"Be careful when you are dealing with white folks, because one day they wake up and realize they’re white and you ain’t."
--Tiffany in Houston, on Feministe
Renee Martin of Womanist Musings recently wrote in the Guardian about why she doesn't consider herself a feminist: feminism doesn't seem to have a place for women of color or their issues. I'm not what I would call an institutional feminist (I mean absolutely no disrespect in that term, just that I have never formally studied feminist theory or women's studies--I formed my feminist beliefs by reading Alice Walker, Virginia Woolf, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg), so I at first didn't see the relevance of her piece to my brand of feminism. Maybe academic feminists had excluded women of color, but I was part of a personal, inclusive breed of feminists, right? Then, I read this piece in Jezebel where Megan Carpentier bristles at the fact that Martin states mainstream feminist blogs such as Feministe, Feministing, and Pandagon are dominated by white women. Carpentier points to the multiple women of color on each of the blogs mastheads
Feministing, which remains an explicit collective, has a new executive editor, Samhita Mukhopadhyay, who has been there for five years. Of the four people on the masthead at Pandagon, two are people of color. Of the two people I know personally at BitchPhD, one is a woman of color. At least two of the bloggers at Feministe — Holly and Chally — identify in their bios as non-white.The commenters at Jezebel pointed out that Carpentier was guilty of tokenism: having a black kid on the debate team does not a race revolution make. They also pointed me down a rabbit hole I've been exploring for the past two days--the frequent instances of white bloggers on mainstream feminist sites being racially insensitive and then surprised by the offense they caused.
The most glaring such instance involves Amanda Marcotte, founder of Pandagon and of-late columnist at the Daily Beast. Marcotte wrote a column on immigration and sexual assault that had similarities to writing by BFP, a blogger of color, who has since taken down her site. BFP called out Marcotte on the similarities, and Marcotte responded defensively. The whole thing got ugly. Marcotte, and her supporters, claimed they had evidence she did not plagiarize. But, that was never really the point. The point was (apparently, I am only reading about this after the fact) that Marcotte had consistently ignored issues affecting women of color, had been urged to write on them in the past by numerous bloggers of color, and, when she finally did, did not cite any of the bloggers of color who had been writing passionately about the issue for years. Whether or not Marcotte actually plagiarized, she played into a long history of white people using their dominant voice to decide when an issue is an issue, and then erasing people of colors' contributions to the movement.
Then it got worse. Marcotte had a book out cheekily titled "It's a Jungle Out There" about surviving as a feminist in the world. Unfortunately, Marcotte and her publishing house chose (they chose, she approved) retro jungle cartoons to illustrate the pages. And those retro jungle cartoons pictured a white woman rescuing a white man from dark-skinned natives, depicted as cannibalistic savages (especially bad because people pointed out the gorilla/white woman image originally proposed for the cover was racist, and this was the replacement). Jill Filipovic, who runs Feministe and who we link to often, had promoted the book, calling it a "great, funny read." Given the incredibly racist images in the book, a book Jill read, commenters at Feministe demanded Jill withdraw her support of the book, which she eventually did.
Jill's sincerely intentioned defense was that she didn't see the images. I mean, I'm sure she saw them, but she didn't see them. She didn't see that there were men of color being portrayed in stereotypical ways and being set up as the enemy of the white woman; she didn't see that the white men and women were the good guys and the men of color the bad; she didn't see that the images were racist. That, my friends is white privilege in action (which Jill acknowledges)--it's the privilege to go through life not seeing that things are severely, very effed up.
As a whitish multiracial person, I mostly don't identify as a person of color, and try not to speak for "people of color." This is because I have benefitted from white privilege (I owe belledamme this description), having been raised by my white mother in a white community, before going to a top mostly white college partly supported by my white grandparents. But at some point in adolescence I realized I was not white in one particular way, in the way that silently granted immunity from understanding the problems facing oppressed people and the way our language enables and supports that. I was in math class, and confronted a group of boys making racist jokes while the teacher lectured. They brushed it off. I talked to the teacher about it, hoping he would strategize with me about how to educate the class on intolerance, and he brushed it off, saying "my only concern is that these boys aren't paying attention in class." And there I was. One of the very small handful of non-white students taking BC calculus, left on an island of non-whiteness in my opinion that jokes about "spics" and "chinks" aren't funny, ever.
When people like Renee Martin talk about the mainstream feminist blogosphere not incorporating the views of women of color, they're not asking that someone throw them a bone in the form of a post on this issue or that, or appoint another off-white blogger. They're asking that feminists step down from their ivory tower (built of white privilege) and view the world on level with the oppressed. They're asking that feminism not be about "women before all else," but rather, equality and opportunity before all else. They're asking that those who are oppressed in one dimension recognize their privilege in another and do something about it. It's not just about race; it's ableism, classism, transphobia (yes, I've been getting in deep on all of this)--the general willful agnosticism of much of feminism to the very real plights facing people the world over. Blackamazon makes this point in her critique of Jessica Valenti's full-frontal feminism: