The Top Five Ways That White Feminists Continue To Discredit Women of Color
March 8, 2009 39 Comments
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.