I’ve never been one to ask too much about White feminism. Even the women’s studies course I took in undergrad was centered on women of color (WOC).
When I had to listen to Roar and Fight Song Lord knows how many times; When I had to constantly remind ya’ll that not all women got the right to vote with the 19th Amendment; When I had to scroll through images of hundreds of people at Susan B. Anthony’s grave as a symbol of how far we’ve come while Ida B. Wells, Anna Julia Cooper, and Sojourner Truth don’t get the same attention – ALL that I asked in return is that you get yourselves in formation and vote for Hillary Clinton.
White feminism had one job on November 8, 2016. On November 8, 2016, it 100% failed.
I can’t say that I’m shocked though. This same neoliberal brand of girl power brought us music videos set in colonial Africa. Indeed, the closest White feminism was to getting in formation this year is that ‘tribute’ video that everybody hated.
While White feminists demanded members of marginalized groups rally around causes that center women without giving heed to the intersections of oppression that shape people’s lived experience, their more conservative peers were all lining up to ‘Make America Great Again.’
Don’t let the national-level data fool you. Whether the electoral college went to Trump or Clinton, in every state in this nation, a significant percentage of your neighbors everywhere voted for Trump. An even more significant percentage of those neighbors were White women.
Your sorority sisters. Your Girl Scout or PTA moms. Your buddies in that hot yoga class. Your children’s preschool teachers. Your mothers, your sisters, your cousins. A whopping 53% of them chose a man who has repeatedly demonstrated antidemocratic and authoritarian proclivities couched in White supremacist rhetoric.
So how did this happen? According to L.V. Anderson at Slate:
They wanted to vote on the side of white men. White women decided that defending their position of power as white people was more important than defending their reproductive rights, their sexual autonomy, their access to health care, family leave, and child care. White women bought into Trump’s lies about immigrant rapists and decided they’d rather have the respect of their angry white fathers, brothers, and husbands than the respect of literally everyone else in the world.
I can’t say that I disagree. It’s relatively simple for a group of women to vote for a racist when their feminism doesn’t conflict with the ideals of white supremacy. Or did Susan B. Anthony does not say: “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman”? 1
Why Should We Be Concerned About White Women’s Racism?
In a 2009 study on the racial attitudes of White women who aspired to be teachers, Professor of Education Bree Picower found that White women held the same racist attitudes White men did. Indeed, they used “tools of Whiteness” to reinforce the racial hierarchy in their classrooms. These tools of Whiteness included:
- Minimizing students’ concerns about racism by responding with what they considered to be parallel personal anecdotes.
- Justifying their social status as White women by claiming that White people were also victimized
- Reinforcing a fear of the criminality of people of color
- Avoiding teaching of students of color altogether, particularly in urban neighborhoods
Given that the majority of women teachers in the US are White, as are the majority of women bosses, women members of Congress, etc., I can’t help but wonder — how can we trust an increasingly diverse population of children in the US to a mostly White women workforce if they, liberal, conservative, or otherwise continue to use tools of Whiteness to distract from their complicity in the ongoing oppression of people of color?
If their feminism can’t bring a White woman into the presidency, why do we expect it to protect our children as they face taunts of “build a wall” or “go back to Africa?” for the next four years? We have to question the failure of White feminism because it clearly leaves White supremacy intact, perhaps even emboldens it.
Why We Should Uplift The Feminism of Women of Color
Most feminism developed and practiced by women of color centers on the relationship between race and gender in systems of oppression. As a result, feminists of color have developed a number of tools of their own that reveal the illegitimacy of White supremacist systems of power.
- Black feminism – In addition to advocating for women’s rights, Black feminism underscores intersectionality. Thus, this feminism recognizes that people’s everyday lived experience is shaped by multiple, interrelated forces of oppression and privilege. Indeed, it takes an intersectional analysis to reveal the many ways groups of White women voted for Trump.
- Indigenous feminism – The feminism of indigenous women in the US and Canada reveals how settler colonialism shapes the way society understands race and gender. Furthermore, this feminism highlights the need to decolonize our social institutions of White supremacist ideals.
- Postcolonial feminism – This form of feminism advanced primarily by Asian, Latina and African scholars (i.e. The Third World) indicates how Western imperialism informs White feminist ideals. While White feminism assumes it speaks to the experiences of all women, this form of feminism stresses the importance of local, sociocultural factors in the development of feminisms across the globe.
These are just a number of feminist perspectives of women of color that not only critique White feminism but White supremacy in general. Why did so many White women not vote for Hillary? Because most White women are still invested in White male supremacy and patriarchy. Furthermore, the politics of White feminism do little to motivate White women to give up their privilege or acknowledge their racism.
Our reality is that until White feminism disavows its racist roots and uplifts the liberation politics of WOC feminists, you can hang up your white pantsuits.