The Top Five Ways That White Feminists Continue To Discredit Women of Color

A guest post by Aaminah Hernández.

1) Say we are too “involved” or biased in regards to the subject, and claim that you are more “objective”.

This is frequently done to silence people who are trying to tell their own story. Academia is famous for this, but it happens outside academia as well. For example, who are the acknowledged “experts” about our cultures, religions, and lives? Why are there white upper-class men teaching Women’s studies, white upper-class women teaching African or Latin American studies, and white upper-class Christians or atheists teaching Islamic studies? Why does the media go to people outside the group they are speaking about to ask their opinion and views on a subject? The claim is that people of color and women are not “objective”. Especially in regards to religion, this is frequently thrown out there when discussing “Eastern” religions like Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism; we are viewed as too biased to speak about our own history, culture and beliefs.

2) Say we are ignorant of the subject, even though the subject is our own life, history, culture or religion, because we have dared to speak to our own story and question the way outsiders have portrayed it. This includes questioning our academic background (or lack of), our writing style/ability, and whether or not we cite “accepted” texts to prove our points.

So called “experts” are the most obvious examples of this, and this ties in with
number one above, but it is also enacted regularly by non-experts. The blogging world, for example, is full of people who think they know about something because they read it on-line or have a friend of a friend who experienced xyz, and then they use this as a means to say that this is the only version that is valid. Rarely are women of color allowed to speak to our own experience, to say that we were mistreated or discriminated against without someone else claiming that we are “reading too much into it”. Similarly, if we speak of the beauty and empowerment we have found in our own culture or religion, there is someone quick to dismiss it as an anomaly or us not knowing enough about where we come from to realize the intricate workings of oppression inherent in what we have stated we are not oppressed by.

3) Speak condescendingly towards us. Tell us we are too young or too old, naïve or bitter, and that we are angry or emotional, etc.

This is one of the most offensive things done by other women. We all recognize it when done by men, and we all rally around the anger and hurt that it causes then, but some of us experience it more frequently from our fellow women. Women of privilege regularly say these things to women of color as a way of silencing our questioning of their intentions, goals, and strategies. Rather than engaging why we are angry, we are dismissed for expressing deep emotion. Rather than accepting the opinions of a woman that differ, it is said that she is “old school” or “out of touch” or that she is too cynical because of past experience and therefore not giving the new guard a chance. Young women who come full of energy and new ideas are discouraged from changing the way things have been done and told that they are ignorant of the big picture. Act as though you are protecting us, mentoring us, looking out for our good – basically patting us on the head and telling us to pipe down.

4) Pull out your “credentials” to show that you have more support and legitimacy than we do.

This ties in with the idea of “experts” but goes one farther. If writing for a large feminist blog, the offending woman will say that the size of the blog is proof of her legitimacy. She will claim to have many followers, and her followers can’t be wrong, so she must be saying something right. She will point to a woman of color’s blog and say that it is small, or accuse her of the bad grammar, unprofessional writing, and “hating” to show that her blog and writing is more appropriate, thereby her ideas must also be more correct. If the white feminist has been published in magazines or has published books, she will point to these as further proof of her credentials and acceptance from the larger society, mocking the woman of color who has not attained this sort of approval even if the woman of color doesn’t want to be published.

5) Say we are hurting the cause of feminism, or that we aren’t really feminist at all.

This one is perhaps the most damaging of all. First, it presumes that we consider ourselves “feminist” at all and thereby implies that there is something wrong with us if we don’t. Then it attempts to define what feminism is, what counts as feminism, and tells us that we aren’t really part of it, while trying to shame us and discount anything we have to say because it is “not feminist”. It does not allow that feminism could have different forms and faces, but limits it to what serves the white woman and nothing more. If, as women, we cannot set our own goals, speak to our own needs, and create our own agenda, then how “feminist” are you? Ignoring us, pushing our concerns to the back, this is what is really hurting the “Movement”. It is arrogant for certain women to sit in judgment of other women and whether or not they should be allowed into the ranks or allowed to use a label. But then, that’s probably why so many women of color are throwing away the label of our own accord. We don’t want to be confined to your self-serving definition.

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39 Responses to The Top Five Ways That White Feminists Continue To Discredit Women of Color

  1. Pingback: Guest Post at Problem Chylde « Aaminah Hernández

  2. Sarah J says:

    Thanks for this!

    (I clearly need to get better at commenting on blogs. So much of my commenting lately is “Wow, awesome!” Not that it’s not awesome, but.)

  3. Renee says:

    She will claim to have many followers, and her followers can’t be wrong, so she must be saying something right. She will point to a woman of color’s blog and say that it is small, or accuse her of the bad grammar, unprofessional writing, and “hating” to show that her blog and writing is more appropriate, thereby her ideas must also be more correct. If the white feminist has been published in magazines or has published books, she will point to these as further proof of her credentials and acceptance from the larger society, mocking the woman of color who has not attained this sort of approval even if the woman of color doesn’t want to be published.

    I have personally experienced this myself. I have been told that what I write is unintelligible and have been referred to as the crazy lady from Womanist Musings. I often want to scream that even the best writers on the planet have editors who go over their work with a fine tune comb and I am doing the best that I can to blog with Barney in the Background while watching my two very active sons. It is hard not to take it personally even though I know that a major part of the attack is based on my race and my gender. As a WOC I cannot follow the script written by white feminism, because to do so would be a betrayal of an essential part of my being. Part of the resistance is that WOC are routinely saying that we matter and even though you would like it to be all about you, it simply isn’t. We deserve better.

  4. brookeakaummbadier says:

    1&2- Unless she was raised within a culture,religion,philosophy which she has since rejected (maybe even giving herself the title of Apostate), in that case she is an eminent authority on the topic.
    *sorry if this quadroople posts.

  5. DNMP says:

    Thank you for sharing this. It reminds me of some of the discussions I had in my Women and Politics class in grad school. A great book that looks at these issues over time is “Women, Race and Class” by Angela Y. Davis. There is also another book that looks to Black Women’s Studies “All the Women Are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave” Edited by Hull, Scott and Smith. A second edition call “Still Brave” is forthcoming this year edited by Guy-Sheftall and James.

  6. No.25 says:

    Yes, the movement has failed to address race and class in many ways, focusing solely on gender as it’s experience by white women. But I think a lot of progress has been made in academia (there are tons of papers and books addressing this issue). Where we need to see change is at the organizational level.

  7. Donna says:

    The one that gets to me is ignoring us. I’ve seen it several times that the white feminist(s) being called out for something she did or said that was racist will not address any of the WOC, but will address any white allies who are agreeing with us or emphasizing what we are saying. These white feminists also will eventually say things like, it’s the white people stirring up the brown people. As if we wouldn’t have noticed the racism without a white person there to point it out and rile us all up. Or that the allies don’t really care about the issues, they are just looking for brownie points and acting holier than thou, to see who is the most liberal, and who cares the most about racism. Talk about demoralizing, these women KNOW that no one really cares enough about racism to actually fight on the side of WOC, you know, because it’s the right thing to do. No, they would only do it for cookies, or because they are smug and self righteous.

  8. A'ishah says:

    Assalaamu aleykum ukhti, this is so well-said. Thank you.

  9. Lisa Harney says:

    This is a great post, and very true.

    And…these tactics are very familiar to my experience. :(

    Another trick is something that belledame points out here (although she’s far from the only or first to say it), that is to position women of color (in context with this post, happens with trans women too) as allies to feminism, because their concerns – including race – are not truly feminist.

  10. Pingback: The Top Five Ways White Feminists Discredit Women of Color « Questioning Transphobia

  11. Deoridhe says:

    Wow, yeah. These show up again and again and again and none of them are legitimate – all of them are tricks to retain privilege and authority.

  12. Julia says:

    This is a great post. Thank you so much.

  13. Excellent post, Aaminah! Something Sherry Jones should read, for sure.

  14. kyla says:

    My favourite versioin of 5 is when people say that you’re hurting “the sisterhood”, how can you mess with “the sisterhood”, how can you tear down “your own sisters” after you point out that something they said doesn’t represent everyone. Not only must we all be feminists, we must also all be one large gloop of womanly fervour and delicate flower love.

    Excellent post.

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  18. Rachel_in_WY says:

    As an academic feminist I think about this topic all the time. It seems to me that both the egos of the individuals involved and the pressures of academia, or the expectations of the media and the general public, are at play. For instance, I think feminists have been portrayed as angry man-haters for so long that a lot of feminists want to put a polite pretty face on feminism, which often involves throwing your allies under the bus. And there’s a lot of privilege-maintaining involved as well.

    From an academic perspective, there’s pressure to adhere to conventional viewpoints and methodologies, which are almost always inherently exclusive. For instance, I approach my teaching and research from a postmodern perspective, which devalues the traditional metanarratives that used to be the norm, and privileges particular, situated voices. That requires involving a large variety of readings in your syllabus and sources in your research, and it limits the kinds of general statements you can make. And it means you always have to be open to new voices, changing concerns, etc. So it involves more work. It also marginalizes you professionally, since academia in general is disapproving of postmodernism and prefers the totalizing metanarratives. It may be too extreme to say that breaking from academic conventions jeopardizes your professional success, but it definitely puts you under pressure and gives you extra work and headaches, and probably minimizes your chances at landing a good tenure-track position. So I think that this is a kind of systemic pressure that contributes to the dynamic where many people teaching African, American Indian, and Chicano Studies as well as Women’s Studies are white and upper-class. At the same time, as a white upper-class academic, you’re often in a better position to buck the system and use an unconventional approach, since your voice is already considered to be more valid and your chances of landing a tenure-track position are already better. So the irony is that your privilege puts you in a better position to be a thoughtful ally, even as your knowledge of this fact makes you feel conflicted and uncomfortable.

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  24. r.r.r. says:

    i love this posting SO much!! thank you! :)

  25. joankelly6000 says:

    Thanks, Aaminah, I always like to read what you write.

    And thanks, Sylvia, for having great guest posters.

  26. This was a fantastic post. Very true. Also on the segment that Renee quoted from your post about blogging and followers – it translates very well to offline organizing too. “Well, so many people agree with me, so obviously I’m right and not being racist.” Er… no.

  27. Shannon says:

    Well and beautifully said thank you.

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  29. stankerbell says:

    thank you for writing this, what makes it even more powerful is that these tactics are used in so many other areas and i know that when it happens to me it’s so draining, it starts to take a heavy emotional toll when your basically told to stfu… thank you aaminah

  30. mama says:

    hey i am not sure if this should be asked of sylvia or aminah,
    but we love this post. and would like to use it for launching of raven’s eye. here is the link to the alpha version of the site: http://www.raveneye.org/
    please let us know if we could cross post this piece by emailing me at p———-@yahoo.com

    thank you.

  31. NancyP says:

    Mainstream feminism is getting away from its three-pronged approach of “consciousness raising” among each other, network and institution-building, and reformist engagement with the Powers That Be. The first two have atrophied, and the third is the only sort of feminism regarded as valid. Now, I am as practical as anybody else, and I am going to lobby on to state level Plan B access and ENDA-type bill and so on – but the consciousness raising and network building provide the “why” and “who” that will determine the “how” of legislative lobbying and community work. The big blogs usually focus mainly on the existing reform agenda, possibly because a lot of people want to get useful news about legislation in progress. The germinator blogs are needed too, to provide the “who” and “why”, the creativity needed for long-term growth. To me it seems that a lot of the WOC blogs are focusing on the consciousness raising and network-building, and that the mainstream blogs and movement needs to listen and inwardly digest – because you are part of the future (as well as the present).

    At any rate, different rhetorical styles suit different aims. “Telling your own story in your own way” is the whole point of consciousness building and early network-building. Making abstract academic generalizations just doesn’t work for this purpose – it doesn’t create bonds between people or increase understanding by the non-WomanistsOC (of any gender or race).

  32. Pingback: The Top Five Ways That White Feminists Continue to Discredit Women of Color « Raven’s Eye

  33. mokatara says:

    After reading this and your other work, I feel I can exit the business of Feminism, and get on with the joy of embodying feminism. Thank you, and much love.

  34. lillie says:

    I respect everything on your blog. I do wish though that here in my lovely city of Milwaukee the women in the black community would take a stand on single motherhood leading to severe poverty and hardship for the community and the children.
    I have first hand experience, I stopped with one. It was a very hard life, the father was not a good person in any way financially or other. He is now in prison making life even harder for my son, who is now 29. I was married to him for one year. I never had more children.

  35. I just exited the business of feminism, as Mokatara said so eloquently above, as a woman of privilege, because I got called a racist and a sexist on a mainstream blog. Well, maybe they’re not that mainstream, because they’re a bunch of lefties in exile, still smarting over what happened to Hillary last year. But anyway, I get very tired of hardliners focusing on abortion when, really, there’s so much more out there I’d love to tackle to move us to a culture in which women, ALL women, can flourish. I’ve been wondering for a LONG time how to approach a dialogue on feminism with WOC, and find myself flailing about. I appreciate what you’ve written here because you’re outlining where the traditional dialogue has failed, and why. I just had the tactics you outlined used on myself, and it was humiliating to say the least.

  36. Rosario says:

    woow… Very nice post, Thanks for share :)

  37. nonya says:

    This article assumes that ALL white feminists act this way. Which, is and of itself both racist and sexist.

    Signed, NOT an “ally”

  38. Aaminah says:

    LOL, Nonya. Way to prove the post true. Nowhere does it say that ALL white feminists do these things. But you just exemplified exactly what i was talking about – discredit me as a reverse-racist and sexist rather than admit that what i said has any truth.

    “Call us reverse-racists and accuse us of ‘hating’ women or supporting patriarchy when we raise objections to their racism” should have been item #6. Thank you for participating and reminding us of it, Nonya!

    Now, i will boldly say (not that my experience is the only valid experience) that i’ve never met a white feminist who didn’t do one or more of these things at some point. i am very friendly with some white feminists, some who i ADORE and have very strong relationships with (some of whom have commented above and will recognize themselves when i say this), and they have made some of these mistakes. The difference is that they were willing to be told when i (or others) saw them doing it, willing reflect on what was being said and how it was hurtful, and willing to change how they did things. Sadly, most white feminists are not so willing, hence we have hot-mess mainstream feminist sites where the posts and comments are full of all of the above examples more often than not. Even when a site gets the post right, the overwhelming majority of comments are disgusting displays of privilege gone wild. That’s exactly why things don’t change, and exactly why so many WoC are exiting *F*eminism in droves. The fact that you don’t like to hear it doesn’t change its reality.

  39. Aaminah says:

    PS – To Moktara, just thought i should let you know, for all the years that i resisted the “feminist” label, it was reading your definition of feminism that made me realize and accept that i AM a feminist… i just continue to decline to be involved in *F*eminism… and obviously you understand why. Love & light to you. :)

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