Women of Color and Feminism: A History Lesson and Way Forward


I was not surprised when I viewed Amanda Marcotte’s presentation on online feminism at this year’s Netroots Nation conference, in which she pointed mostly to young, hip, white female bloggers writing today. While there are many women of color blogging at sites like the Crunk Feminist Collective, women of color were represented in Marcotte’s PowerPoint presentation by one stock photo of a Black woman holding car keys, with a statement about how online feminists are “driving the movement forward.” The PowerPoint slide is indicative of a larger problem in feminism: the inability to see or identify with women of color who are feminists. It’s not a good look, but then again, this slight is not unexpected given the history between white women and feminists of color.

My purpose in this piece is not to bash Amanda Marcotte—a contributor here at RH Reality Check—but to illuminate some of the long history of tension between the feminist movement and women of color. Writing this piece in the wake of the George Zimmerman trial has not been easy. Is it always going to be this way? Will it always be this difficult to come together with white feminists, as women of color, to work on the many pressing issues in this country, including the rollback of women’s rights, specifically reproductive rights?

The tension between white feminists and feminists of color has existed for a long time, in part because of race, class, and positionality. It is fair to ask, “Why is it so hard for white feminists to embrace, celebrate, and partner with their sisters of color?” Is intersectionality just a dream, or can we work past this conundrum?

It is time for white feminists to become more aware of their internalized compliance to the “isms” that threaten to divide us all, from historical and contemporary perspectives. How can we come together without being torn apart by the other “ism” that threatens feminism: racism? A brief look at the history of the feminist movement and women of color, and a prescription for our future together, is long overdue.

A History of Privileged Positions

Women of color have never had the luxury of simply focusing on women’s issues. Considerations of race, racism, and economic and social injustices have always intertwined with issues of patriarchy and sexism. Women of color who also hold feminist beliefs are also acutely aware of how their communities, broadly defined, are affected by outside forces. One classic standoff in the history of the women’s movement and feminism was between journalist and civil rights leader Ida B. Wells and women’s suffragist Frances Willard. Wells wanted Willard to recognize the problem of lynching in the South, but Willard believed that Black men were drinkers and responsible for the rape of white women. It’s reprehensible, yes, but Willard’s privileged position kept her from seeing the issues that were important for the Black community and Ida B. Wells. It also showed how she bought into the narrative of stereotypes about African-American men, accepting the trumped-up notion that African-American men, presumed to be more alcoholic than white men, were a sexual menace to white women and were being properly targeted. Wells fought against this strenuously, and their battle strained relationships between African-American and white women in the suffrage and temperance movements.

Even with the advent of the fully-formed feminist movement in the post-civil-rights-movement 1970s, Black women and other women of color were relegated to the sidelines, while white women became the face of feminism. As Gloria Steinem’s good looks were heralded as the face of feminism, other women of color were partnering together to work for a common cause. The Combahee River Collective Statement from 1977 chronicled the genesis, interests, and issues Black feminists faced, and their statements still resonate today. The statement importantly noted that Black feminists were interested in combating a “range of oppressions.” It said, “We do not have racial, sexual, heterosexual, or class privilege to rely upon, nor do we have even the minimal access to resources and power that groups who possess anyone of these types of privilege have.”

The collective nailed why it is easier to be a white feminist than it is to be a feminist of color: Without a position of privilege to call on, it is even harder as a woman of color to fight for issues that are important for every woman, but especially for women of color. Not recognizing that privilege of whiteness or class hampers the ability of feminists across ethnic lines to join together for common causes.

The Rise of Womanism

In the 1980s, the advent of womanist and mujerista (derived from the Spanish word mujer, or “woman” in English) movements and theologies spoke to African-American and Latina women who did not find their issues were being addressed within the feminist movement.

The term womanism arose from Alice Walker’s book In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, in which she described a womanist as a Black feminist or feminist of color. The term womanist even became a theological construct, taught in divinity schools and religious studies programs across the nation and world. Shortly thereafter, Latinas embraced mujerista as a way to claim their space over white feminists. Both groups created a space for themselves in reaction to white feminism, which they believed held no room for them because of classism and racial issues that at best white feminists did not understand, and at worst used against women of color.

It is not, however, the responsibility of feminists of color to tell white feminists we exist and have been a part of the feminist movement for a long time. When feminists of color or Black feminists—or whatever moniker they choose—are passed over and ignored, it is an insult, intentional or not. The stock photo of a Black woman in Marcotte’s presentation stands as a symbol of privilege that enables white feminists to ignore the struggles of the other women working right beside them.

There are innumerable websites dedicated to feminist, womanist, or mujerista issues. They are easy to find, and much of their content is shared on Twitter and Facebook. Now is not the time for white feminists to pretend the rest of us do not exist. There is too much at stake. Many of us are engaged in state battles for women’s reproductive rights in Texas and North Carolina. Immigration, unemployment, and domestic violence are just the tip of the iceberg of our collective concerns.

Where to Go From Here?

Ignoring our common struggles and presence because of white privilege and historical ignorance is no longer an excuse. Solidarity cannot come from only one group reaching out to the other. White feminists must come to grips with their own internalized structures of racism, classism, and even sexism that prevent them from seeing other feminists of color. It is also important to understand women of color may not be comfortable calling themselves feminists. Understand that this reticence stems from both historical constructs of feminism and structures of communities and beliefs that may not want to call ourselves feminists.

Most importantly, all sides must work together to address current setbacks in the fight for women’s rights, especially reproductive rights. While the rhetoric of the right is about “protecting” women, the rules enacted in states like Virginia, Texas, and others are anything but. As reproductive rights of women are being eroded and erased in states like Texas and North Carolina, among others, surely there is a way to get past this invisibility issue. The issues facing women in the United States today are too important to ignore, and if we’re going to drive into a better future for women, let us make sure we know who is riding with us.

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To schedule an interview with Anthea Butler please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • #FeministMILF

    Definitely gets to the heart of the issue. I always say that I will demand my seat at the table, and I refuse to be othered. I support womenists and mujerista because I understand how one gets tired of being ignored. I, however, will not be ignored and I claim rights to feminism because “Feminist” does not mean “woman” or “White” or “financially privileged”. I want to be seen and heard for the woman that I am, not just as a body to add to the numbers, and I don’t want to be made invisible by proclamations of “colorblindness”. WOC have been involved in feminist movements from day one, even when it meant being beaten down at home, in church, and in our communities. The least people can do is respect and acknowledge our contributions.

    • Alessia

      Colourblindness is meant to be something to make everyone heard and seen for who they are instead of creating an us and them rhetoric based on genetics, eh.

      • #FeministMILF

        Colorblindness is exactly what it says…being blind to color. My color matters. My Blackness matters. It is essential to who I am. I don’t want anyone being blind to that or ignoring it. Being seen for who I am includes seeing me as a Black woman. I don’t want to be treated poorly or discriminated against because of my “color”, but I surely want you to SEE it, for all of its glory, and not pretend it does not exist. My Blackness is beautiful and I’m kinda tired of people opting to be blind to it rather than acknowledge it as such.

        • Alessia

          I have an issue with what you say because if a white woman would embrace this view she would be shamed for being a racist holding on to her privileges and it seems to be that it relies on double standards. However you misinterpreted what I meant to say but given your comment I sense that you have no interest in seeing a position other than your own so I won’t waste my time trying to explain myself. Have a good day,

          • everythingl

            So if a man said to you, “we are all human beings, stop talking about gender,” would you buy that tripe? It seems that you are the one who should be doing the listening.

            And that thing you “sense” is really just your cognitive dissonance at being challenged on your non-intersectionalist point of view. Or it could be just you projecting “anger” onto a woman of color for speaking her truth. Either way, check your privilege. And you’re coming dangerously close to tone policing here too, which is the second to last refuge of the privilege-clinger.

          • Alessia

            I don’t talk about gender myself, I never want to be considered a woman first and a human being second so your accusation is based on assumptions.

          • everythingl

            So you don’t actually think that men and women experience the world in different ways because of their gender? Seriously?

          • ctroop

            So, we should make all public restrooms and showers co-ed? Same thing with high school gym classes and showers? I can hardly wait till you take over and get this heaven-on-earth activated.

          • everythingl

            And I assumed that you have feminist leanings because you are talking about an article on feminism. Not such a far stretch. If you aren’t feminist, what are you even getting from this?

          • #FeministMILF

            How would a White woman being shamed for being racist for accepting non-White women’s culture and appreciating their diversity? For being proud of who she is culturally? Where is the logic here?

            I didn’t misinterpret what you “meant to say”, since you didn’t quite say it. I took your words at face value, which is what intelligent people engaged in online discourse tend to do.

            I’m sorry you think discussing this issue with me is a waste of time. You have a great day too

          • Jeni ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Burns

            I think she’s talking about role reversing, but the problem is, Anthea has presented some pretty damning evidence that White women have had a grip on the megaphone for the entirety of the feminist movement, while Women of Color have had to fashion their own megaphones to have their voices heard.

          • everythingl

            But the whole idea of role reversal is just as vapid. You can’t just reverse specific instances and pretend its the same when WW and BW do it. You have to reverse history, culture, media representation, access to resources and privilege, etc., for the situations to be remotely similar. Context means everything here. And I’m not saying you’re agreeing, I’m saying that the idea that “reversing roles” could even be a thing is still a function of tone deaf privilege.

          • Jeni ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Burns

            100% agree. Pretending that my history is in any way equal to any POC is Privilege in all its glory.

          • Alessia

            I’m not denying that. I’m supporting that, in fact. The problem to me is that we keep talking of White Women and Black Women when if we just looked past that we would have just Women and if for a group of them an issue is an issue that needs to be spoken of not because it’s an issue of their race group but because it’s an issue, period. If we keep looking at the race of the people involved it’s just a game of who has more power in a specific time and space (and if you go to South London you can easily see how it translates into black privilege).

          • Charles Olafare

            “South London you can easily see how it translates into black privilege”

            What do you mean by that comment?

          • Alessia

            In areas where there’s a large concentration of black people and very little white presence it’s easy to see the same veiled racism you see in white areas. It makes my black friends (and often strangers too) uncomfortable, so it’s not perceived. Since the violence rate can be quite high nobody spoke up for me, we just walk away for fear they would be targeted too. Some people (black, not white) even asked if I found people being nice to me living there. It all escalated one day and I didn’t even have the courage to react to a very bad episode of violence (even if entirely gratuitous) because all the people on the bus were black like the woman attacking me. It ended up with everybody taking my side, so I’m happy to say it’s not everybody, but in every other area I lived it’s much more integrated. When I eventually moved the taxi driver (a very nice black man) made this comment about moving to a better place as soon as I showed up (he knew the destination I booked), and unfortunately it didn’t take long to see how much nicer black people are a few miles away from there.

          • Charles Olafare

            Right…

            I can’t speak for your own experiences (and it’s really hard to parse what you’ve written), but I’m black and I’ve lived in South London for about five years now and never really seen or heard of white people (of which there are a sizeable amount considering the number of universities and trendy bars in the area) being the victims of racist attacks / racism.

            Although South London does have a large (one of the largest, I think) black population, I don’t think you could say its a complete reversal of the way things are on a larger scale or that blacks in South London have more privilege than whites.

            And I know you won’t want to hear this, but saying things like”it didn’t take long to see how much nicer black people are a few miles away from there” is genuinely kind of racist.

          • Alessia

            Why do you assume I won’t hear it? I just put on my table my experience and I’m more than glad that you have too because it reduced even more the area when such things happen. It has been a very distressing experience because I have always been very careful at respecting everyone and I never treated any of these people badly, yet I was targeted. I’m sorry that saying some areas are more integrated than others and people don’t use different standards based on if you share the same skin colour is considered racist because I meant it as a compliment to how some geographic areas reached a goal that is important to me, stop looking at what make us different and treating all as equal but I appreciate that you pointed it out as I don’t want to victimise myself for being misunderstood if I say things that are open to it.

          • Arekushieru

            It doesn’t MATTER if you have never treated any of the people you encountered on your trip to South London, ‘badly’. It still doesn’t make you any less privileged.

          • everythingl

            So you’re saying that living in an area with a high concentration of poverty and violence is black privilege? Aaahhhhhhaaahhhhhh!

            The racist institutional structures in place most likely put/kept those black ppl in those areas. Yet you think its privilege because someone hurt your little feelings when you went there. Seriously, your trip to a violent neighborhood, that you can easily leave if you want to, does not mean you understand what racism is. Your one of these people who thinks that hurt feelings and actual racism are the same thing. They aren’t. Wake up.

          • fiona64

            Seems to me that “Guest” is probably to young to know about the “blockbuster” laws, which were still happening as recently as the 1980s. Real estate agents could accept covenants not to sell homes to people of color in certain neighborhoods.

            I’m always amazed at people who argue that white privilege doesn’t exist; it usually means that they are so accustomed to benefiting from it that it never occurs to them to unpack how it affects people below them on the ladder. :-/

          • Jeni ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Burns

            I feel like you didn’t actually read Prof. Butler’s article. She addresses this. The reason that Women of Color feel the need to separate themselves is time and again that White Feminists overlook AND ignore the what needs to be fixed to create true equality. When you ignore an entire subset of society, they’re not going to follow along to a rallying cry of “equality” when you’re ignoring what needs to be fixed to make them equal. Poverty needs to be a Feminist issue. Hungry Children needs to be a Feminist issue. Urban Violence needs to be a Feminist issue. Stop and Frisk needs to be a Feminist issue. Profiling needs to be a Feminist issue. Intersectionality is important for Feminism to not only do good and make a difference, but to be taken seriously by the people who NEED it to make a difference.
            And I’m not even going to touch what goes on in London, since I don’t live there.

          • Alessia

            I said that I support the evidence she posted so how can I have not read it? I was trying to clarify my opinion because it was misrepresented when it was in support of what she was trying to say :)

          • everythingl

            Why are you so threatened by someone saying an issue relates specifically to women of color if it actually does? There are things that happen to black women, native women, latina women, asian women that don’t happen to white women. And vice versa. Really, is it that you just don’t want to be left out?

            I mean, how would feminists address Native American women being dragged from their reservations by rapists, being raped and not having the law protect them without addressing that this doesn’t happen to any other race of women? Would you suggest we just dance around that and pretend like ALL women experience this? That is inane.

          • Alessia

            I’ve never said what you are trying to say that I said. You are a living example of the issue I’m highlighting, pre-concepts and biases. I’m not going to waste my time trying to defend myself from your new accusations since every attempt of making myself clear is welcomed by you being a bully and addressing me as if I were a capricious child when I’m not.

          • Arekushieru

            Actually, you are saying what everything1 is saying you are saying. WW, here. I ACKNOWLEDGE my privilege. And, no, Everything1 is NOT treating you like a capricious child. Please.

          • ctroop

            Guest: Why don’t you just keep on doing whatever it is you do, and ignore all these liberal idiots … of every color?

          • #FeministMILF

            I think there is great privilege in being able to want to “look past” White and Black and I don’t blame you for having it. It kinda is what it is. That privilege allows you to take the POV that we should all just forget about color and see each other as human beings void of color or distinctions or differences. I don’t like that. We ARE different. I don’t subscribe to the utopian ideal that we are all the same because we are not. We’re women, yes, but even “women” is a subjective, constructed idea that often excludes many who identify as women as society denies them the right to claim that label.

            It isn’t about “keep looking to race”. It is about accepting that race is present and can contribute to our differences. It is about embracing the diversity of race and cultural variances rather than trying to assimilate all of us into one thing. It is about not pretending that race needs to go away in order for us all to be equal. We should be equal despite skin color differences. We shouldn’t have to theoretically erase color to achieve that. I’m not “looking past” race because I LOVE being Black and there is nothing that I want you or anyone to see past that.

            The problem is with the stereotypes of what it means to be Black, and why that is still such a negative thing that we need to “see past” it in order to find common ground and acceptance of those who are Black.

          • Alessia

            You talk about looking past stereotypes, I’m talking about looking past the social constructs that we put on something that isn’t how we look at it. I’m talking about empathy. It doesn’t seem to me that we are speaking about different things, but I’m still getting abusive messages from another user.

          • Jeni ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Burns

            We ALL get what you’re saying. You seem to be overlooking every time someone tells you that you are ignoring HUGE SWATHS of what social constructs do to create a personal identity, and then you call that personal attacks. Listen, I get that you think this utopia can be achieved, and I commend you for your vision. But it won’t happen. You are essentially wanting to divide by zero in order to create a better world, and every time someone says you can’t do that, you get mad and call it attacks. Telling you that you’re privileged is not an attack. It’s a truth. I’m privileged. Both Feminista Jones and I are in college. (I know because I follow her on Twitter and read her blog. Excellent stuff.) But, if the two of us were to be sat in a room, and that was all that was known about us (as we’re roughly the same age, as well), I can guarantee the general consensus would be that I was either on my graduate/doctorate or getting another degree, while she was “turning her life around”. I know this because it happens ALL THE TIME when I’m with friends presenting something, writing something, or even online. I’m in my sophomore year, technically. First time ’round. But, every time, I get applauded for my hard work, even before anyone knows anything about me, while my colleagues and friends get side-eye, shamed, and words like “government loans” get thrown around. I see this DAILY. I see this online, daily. I can (and do) dye my hair bright blue and still come off as a professional, where my colleagues and friends can’t get return business if they treat their hair naturally. I can get new clients in jeans and t-shirts, while my friends have a hard time getting them in $500 dress suits.
            Until the greater populace stops treating race as a pre-qualifier for legitimacy, maybe we can talk about “not seeing race”. Until then, the way people are treated in the name of race will continue to shape a person’s lived experiences. But race IS important. Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, Mixed, all of them IMPORTANT. Because they are comprised of people with real, lived experiences that we all need to listen to and let THOSE shape our views. Not what the media tells us to think, not what some idiot on the t.v. or radio tells us what to think. The words and deeds of the people in our lives are important, and they are shaped by their backgrounds, genders and identities, race, socioeconomic status, and belief. They are all TOO important to “look past”.

          • My_Vintage_Soul

            Wow, thank you for saying this!

          • ctroop

            Face it Guest. ALL these: (a) Women of Color (b) Negroes (c) Black Women (d) African-American Women (e) Colored Women (f) or Negresses … (pick which ever one is the least offensive) are going to find fault and criticize anything you have to say because you are white. The problem is theirs. Instead of a lot of meaningless crap about “demanding her seat at the table,” she and those like her should be actually attending the meetings and demanding the megaphone! This is the 21st century and Jim Crow is dead. The only ones keeping him alive are these ladies who are screwing around with your postings.

          • http://littlemisshaldol.tumblr.com/ LittleMissMellaril

            OMG! You know what? If young people said that b/c you are old, your issues are just your own and we don’t care at all! And they are demanding the megaphone!

            Also, the N-Word has NO business coming out of your nasty mouth! If my kid ever said that word I would wash their mouth out with soap and spank them! That’s what your Mother should have done!

          • ctroop

            Forgot to mention that the “We” who are are so critical of your postings include white, guilt-ridden liberals.

          • Alessia

            Happy to discuss it if I was misjudging you :)

            I said that if a white woman celebrates herself being white it’s taken as a sign of racism and not appreciating the diversity of all of us. I have been criticised even for never having dated a black man without questioning whether or not black men ever ask me out. People just jump to conclusions whenever it seems like you are not embracing other cultures etc. it’s like diversity is only about the other for white people when in fact for a non-white whiteness is diversity too. At least, this is what goes on in the multicultural centre that is London, UK.

            I don’t think colourblindness is meant to deny what is relevant for you regarding your identity, but to make it a part of your identity that isn’t perceived as a difference or a separation. A colour blind person (medically speaking) sees two colours as the same, but none of them is exactly the colour he sees and it doesn’t change the fact one object is one colour and the other is the other colour. Colourblindness is about you as it is about me. It’s stepping out of white privilege because what is whiteness? Why can’t a black woman represent me and us all? She’s a woman after all. Same with gender-blindness and women representing society at large when we have a majority of men doing that now. If I go past your race to be truly colour blind I have to go past mine too.
            Clearer now?

          • Kemsonj

            FeministMILF, this is exactly the issue I have in dialogue with a good many white feminist women. When the conversation gets tough…when one is asked to step outside of ones box of limited thinking…when a different set of factors are provided and analysis becomes difficult and uncomfortable, the usual answer is something along the lines of. “Why are you insulting, blaming, attacking me? I no longer want to participate in the conversation.” We black women are not allowed to be disappointed or angry about being, as the famous Said so eloquently wrote “othered” and if we do, we are then labeled ANGRY BLACK WOMEN. *sigh* This is why I rarely speak of feminism outside of those of color.

          • Guest

            I voted down on accident. Can’t see where to take it back.

          • WagatweRHRC

            You should be able to click on your vote again to take it back.

      • everythingl

        You’re talking about “genetics” yet we know race is a social construct. Are you saying that we should ignore the racism that is so damaging and traumatic to black women, just so that you don’t feel left out?

        • #FeministMILF

          I didn’t even want to go there lol

          • everythingl

            I hear you lol.

        • Alessia

          I said rhetoric based on genetics. Learn to read. It’s not about being left out, stop trying to dismiss my opinion when you didn’t even waste a second trying to understand it.

          • everythingl

            The “rhetoric” that you speak of is not based on genetics. Did Anthea Butler just write an entire article based on genetics? No, it was about race, society and culture. White women did not have to worry about their white husbands and sons being lynched in the days of Jim Crow because white men were the ones DOING the lynching. Get it? How do you figure it’s “rhetoric” about “genetics”?

            Yeah, your problem is that you can’t stand not having yourself as center. We can talk all around issues that ONLY effect women of color, but we can actually SAY that, cause then it won’t be about YOU for a few minutes. Ridiculous.

            And the person who refuses to acknowledge that not all women benefit from white privilege is the one not listening. And the one living in a self-absorbed fantasy world.

          • #FeministMILF

            What’s the rhetoric based on genetics? Are we talking vaginas? Because race isn’t genetic.

          • Alessia

            In the west black people are the other imported in white society. In the colonies white people are those imported to the other because we had to bring civilisation everywhere as God’s command or something. This ethnocentricity that characterised the world is a human construct that has been around for thousands of years when the most probably scientific theory of the origin of humanity we all come from the same being. Then we have crazy dictators making experiments in eugenics in the 20th century to achieve the perfect race. You inherit the colour of your skin from your parents in your genes, to deny that is rather unscientific. All the rest we attach to it has to do is human work and the culture surrounding you at birth and there is no real reason why in the West we should have made it white-centred how we did. That people felt entitled to be violent against another human being because of that is pure madness.

      • Jeni ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Burns

        Colorblindness, as a concept, is a nice idea. In reality, all it does is negate the real lived experiences of a HUGE swath of people. We can be feminists who also see and lend our voices to struggles that aren’t ours, and we can be feminists that take a step back so that other people can be heard. There is no black and white.

        • Alessia

          I agree with you but I think that’s because the idea of colourblindness is misused in a still white perspective, it it makes sense (I start being tired and my mind is less functioning).

    • Danielle

      I agree. How much could be solved if people could learn to take a seat and listen, really try to understand, where feminists of color (for lack of a better term) are coming from historically as well as present day experiences. Too often I hear tone-policing arguments. I understand that it can be frustrating to be intersectional especially when one is white and not used to having the power structure questioned but it must be done to be useful.

      • #FeministMILF

        The tone policing is coded behavior focused on silencing the voices of women who have every right to be upset at being ignored. It’s forced supplication. Blah! lol

        • Danielle

          Blah indeed.

    • ctroop

      Demand your seat at the table? What table is that? Aren’t seats at a table (whether for conference or for a meal) usually for those who were invited? If you truly have a place at a table, what would be your purpose in “demanding” it? You might not be, but you are sounding like just another noise maker. Not only annoying but boring.

      • http://littlemisshaldol.tumblr.com/ LittleMissMellaril

        They have a right to a seat at the table b/c they have contributed to it! It is the feminist table she is talking about! Why should she be ignored?

    • My_Vintage_Soul

      Right on. The history of Black and brown women in the feminist/suffrage movement is deeply rooted and extends to the days of slavery. The first I read about was a woman named Sojourner Truth. She was a former slave and spoke out against the evil institution as well. Her speeches were powerful, the stuff of legend. She was strong, courageous, and dignified, a woman’s rights advocate. Another early Black feminist was Mary Church Terrell who was an advocate for the rights of the Black community too. The list is long, and the history rich. I feel that feminism is womanism and womanism is feminism. There may be cultural differences, prejudices amidst the feminist movement, but to ME, a feminist/womanist = the same thing. It is empowerment and equality of woman’s personhood in every area of life.

  • http://www.findingmyvirginity.com/ Belle Vierge

    This is an excellent and informative read. I am a White cisgender Feminist, and although I am not heterosexual or completely able-bodied, I look like I am, and so I accept that I am treated with those privileges as well.

    My feminist passions are advocating for survivors of sexual assault, promoting consent, and critiquing modesty/purity culture from a Christian feminist perspective.

    I read everything Soraya Chemaly writes, I read the constructive criticism in the comments on Jezebel on its white feminism, and I listen to what my (facebook) friends of color have to say on race relations in the US.

    I know it is my responsibility as the one with white privilege to listen to those without white privilege. But my question is what should I do besides listen? I don’t write about race in my blog because I don’t want to speak for someone else. I don’t call myself an ally because I feel as though that’s a label that must be given to me, after I’ve earned it. I would like to be more intersectional than just reading, but I humbly ask for advice on the next step.

    • http://www.findingmyvirginity.com/ Belle Vierge

      I just reread what I wrote and realized I’m making this about me. But all my Disqus comments are about me… Is a WF asking for direction from WOC also problematic?

      • #FeministMILF

        I don’t think seeking guidance on how to be a better ally is problematic for anyone who wants to support any movement outside of their own interests and identity. It’s better to ask, IMO, than to assume and make mistakes.

  • Heather McCollam

    As the white ex-wife of an abusive black man (physical, mental, emotional) and the custodial parent of the child he only uses as a pawn to control me- I have a unique experience with “blackness”, “whiteness” and feminism. Before I met and married my ex-husband I grew up with my parents and brother with the values “your brother has the family jewels”. While I was told I had “the curse”. I have always been a strong and independent woman. Life happens to all of us and mine fell apart after a much loved boyfriend went to jail. He is black. He is the first person who ever told me I was beautiful and made me believe it. He taught me my value as a woman. I will never forget and will remain eternally grateful for the lesson I learned when he threatened to shoot a black guy who referred to me as a “white b*tch”. There are men of all colors who want to objectify and dehumanize women but none so much in your face as black men. The Player’s Balls held annually in every major city is one example of what I am talking about and rap songs are another. I find it ironic in the extreme that the group of people who are the most vocal about (racial) equality have no problem exploiting, oppressing, and degrading women. They (by they I mean some- not all) are not interested in gender equality at all. Now, the reason I have such and issue with gender equality is because I am aware of the growing problem of sexual slavery. If we ALL do not address this horrible issue- humanity will come to regret it even more than the historical slavery of black people.

    • #FeministMILF

      “There are men of all colors who want to objectify and dehumanize women but none so much in your face as black men.” Is this fact or opinion, because…. I would absolutely disagree with this.

      • Heather McCollam

        I would love to hear your reasons for disagreeing with that. I gave two huge examples of why I believe it but certainly welcome your perspective and information. Thanks!

        • #FeministMILF

          Well, for one, TIME magazine stated a couple of years ago that there are more women in sexual slavery now than there were slaves in any period of slavery in documented history.

          Who are the primary perpetrators of the modern female sex slave trade?

          Sure isn’t Raheem and Tyrone around the way, love. They aren’t going to South Asian countries and buying little girls for their perverted exploits.

          The porn industry is a multibillion dollar industry. While I support sex workers and sexual agency, I know the reality is that a HUGE percentage of the women and girls participating in adult entertainment are exploited by men. Again, Raheem and Tyrone have no real stake in that. White men run that, and there is racism in that too.

          Google the last 10 major cases of sexual harassment, solicitation of prostitution, etc in this country and what color are the faces of the men who pop up? Govt officials at that? That’s pretty in your face.

          Black people are only 13% of the American population. How could Black men POSSIBLY be the most “in your face” about objectifying and dehumanizing women when they have no real power in this country.

          Systemic oppression of women happens in the towers of power, towers occupied by who? White men.

          • HeilMary1

            White men sure do set bad examples. You never hear GOP people complain about the video taped divorce deposition confession of Neil Bush to underage sex tourism in Bangkok. Brian Ross of ABC aired that tape and it got a crickets response.

    • Jeni ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Burns

      Player’s Balls are the equivalent of Frat Parties, that are mostly held and organized by White Men.

      I think we need to pull the blinders off of our eyes. Men of all colors are brazen and blatant in their objectification of women. We all have our own personal experiences that I would feel negate each others, and the focus shouldn’t be to negate each others’ experiences, but to say “Ok, what is the correlating problem here?” It’s not race. For every rap song that’s rapey, there’s an equally disturbing rock song. For every instance where a Black or Hispanic man has victimized a woman, there is at least two for every White man. White men have had longer to get away with it, and learn how to hide it or make it acceptable to the public. That’s not the fault of People of Color.

      • Heather McCollam

        No, not saying it is the fault of people of color. But I do listen to more rap than rock. And you’re right- in MY experience I have known more victims of abuse by black men. I didn’t think I was “focusing on negating each others experiences”. I spoke about mine and expressed my eagerness to listen to others. And it is just more surprising to me coming from black men b/c they are so vocal about racial equality & the wrongness of certain words which apply to them but some have no problem using equally wrong words when referring to women. But I will have to disagree with equating players balls with frat parties. Not even close to being the same. At all.

        • Jeni ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Burns

          I think the problem, where it seems like you aren’t really here for a conversation, is the HUGE generalities you make based on your interaction with a small percent of a population of people. I’m not trying to be combative, just my perception of what you wrote and how it reads.

          Regardless, it’s a HUGE departure from Dr. Butler’s piece. It’s about non-White women being excluded by White women from Feminism, and building their own brands, and STILL being stepped on by White Feminists trying to claw and climb their way to the top. Feminism shouldn’t be about that at all.

          • Heather McCollam

            I think we need to remember an important fact: even now and especially historically- white people are the overwhelming majority of the population. To say that “white women became the face of feminism”- of course they did. Black people are a vast minority of the population. Not any less important. But to think that 1 out of every 2 people represented need to be black is inaccurate. According to US Census figures for 2010: white 248,067,530, black: 43,213,173. So Black people are about 17% of the population in the US today. Not 50% or even 25%. Also, the information I read in this article speaks to the gender issues of the Black race. Which is what I was addressing- it’s not just my experiences with “a small percent of a population of people”. It is a glaring problem in Black culture. What you said earlier comes to mind- “White men have had longer to get away with it, and learn how to hide it or make it acceptable to the public”. The fact remains that getting respect for “pimpin’” or “being a pimp” is exclusively a Black thing. It is very in your face. The vast majority of White men would never publicly claim pride for such actions as “breaking down b*tches” or affirm “b*tches ain’t shit but hos and tricks” and make a song about it. Which is then made culturally popular. My point, again is that the Black culture is more overtly sexist than the White culture and that black people are equally important- just not the majority of the population and so shouldn’t take things out of that context (that at times they are not marginalized based on race but based on actual representation of the population).

          • Heather McCollam

            I think we need to remember an important fact: even now and
            especially historically- white people are the overwhelming majority of the population. To say that “white women became the face of feminism”- of course they did. Black people are a vast minority of the population. Not any less important. But to think that 1 out of every 2 people represented need to be black is inaccurate. According to US Census figures for 2010: white 248,067,530, black: 43,213,173. So Black people are about 17% of the population in the US today. Not 50% or even 25%. Also, the information I read in this article speaks to the gender issues of the Black race. Which is what I was addressing- it’s not just my experiences with “a small percent of a population of people”. It is a glaring problem in Black culture. What you said earlier comes to mind- “White men have had longer to get away with
            it, and learn how to hide it or make it acceptable to the public”. The
            fact remains that getting respect for “pimpin’” or “being a
            pimp” is exclusively a Black thing. It is very in your face. The vast
            majority of White men would never publicly claim pride for such actions as “breaking down b*tches” (what Player’s Balls are all about) or affirm “b*tches ain’t shit but hos and tricks”
            and make a song about it which then becomes culturally popular. My point, again is that the Black culture is more overtly sexist than the White culture while at the same time very vocal about the evil of racism. Black people are equally important- but are simply not a majority of the population and so shouldn’t take things out of that context (that at times they are not marginalized based on race but based on actual representation of the population). But, you are 100% correct in that I can’t speak to being a racist White woman and that “Feminism shouldn’t be about that at all”.

        • WagatweRHRC

          Echoing Jeni’s statements, I wanted to reiterate that the comment threads are meant to address the piece to which they are attached. While the issues of race and misogyny are worth discussing, they are not the subject of the piece. Please stay on topic.

          • Heather McCollam

            I think we need to remember an important fact: even now and
            especially historically- white people are the overwhelming majority of the population. To say that “white women became the face of feminism”- of course they did. Black people are a vast minority of the population. Not any less important. But to think that 1 out of every 2 people represented need to be black is inaccurate. According to US Census figures for 2010: white 248,067,530, black: 43,213,173. So Black people are about 17% of the population in the US today. Not 50% or even 25%. Black people are equally important- but are simply not a majority of the population and so shouldn’t take things out of that context (that at times they are not marginalized based on race but based on actual representation of the population). But, you are 100% correct in that I can’t speak to being a racist White woman and that “Feminism shouldn’t be about that at all”.

          • Heather McCollam

            Not sure why my latest comment which was “on topic” isn’t being allowed to be posted. At this point I think all I can contribute is the expression of sorrow for all of us but especially you Black feminists who feel unacknowledged and unappreciated. I have zero personal experiences to draw on regarding this topic which would be welcome here. I can only assert that there are “privileged white women” who DO welcome you and DO appreciate your contributions. We are no more impressed with those who do not than you are. We have to work with and sometimes around them as well.

      • HeilMary1

        Well said!

      • #FeministMILF

        ” It’s not race. For every rap song that’s rapey, there’s an equally disturbing rock song.”

        THANK YOU!!!!

        • HeilMary1

          I’ve always been depressed by the very negative effect of looksist porn on men of all races and cultures. Insults hurled at women of all colors by men of all colors based on the men’s shared centerfold mentality is very very damaging.

  • http://atrocityarts.com/ h

    I love this! And I would love if the author would dig deeper into how racism in our culture is and has been a barrier to uniting feminists/womanist of all color. Privilege is a weird beast in this scenario because, while the majority of feminists acknowledge that women of color have had the even greater burden of working toward gender equality in addition to fighting systematic exclusion because of race and class, the acknowledgement does little to address how the portrayal of feminism is entirely polarized by acceptable whiteness and politicized blackness. #FeministMILF in these comments hit it on the head…to suddenly be erased by proclamations of colorblindness is complete bullshit and is entirely denigrating. It is an entirely unnecessary approach AND it is indeed the LEAST that people can do to acknowledge women of color. While I am stuck multi tasking as much as the next woman, I do wonder if a greater effort needs to be made to address racism as a primary means to addressing why we need feminism. I tend to address oppression as a whole and not skimp on how poverty is concentrated by race and how a lot of other cultural norms stem from the inability to see how deliberate this impoverishment of non-whites really is at work. Plus, impoverishment is something women, unfortunately, largely have in common as we look to learning the length and type of race and individual histories we need to resolve.

  • MadamaAmbi

    I’m really happy to read this post. I agree that the movement can only succeed when white, black and other women of color are united and strategize together. I agree that white feminists need to educate themselves. There are books on reproductive justice that should be read, such as Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice. It’s a history of the RJ movement. I also think it’s time for women of color to lead the movement. I mean, it’s time for white women to follow the leadership of women of color. When NOW elected another white president and vice president rather than the qualified black candidate, I really couldn’t believe it. It was such a lost opportunity! I’d like to hear from Ms. Butler what the next steps might be in healing the rift she’s identified.

  • Miriam Breslauer

    Although I am a white feminist, I try to work for access and equality for all people. Women Of Color deserve the same pay & benefits for the same job with the same experience level as a white male (currently the best paid on average in any position) just like white women and men of color do.

  • Arakiba

    Part of it is that some white women (not specifically feminists) see black women defending and excusing black men for violent and/or criminal behavior, even this type of behavior against black women, and it confounds them. For example, when they see so many Chris Brown fans hating on Rihanna or saying she must have done something to deserve it – or when they see Rihanna go back to Chris Brown after he sent her to the hospital. These are the people the media spotlights, not feminist WoC, so some white women are surprised to find out there are any none-white feminists at all.

    • #FeministMILF

      ” For example, when they see so many Chris Brown fans hating on Rihanna or saying she must have done something to deserve it – or when they see Rihanna go back to Chris Brown after he sent her to the hospital.” I wonder how they missed all of us who have been vehemently AGAINST him and his behaviors.

  • Joanne Bamberger

    I hope you’ll take a look at the video from the panel I moderated at this year’s Netroots Nation conference. While it was not specifically on feminism, it did feature a very diverse, all-female panel. http://www.netrootsnation.org/nn_events/nn-13/so-you-want-to-be-a-pundit-women-progressives-on-the-keys-to-success/

  • ctroop

    I wonder if you folks would have a better chance of success if you would stop operating from the totally false premise that any of you actually have this imagined “right to be heard.” We all (even you) have the right to speak, the right to publish and the right to broadcast. But you do NOT have the right to be “heard.” You cannot force people to hear you, let alone listen to you. The people who want to hear you … they have the right to hear you. I also have the right to hear you … but you don’t have any right to make me hear you.

    • Valde

      wtf

    • http://littlemisshaldol.tumblr.com/ LittleMissMellaril

      If you wanna shut your eyes and ears, go ahead. No one wants to force you to hear stuff you don’t wanna hear and you know that!

  • mthrsdva

    how do i use my white privilege as a tool instead of as a handicap?

    • http://caramumford.com/ Cara Mumford

      Seems a shame that no one has responded, so I’ll offer my two cents…

      I’m mixed race Aboriginal but look very white, so I know that I am a recipient of white privilege when people make assumptions based on my looks. I realize that my experience is different from my friends and relatives who look obviously Native. Part of my experience is that I have the ‘privilege’ of hearing the racist comments some people make behind closed doors, not realizing that I’m part of the group that they’re stereotyping or sometimes outright attacking. In those cases, I consider it my responsibility to interrupt the racism and correct misinformation. People don’t always listen, but I think it’s important to interrupt that behaviour.

      More pro-actively, as a filmmaker, I collaborate with other women to help tell their stories in a filmic way. I tell them what drew me to their story and they tell me what is most important to them about their story, and we build the film from there. I see it as amplifying voices that others try to silence, but never speaking for them.

  • My_Vintage_Soul

    Amazing article! Powerful, truthful, to the point. I’m a feminist (of mixed-race, African-American heritage) and I feel that in order for us as social justice warriors, women’s rights advocates, to even begin to WORK TOWARDS an authentic unity, the perspectives and voices of women of color internationally need to be validated, heard, and TAKEN SERIOUSLY. The mainstream feminist movement can frequently get wrapped up in issues that are so uniquely Western, privileged, and middle-class to the detriment of our sisters who happen to not be any of those things. The feminist movement needs to desperately broaden their scope in order to be taken as a successful collective for ALL of us, not just a privileged few. We as women, regardless of our ethnic or cultural background, have all been the victims of varying levels of misogyny. We can all relate to each other on this. It’s time for us to work together, hear each other, and unite amidst our differences, instead of ignoring one narrative for the sake of another.