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. Therefore, 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 further 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 oppression 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 have been much more in-depth discussions about the problematic nature of her initial decision, but the most important revelation from these events is that no matter how noble DiFranco’s intentions, her narrowed view of the retreat location showed the ease with which White feminists can pick and chose which oppressions to combat, and which to ignore because of their racial privilege.