I wish I could remember what I was listening to when I learned that I was guilty of White Feminism but I just can’t. It was probably something on NPR. Whatever it was, the speaker noted that Second Wave Feminism was allegedly focused on the right of women to work, but didn’t acknowledge that Black women (and other women of color) had been working all along.
My sickening realization then came that white feminists of the time didn’t consider the work of women of color worth doing.
That was when I had to start looking deeply at my own feminism and figuring out which parts of it were actively racist and how I could kick that racism out of my own head. It’s a process and I’m never going to be done with it.
This article about White Feminism is making the rounds and if you haven’t read it already, you really should. Some of what author Monnica T. Williams is saying is pretty specific to academic circles and the kind of conferences on feminism that most of us never go to. But the rest of it? Hoo boy. Buckle up. The facts are a bumpy damn ride.
The ugly truth is that white feminists have been on a track for financial equality for themselves and, while that is not without merit, there are millions of women of color in America who are still fighting for their right to stay alive. The maternal mortality numbers for Black women especially are a stain on our nation and we should all be walking around with our hair on fire over that. This is America. You should have a reasonable expectation of surviving the birth of your own baby. We have the technology and that technology shouldn’t be reserved for white ladies in labor and delivery.
That goes for everything in medicine, actually.
Ok, yeah, you’re thinking, but what can I do about things like racial disparities in medicine? Well, first you can notice them. Then you can realize that you didn’t notice them until someone pointed them out to you and that someone was probably a person of color. Then you can start making a point of seeking out the opinions and experiences of people of color to more fully develop your view of the world. Because if you’re anything like me, you made the mistake of listening to mostly white feminists and missed everyone else in the process.
Intersectionality is easy in theory, harder in practice. We all have our blinkers. We all have our blind spots. But once you accept that you are going to be wrong about stuff in life – and that being wrong doesn’t diminish your value as a person – it becomes easier to see around your own blinders.
There’s no shame in the words “I didn’t know that before now.” The shame comes in when you say “And I’m not going to accept it now that I do know it because it doesn’t mesh with what I already knew.”
The better response to new information is to thank the person that handed it over and start sharing it and crediting them – that’s how white feminists can elevate the voices of women of color at the most basic level.
Go forth and listen and learn. Find those voices you haven’t tuned into before now, quote them widely. I promise you won’t regret it.