Aug 27, 2013

#solidarityisforwhitewomen - except it isn't

I've written before about the prevalence of white women in US and Canadian based solidarity with Latin American peace and justice movements (with some thoughts about why and what this says about international solidarity in general) - so when I first saw the twitter hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen I figured it was about that and was amazed that a discussion like that was trending.  It turns out that the discussion is not about international solidarity, but about solidarity amongst feminists, and in particular the lack thereof by some white feminist organizations, websites, and individuals.  It started out as pretty US centric, but the tag and discussion then spread.

Let me briefly go over the basics for those few who might have missed this phenomena.  The tag was created by Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia) to express her ongoing frustration with that lack of solidarity, and particularly the lack of response to ongoing harassment of blogging feminists of color by a self declared feminist man with a high profile who continued to publish on feminist sites.  The tag was sparked by said man's very public breakdown on twitter.  He posted over a hundred tweets in an hour where he admitted publicly to the harassment, as well as to addiction and mental illness.  In response there seemed to be more concern about him than expressions of remorse over continuing to support him over the years, or remorse for not supporting his victims. 

The hashtag quickly morphed into something much larger, and became a space for women of color to speak out about various ways in which many white women, feminist organizations, and particularly websites seem to only be able to see sexism, and not how it works with racism, and how they have not shown solidarity to women of color.  The same women who work and write against male domination are often uncomfortable confronting white domination, both in society and in their own organizations.  What is ridiculous about this is that you just can't effectively address the one if you don't recognize how intertwined it is with the other.

Patriarchy and racism don't just 'intersect', they interlock, as Sherene Razack has put itThese and other systems of domination (classism, heterosexism, etc) prop each other up.  At different times and in different spaces one or the other may be the dominant note, but one never 'trumps' another, and they never work alone.  To bring down these systems and work for a world where we are all equal requires chipping away at the various strands - looking at just one is just not effective, for either understanding the world or working to change it. 

This is all seems like a fairly standard basic argument to me, and I feel lucky to work in the discipline of geography where when you say you do feminist work it is generally not assumed (as it often still seems to be in international studies, for example) that you work on gender - but rather that you look at intertwined systems of inequality.  For example I consider my own work to be deeply feminist but in my dissertation research I focused more on how racial, passport, and class privilege were at work (together) than on gender dynamics.  In my previous research on international solidarity I did look at the experience of women, but I would not have understood what was going on if I had not also looked at race and class - there was clearly a specific dynamic involved that had to do with white middle-class women in particular. 

Unfortunately it seems many 'feminist' organizations and websites based in the US still focus on gender in ways that end up meaning they only write about and for white middle-class cis women, but without specifying or owning up to that.  Kendall, who invented the hashtag, claims that the feminist movement has argued since its inception that gender should trump race, and that this was a point of debate even amongst very early "first wave" feminists.  That seems like a sweeping statement about a whole movement to me, and I know there are many feminist organizations and sites today around the world that are working hard to understand and struggle against multiple systems of domination and the ways they work together -  but still, reading the tweets has convinced me it's still a big problem. 

I hope it is obvious that the tag is both a space for women of color to tell their truths and a call for white women to listen and learn how they can express more powerful and real solidarity, in particular meaningful solidarity with all women. It's well worth taking the time to read the tweets.  Clearly there is still much to do to decolonize feminism.

(note, a few days later the piggyback tag #Blackpowerisforblackmen was started by Jamilah Lemieux of, expressing frustration with black men who can only see racism, and not how it works together with patriarchy). 

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