BLamenting women for the ills of the world may seem like a strange feminist call to action. But one idea that is gaining traction is that the dominant “white feminism” in the United States and the United Kingdom is not only a driving force behind social racism, but is responsible for a host of other bad things, from the war on terror even the hypersexualization of women. in popular culture, to the appalling abuses of power that we see in international aid. It is part of a growing trend on the left to seek scapegoats at the cost of building the solidarity necessary for social change.
This is not to downplay the extent of racial inequalities in the UK, how they affect women of color and the structural racism behind them. But it is a huge leap from the observation that women are no more immune to racism than men to holding the feminist movement responsible for the plight of women of color around the world. A new book, Against white feminism, by Rafia Zakaria, makes precisely this case. To bolster the argument, she stereotypes feminism beyond recognition as a shallow, consumerist, and exclusionary movement dominated by selfish white women who care little for scrutinizing male violence perpetrated by white men.
Feminism is a broad movement – look for it and you will find superficial strands. But reducing feminism to this is only to ignore the British tradition of radical grassroots feminism that has united women of all colors and classes in the fight against patriarchal male violence. In one of the best-known examples, Justice for Women and the Southall Black Sisters worked together since the early 1990s to overturn long prison terms for women forced to kill their abusive partners after the most gruesome protracted abuse.
In the case of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, Southall Black Sisters led with Justice for Women by their side. “It brought together women, black and white, young and old, professionals and survivors, in a wonderful moment of unity to highlight injustice and change things for the better,” says Pragna Patel, founding member of the Southall Black Sisters. “There were differences, but only through solidarity between us were we able to generate change. The black feminist tradition has challenged feminism blind spots around race and class, not for the sake of separatism, but to strengthen our collective movement. ”The women’s shelter movement offers similar examples.
The attacks on white feminism are the product of a broader division in the anti-racist movement over the best route to social change. Is it by making well-intentioned people who are unwittingly complicit in replicating inequalities feel guilty and ashamed of their “white privilege”? Or inviting them to feel a shared sense of injustice in a way that emphasizes common belonging to a movement, without overlooking the difference? Feminists like Zakaria fall into the old camp. But guilt and shame can make solidarity harder, not easier, to build.
The main anti-racist left has a bad record of being with dry women of color who defy misogyny within their communities, for fear of upsetting cultural sensitivities. Examples abound: News night investigation that revealed several Muslim councilors who have been pressured not to stand by members of the Asian Labor Party, prompting the Muslim Women’s Network to call for an investigation into systemic misogyny in the party that met with overwhelming silence; the smear MP Naz Shah has faced local Asian men in her party; the negative answer to anti-FGM activist Nimco Ali from her local Labor party. The white privilege discourse makes this more not less likely, because it makes people more afraid of being culturally insensitive.
In fact, reading Zakaria’s book, one gets the impression that white women cannot win, condemned for speaking only from their own experience, but scolded for getting involved in fights that are not their own. The irony is that radical feminism has often run counter to the mainstream left on this precisely because it views female oppression as cross-cultural. Murders of intimate partners, female genital mutilation or forced marriage – it’s all patriarchal violence at the hands of men, a universal female experience.
Not only this: criticism of white feminism strengthens patriarchal forces by falling into the Olympics trap of privilege. We need an analysis of the results by class, race and sex to understand the extent of the inequalities, but it should never go too far to imply that all white women are more privileged than women of color (consider how obscene it would be to suggest that a woman 18-year-old white leaving childcare for one year could be considered more privileged than me).
Yet that is exactly what the lazy polemics over terrible white feminism do: They empower men to use the fact that all white women are supposedly at the top of the hierarchical order of privilege to tell women about middle-aged to shut up or, worse, accuse them of weaponizing their abuse and trauma. It also doesn’t help women of color – it implicitly posits Asian men’s crime against women as less than white men’s crime, because Asian men are victims too.
This is part of a broader trend on the left towards fracture, in which attacking people with whom you have a lot in common is now seen as a laudable displacement activity for the Southall Black Sisters / Justice for Women approach to a real change. It is telling that Zakaria chose not to participate in a critical review of a book by Joan Smith, the longtime activist against domestic violence, rather than launch a personal attack on her. “old and white“Appearance.
“Be nice” is not a cliché, it is a political slogan, because without kindness, how can we promote the solidarity that must be built, not demanded? Making well-intentioned but imperfect people feel bad about themselves can sell books, generate outrage, and indulge some people’s masochistic tendencies, but the one thing it will never do is change the world for the better.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism