Monday, March 28, 2011

Stop Denying White Female Privilege

Before we get into this, I am going to give the poor fainting White women, who are not up to a critical conversation the chance to grab a kleenex to dry their White woman tears.

Racialicious posted a piece by AJ Plaid last Thursday, about White female Privilege and sexism as a result of the fall out from Andrea Wallace's anti Asian rant.  Rather than focusing on the sexism faced by Wallace, I would like to examine the list of White female privilege that Plaid created, as well as the reaction to said list on Feministe.
  •     Can benefit from their association with white men as a wife, daughter, sibling, and mother.
  •     Have all their faults and flaws into perfect imperfections.
  •     Easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children’s magazines featuring women like them.
  •     Can swear, or dress in second-hand clothes, or not answer any communications without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of their race.
  •     When told about our national language or about “civilization,” they are shown the people of their color made it what it was.
  •     Can turn on the television, open a newspaper, or go online and see people of their race widely represented.
  •     Can remain oblivious of the language and of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in their culture any penalty.
  •     Are feel free to exhibit a wide range of emotions, from tears to genuine belly laughter, without being told to shut up.
  •     Can use the “sheer fear of tears” to their advantage. (Sarah Jaffe calls this “White Lady Tears.”)
  •     Are not compelled by the rules of their gender to wear emotional armor in interactions with most people.
  •     Are allowed to be vulnerable, playful, and “soft” without calling their worthiness as a member of their race being called into question.
  •     Are seen as the embodiments of value and purity and, due to their phenotypes (especially if it’s close(r) to the blonde-and-blue-eyed ideal), be considered worthy of protection—including having nations go to war over this purity and piety–and instantly become the objects of universal desire.
  •     They are seen as the default and the ideal embodiment of physical beauty and sexual attractiveness.  This idea(l) is replicated, despite the efforts of visual diversity, in all form of media, from paintings to plays to porn.
Clearly the list is not exhaustive, but it is a very good starting to place to discuss the privileges that are attached to a White female body, that is often ignored or hotly denied in feminist spaces. If we simply rely on the term White privilege, we ignore the way that it is experienced differently by gender, thus giving White women a chance to blame patriarchy for the White supremacist world in which we live.  Using the term White female privilege means accountability, and therefore; it is no surprise to me, that many would stand on their head to deny its very existence.
The following comments come from Feministe.   
    LoriA 

    I’m with you, Sara. White privilege is absolutely a thing and every white person has it regardless of gender. But any sort of female privilege is just benevolent sexism that actually functions to hinder women and further the patriarchy. There were several examples of this that Plaid listed in the article that had me shaking my head like crazy.

    tinfoil hattie

    Many commenters here and at Racialicious are conflating “being judged by patriarchy in a positive way because you are good-looking and/or appropriately feminine” with some sort of “privilege.” It’s not privileged to get the approval of men because you’re pretty or stacked or skinny or young or whatever patriarchal ideal you are fulfilling at the moment. It’s absolutely the opposite of privilege.

    White privilege, yes. Absolutely. But not female privilege. Women of color and white women are all women. It’s whiteness, not femaleness, that exerts the privilege. (emphasis mine)

    Carla  

    It’s not a privilege for “her gender” or something simplistic like that. it’s a privilege her RACIAL STATUS gives her gender over non white people in situations when she is being racist.

    Done.
With exception of one commenter who was determined to derail the conversation to discuss the term "white woman tears," the entire thread was dedicated to a discussion as to whether or not White female privilege actually existed.  As I read through the thread, I found myself wanting to bang my head against a wall.  You see, this kind of thing commonly happens on feminist blogs, and yet they claim to be a safe space for all women.  This isn't simply a failure to learn from mistakes, it's an outright refusal to learn from mistakes.  Far too often, the commenters are coddled, as though the very fact that they arguing about the existence of White female privilege isn't in and of itself racist.

This weekend I had a commenter complain about a post I wrote regarding racism at Bitch Magazine. She said:
    I'm surprised that you can't see into your own language and rhetoric. As someone who claims to be a humanist and who is looking for inclusion, you sound racist and segregationist yourself. How many times do you refer to the "poor White woman"? Do you forget that White women, too, can be lesbian, single mothers, impoverished, and marginalized? You seem less concerned with Bitch's inclusion of all humans than with your own perspective. This is not a dialogue for inclusion and acceptance. You're spitting poison at a feminist magazine all the while clinging to your role as victim. How do you think that you are making an argument to strengthen feminism and women? I don't think people should be applauding you. I think you should be embarrassed for championing your state of victimhood. Bitch shouldn't have given you an apology. They should have sent you a box of tissues. This isn't academic; it's a maudlin pity party.
My simple answer to her was fuck off, and it came with a good reason.  Every time White women engage in racism, or deny their privilege, it is WOC who have to bear the brunt of their denial.  This is about more than hurt feelings.  I spent hours on Saturday trying to get the attention of Bitch regarding their racist piece, and this is not the first time I have dedicated hours trying to get either a White run organization, feminist blog, or a traditionally White female space to see the damage of what they are doing.  The time that we spend fixated on fighting for justice and equality, means that we are not spending time with our families, relaxing, or even pursuing our own professional goals.  There is also the factor of the stress such advocacy brings.  As a person who has fibromyalgia, I can tell you that stress greatly effects my health and my ability to negotiate this world.

When I first saw the thread on Feministe, I had to think about whether I had the strength left to engage and what the effect for me would be.  In the end, I chose to bow out because I felt exhausted.  I felt I could do so without guilt, because I know that it is only a matter of time before something similar happens again and WOC have to spend their precious time educating White women, while they do their best to pretend that they cannot hear what we are saying.  Whether it is Feministe, Feminsiting, or Jezebel, this will happen again and again and again.  It happens because White women refuse to challenge their privilege, and it happens because blog moderators refuse to take a stand.

As the editor in chief of Womanist Musings, though I allow many comments that other blogs would not tolerate, this kind of thing does not happen.  I have had people tell me that they feel sorry for me, or that they are going to pray for me, but it does not matter.  As part of respecting myself and all WOC, I will not pretend for one moment, that any for of racism, whether it is overt or covert, active or passive, is acceptable in this space. These conversations ultimately continue to happen because the blog moderators/owners allow it.  Though many bloggers attempt to disavow that this is the case, it is absolutely correct.  The people that end becoming your regular readers and or regular commnters, are drawn to the blog because of content.  If race is something that is not continually discussed in a critical fashion, it quickly becomes a place where people feel safe to spread their White supremacist beliefs. If White female privilege is treated like a debatable issue, rather than an established fact, the commenters will take that as a signal that despite a so-called liberal pedigree, that Whiteness is indeed affirmed in this space.

These conversations keep happening quite frankly because White bloggers enable them every step of the way.  I don't suffer fools, which means that I am not the favourite of many, but this kind of denial does not happen on Womanist Musings.  A man who entered a feminist space, and decided to question patriarchy would be treated as troll, but when it effects their ability to negotiate their privilege, suddenly we have to debate.  I have been told repeatedly that advocating womanism is divisive however, what is divisive is the continual racism engaged in by White women.   Not only are we excluded as topics of discussion we are expected to enter your comment sections and reign in the racism that has been tolerated on feminist spaces.  I say enough with the free education, enough with allowing them to zap our energy.  When we run into their spaces to set them straight, we are once again allowing them to set the agenda and prioritize what our goals are regarding social justice.   The best way to hold these spaces accountable is to stop reading them and allow them to become the echo chambers that they so clearly desire.  Women that want to learn or who are committed to challenging their privilege will find another way to engage that is more positive to the spirit of WOC, without us having to run into these traditionally White run spaces, just to assert our humanity.