I often engage in conversations with white women in which I accuse them of not owning their race privilege. Quite often the response is, why are you blaming us, and not white males. I believe that this is an important issue to discuss because despite the sisterhood claims of feminism, there actually exists a lot of animosity between WOC and white women.
White women and black men, both focus on the marginalizatio0n that they face from over privileged white men. Though WOC will acknowledge that there is definitely an issue with how the white male body is encoded with power; they are not our sole oppressors. Unlike white women, white men do not have a history offering friendship that ends in betrayal. The relationship between white men and WOC is quite clear...adversarial. Telling us to focus on white men instead of deconstructing their own unearned privileges is an attempt to deflect responsibility.
Feminism has a history of betraying WOC. As it has been noted on this blog and many others, when it came to activism, white women of middle/upper class standing have repeatedly made the movement about their needs and their desires, while at the same time trying to assert a common sisterhood with WOC. When there is filing, coffee making and general menial tasks to be done, then and only then, do WOC matter in any significant way. As we look at who are considered the heroes of second wave feminism the disparity between white women and WOC speaks volumes. Despite the consciousness raising and the ideology of the personal is political, the personal is only validated when it is the experience of white women. White bodies, and white experiences have been utilized to create the monolithic woman.
Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Janice Raymond, and Mary Daly could not possibly identify with the needs of WOC, and yet instead of seeking to learn they made their experiences the referential. Bodies that did not conform to the feminist image were routinely silenced. When bell hooks entered the scene saying that the gilded cage was a pretty trap for white women, but that it did not apply to WOC, then and only then, did we have a voice in modern feminism that spoke specifically to and for us.
What is most hurtful is that our common experiences of womanhood should allow for a form of solidarity, but as long as white feminists continue to devalue the degree to which race and class effect the lives of WOC there can be no lasting peace. Race and class have been used as a tool to specifically oppress us. When white women were attending consciousness raisings, getting degrees, and fighting in the courts for gender neutral legislation, it was WOC that you entrusted your children to. Your achievements would not have been possible without our labour, and just like white men you discounted its value.
Even today feminists stand in defence of the clearly anti-woman Palin and yet there is virtual silence about the sexism that Michelle Obama faces. Angelina Jolie is the embodiment of acceptable womanhood and Erykah Badu is a licentious whore. Magazines daily reaffirm white womanhood as the most beautiful and desirable, and WOC get one issue of Italian vogue. That this privileging of beauty has left us permanently scared is not actively engaged in.
I talk to and about white women because I want an admission of the duplicitous nature of friendship that has been offered. Until there is an acknowledgement of the history of betrayal, there can be no healing and no true sisterhood. As women we cannot afford to continue to work at cross purposes if we hope to make any real inroads on our shared patriarchal oppression. We will not allow you to achieve equality with white men by oppressing us. Your freedom cannot be gained on our backs. Mammy no longer wishes to serve.