynote speaker Germaine Greer at one point claimed that women, as a group, need to stand up and complain, protest, and (her words) ‘make them scared of us’; she worried that women, as a group, got – and allowed themselves to be – trampled on in (again her words) a way that no one dares to with the black and muslim communities, for instance.

    There’s lots to worry about in her claim here (e.g. that making ‘them’ scared is a good way to proceed), but here’s a main concern: only last week I’d been reading bell hooks’ concern that setting up ‘women’ as a group in opposition to ‘black people’ as a group makes invisible the fact that *some black people are women*. That was over 20 years ago, yet Greer’s speech seemed to be doing just that.
    (She also called for a secular feminism: a point many of my religious but feminist inclined friends would find stoutly alienating).

    Obviously, many feminists have views quite different from many of Germaine Greer’s. But she’s a rather public feminist figure, and it worried me that her speech had such exclusionary tendencies in it.

  7. Bret B: Very nice analysis.

    I’m glad ya’ll posted on this. This has a history related to the Valenti book, Full Frontal Feminism, and the rwoc who critiqued the representation of feminism on the cover as thin, white, and willing to be objectified a little to look fun and marketable. Another important rwoc voice (Nubian of Blac(k)ademic) left the blogosphere shortly after that, though for other reasons.

    Losing bfp has been hard; I consider her a philosopher alongside any other, and I have learned so much from her. I’m glad that other people have posted her analysis of the “appropriation” situation; it was so incredibly rich and insightful and moving, and it deserved better, I think, than what followed it.

    A really interesting post followed this mess at Shakesville by the always engaging PortlyDyke called “How to Fuck Up” that seems like a great tool for allies to learn, well, how to fuck up gracefully without being willfully blind, hurtful and dismissive.

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