5 Requirements for White Allies of Feminists of Color

"We ALL Can Do It," by soirart.

“We ALL Can Do It,” by soirart.

I identify as a woman, but I move through the world not only as a woman, but also as a white woman, a woman from a middle-class family, an American woman, an able-bodied woman, and a young woman (I could go on). These identities, many of them granting me daily privileges in society, make my experience as a woman vastly different from the experiences of other women.

Though I am a feminist, being conscious of the sexism in our society does not make me immune from enacting sexism, or, for that matter, all other forms of oppression. Threfore I believe that I must be careful, in my work and speech as a feminist and womanist, as an ally to those not in my identity groups, and as a proponent for social justice, to not re-oppress people who are already marginalized by societal standards through my activism.

It is key for me to understand why my feminism enforces white supremacy, and is therefore part of “white feminism”. To quote the words of Cate Young in her blog post entitled “This Is What I Mean When I Say “White Feminism”, white feminism “is the feminism we understand as mainstream; [it] is the feminism that doesn’t understand western privilege, or cultural context. It is the feminism that doesn’t consider race as a factor in the struggle for equality.”

A recent and high profile example of the re-oppression that white feminists can enact on their counterparts of color occurred in winter 2013 when contemporary folk singer and self-proclaimed feminist activist Ani DiFranco decided to hold “Righteous Retreat” on the site of a former slave plantation.

Fortunately, the backlash caused DiFranco to respond by canceling the retreat and issuing a further apology. There has been much more in-depth discussions of the problematic nature of the former plantation, as well as DiFranco’s apology, but the most important revelation from these events is that no matter how noble DiFranco’s intentions were when she imagined the dialogues that would generate from, her initially narrow view of the retreat location showed the ease with which white feminists can pick and chose what oppressions to combat and which to ignore because of their racial privilege.

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10 Comments

  1. John Dumey

     /  October 6, 2014

    Thank you for your frank and personal post about privilege. Recognizing our own privilege, and realizing that being a beneficiary of privilege in and of itself doesn’t make someone a ‘bad person,’ is so key to productive dialogue, building coalitions, and achieving real social justice progress.

    I suspect the author has already read this, but I recommend highly Peggy McIntosh’s 1988 essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” which helped me to start to understand and acknowledge my own privilege as a heterosexual male.

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  2. Thank you for your frank and personal post about privilege. Recognizing our own privilege, and realizing that being a beneficiary of privilege in and of itself doesn’t make someone a ‘bad person,’ is so key to productive dialogue, building coalitions, and achieving real social justice progress.

    I suspect the author has already read this, but I recommend highly Peggy McIntosh’s 1988 essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” which helped me to start to understand and acknowledge my own privilege as a heterosexual male.

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    Reply
  3. Tahini rahman

     /  October 29, 2014

    Hi Alice,

    I really enjoyed reading your blog post. Women Power! 🙂 I also enjoyed watching the video on a few basic things white feminists should do, in order to act in solidarity with feminists of color. Really good to hear the different perspectives and thoughts of the different women presenting:) Great blog post!

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  4. Thank you for your comments! John, I have definitely read parts of Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, but I should make sure I’ve read it all. – Alice

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  5. Chloe Stein

     /  November 11, 2014

    Alice,

    As a fellow white feminist I appreciate your blog post. It is incredibly important to be not only aware of how each of our identities as a feminist may be influenced by our background, but also how it affects other women in the context of structural inequality and social justice. While we are fighting for gender equality, many of us experience sexism differently. It is crucial to be reminded of this in order to affect the greatest change in our society. “Mainstream” feminism can truly be a barrier and overall detrimental to achieving equality for all women which is the ultimate goal of feminism.
    Again, I really enjoyed reading your post!

    Chloe

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  6. Abby Calhoun

     /  November 18, 2014

    Great post about the complexities surrounding feminism and race. It can certainly be intimidating to find a way to be productively involved in the feminist dialogue, and the 5 steps you outlined are critical for social change. I think it’s important for anyone working to make change, in any realm, to understand these 5 points, as they should be used as universal guidelines. I find it especially difficult and important to practice your second point, and understand that an input is not always wanted or needed. Having the grace to recognize when, where, and how to vocalize your opinion is just as important as the opinion itself.

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  7. Cydney Roth

     /  November 2, 2015

    I really enjoyed reading this post and related to its contest. I believe being aware of one’s own position in a particular matter is crucial in implementing the most effective impact possible. The article makes an important point about recognizing the white narrative and one’s own privilege in feminist discourse. As a white woman, I have learned about the different ways in which my background, identity, circumstances, and upbringing continues to influence my position and thoughts on feminism. Because of my identity, I interpret gender inequality and sexism in a contrasting light to people of varying backgrounds. This does not mean I am unable to play my part in the feminist cause. However, it showcases the necessity of recognizing the multiplicity of agents and actors involved in the cause.

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  8. Holly

     /  November 12, 2016

    Hi, I’m starting a group for allies in my small town to help us be better allies and organize. I love the image you used here, I was wondering if you owned that image and if so, would it be ok if I used it for our Facebook profile picture?

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    • Progressive Pupil

       /  November 20, 2016

      Great work Holly. This image is disseminated by Incite! a feminist anti-racist organization It is used widely throughout the Internet.

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  9. Holly

     /  November 12, 2016

    Oops I just noticed the image credit. Sorry, could hardly see on my phone screen. Disregard my last!

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