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. 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.

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4 Comments

  1. Andy P

     /  March 30, 2015

    I really like this post. These guidelines really work for ally-ship with any oppressed group – especially the need to recognize and acknowledge one’s relative privilege when acting as an ally. While it’s not a cure-all, I think it does help to reduce skepticism and demonstrate an understanding that complex structural or institutional issues are at play. The idea of getting uncomfortable also really speaks to me. A major criticism of allies is that they often don’t have as much to risk and therefore don’t have the same stakes as the group they stand with. “Leaning into discomfort” is a great way to show solidarity by physically creating some level of risk and demonstrating a true willingness to stand alongside them.

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  2. Hanna

     /  March 31, 2015

    The list of requirements for being an ally is quite helpful. I, along with a friend, am creating a series of workshops to discuss the role of the educator of color in the education reform movement. (Quick context: Many educators involved in the ed reform movement – think charter schools, programs like TFA – do not match the demographics of the students they serve. A few do match that demographic and this is a conversation around their role and their experience.)

    There are a lot of allies in this particular work – many of whom I am friends with and many of whom I told of this workshop as I was originally designing it. In the end, I decided to not include allies in the conversation – or at least not in this round.

    I was feeling torn about that decision – but this post has really helped me to feel settled about my choice. The idea that sometimes ‘being a good ally means recognizing that sometimes your input is not needed or wanted.’

    I also appreciate the 5 requirements because they give me a framework and approach for including allies in this conversation… when that time comes.

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  3. Layla Nunez

     /  September 28, 2015

    This entry really allowed me to gather knowledge on the broad spectrum of feminism. As a former literature major, the term womanism would come up but would be elaborated for a couple of minutes before we moved on to something else. This entry allows me to clear what I thought I knew about Walker’s term, which was that the term empowered colored women. I also had to think of how important race is among women and what that means in terms of fighting for equality among the sexes.

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  4. Ksenia Voropaeva

     /  November 1, 2015

    This is a dialogue that has to be brought up more often. Reality shows though, that typically, the topic is brought up after an offence occurs. In media, we see this conversation take center stage when it is raised to the level of a feud between Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus. Ladies, can we try to come together and form communities before things take a bad turn? We should be sharing stories of possible oppression day to day, and in a constructive manner. What are the daily privileges of a group? Self awareness can only be gained if we ask this question of ourselves in our surroundings. I say yes, let’s widen the view if it’s narrowed. I think the premise that an activist, or a feminist will always get it right every time is a demise. As a leader, you are always correcting yourself and growing, while making mistakes. This should be applied to those affecting change, as well. I appreciate hearing mainstream feminism enforces white supremacy, because feminism is what we make it, and through this dialogue, more can take a stance to guide the direction of an inclusive and allied feminism.

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