Quick Hit: The “Orâ€? versus the “Andâ€? – Women of Color and Mainstream Feminism

Latoya at Racialicious has a fabulous post up – here’s a teaser…

Little did I know that finding feminism was also the beginning of the anti-click moments, dozens of little conversations and actions that served as a constant reminder that I was different. Reading anthology after anthology on contemporary feminist work and only hearing one or two tokenized voices from women of color. Attending feminist gatherings and realizing that a lot of the situations and scenarios discussed were things I had never experienced. Trying to articulate my experiences, and being told that we need to focus on the “real� feminist issues. Things that impact “all� (read: white) women.

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23 Comments

  1. david
    Posted April 28, 2008 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    That was a great article. I especially liked her one liner
    “So, where in feminism can I fit?”
    She is really asking all of us to start re-examining our privileges and realize that this movement which we feel is supposed to be all inclusive can sometimes seem/be uninclusive of the very people we feel we are trying to help and who we want as our allies. I wonder how we would have to change in order to make people like her feel more welcome, understood and heard in the movement? Which other groups might feel the way she does?

  2. demolitionwoman
    Posted April 28, 2008 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    I am a big, big fan of Racialicious, and this latest post is a great example of why.
    I don’t think I’ve ever understood the insistence that one should put one’s sex before all else…certainly as a priveleged white girl, I’ve missed the boat sometimes – been ignorant or naive. But to me, of COURSE feminism is that broader picture of social justice and is (or should be) completely informed by race/gender/sexuality/economic status/ability…it makes my heart hurt to hear women of color say that they don’t feel welcome in feminism or that they feel that they may reject the label, the “movement”. I think I can start to grasp why and I respect it, but it’s painful.
    Although it’s kind of funny: I keep hearing people talk about feminism as a movement and I almost don’t see it that way. I see it more as a simple philosophy that is a part of my larger views on social justice.
    I think that I was very, very lucky that when I first started exploring feminism and sexuality (being a white queer-identified, middle class woman, those were the two issues I felt most passionate about at first), I had dear friends for whom race, class and ability were always part of the discussion, not just an afterthought. So people like June Jordan, Gloria Anzaldua, Essex Hemphill (and so many others) were part of my education from the get-go. I’m grateful.

  3. Posted April 28, 2008 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    I can’t imagine having the hubris to state that I was the arbiter of what were and weren’t “real” feminist issues. I’d hope that there’d be enough gumption out there to sneer at me if I tried.

  4. LadyTess
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    Awesome article but I really really hate the term “Women of Color” because it makes it seem like we are so different that we have no common ground (which is how they feel a lot of the time). The article made me sad that there exists such a difference and I think we should activly combat this gap because Feminism is about everyone.

  5. Posted April 29, 2008 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    I’m a woman of color (don’t like the term) and I’ve found more of a home within “mainstream feminism” than anywhere else.
    Just for the record.

  6. Okra
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 12:54 am | Permalink

    I never cared much for Woman/People of Color as a term, either. As a kid, it was because of the obvious visual disconnect between the title the millions of light-skinned non-Europeans (including those light people in my own family). Then I started to just think it was ridiculous to consider only some people as “of color” and “ethnic” when all humans have a color and an ethnicity.
    As I grew older, I disliked it in its latent assumption (like analagous terms “brown people”) that all people defined in the negative by their lack of Europeanness share the same overriding interests, social, political, and otherwise. I have found that to be very far from the truth–different ethnic groups, even/especially different ones from within the same country of origin, often have directly contradictory experiences and concerns. So, it’s a disproportionately Western hempishere term, as well.
    But, it’s a shorthand, I will say that. I found that a lot of women in the feminist circles I started to get to know identified themselves as such, and looked at me blankly if I didn’t use the term.
    I agree that non-Western women’s perspectives have been marginalized for far too long, but I do think some perspective is warranted: European-ancestry women’s concerns have been at the forefront because in the U.S., Europe, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, European-ancestry people are the dominant cultural forces. In my country of origin, “brown/black” groups are the dominant ones, and their concerns naturally come to the forefront of any human rights or women’s issues discussions; inevitably, the femi-humanism concerns of minority groups (also brown or black but of different ethnic or religious backgrounds).
    In this sense, the real problem is not Euro per se but a Majoritarian-inclined femisnism or humanism discourse. Our goal for every country should be to address both the concerns of members of dominant culture/religious groups, and those of minority ones.
    It goes without saying I hope that those in a Majority should be just has enthused about Minority concerns, and VICE-VERSA. They are all human concerns, after all. (I will leave some of my non-human animal rights colleagues to elaborate on animal issues!)

  7. Okra
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 12:58 am | Permalink

    Oops –meant to say:
    …inevitably, the femi-humanism concerns of minority groups (also brown or black but of different ethnic or religious backgrounds) ARE OVERLOOKED OR DENIED.

  8. Mina
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 4:58 am | Permalink

    “it makes my heart hurt to hear women of color say that they don’t feel welcome in feminism or that they feel that they may reject the label, the ‘movement’.”
    …and meanwhile I’m wondering if anyone, facing racist feminists and misogynist anti-racists, rejected the anti-racist label instead of the feminist label (kinda like what I vaguely remember hearing about Ayaan Hirsi Ali switching from a left-wing party to a right-wing one).

  9. spike the cat
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    Mina:
    “…and meanwhile I’m wondering if anyone, facing racist feminists and misogynist anti-racists, rejected the anti-racist label instead of the feminist label (kinda like what I vaguely remember hearing about Ayaan Hirsi Ali switching from a left-wing party to a right-wing one).”
    Interesting point, but realize that right-wing/left-wing European politics are not the same game as what Americans think of right and left wing.
    The reality is that sometimes the European policies of the left wing have racist and sexist outcomes if this was not their intent.
    Europe, especially N.Europe, has a different brand of multi-cuturalism that tries to “appreciate” each individual culture. It sounds rosy at 1st glance, but the result is that after 2 or 3 generations folks are not integrated and remain marginalized and discriminated against.
    In some countries, like the Netherlands, the attitude is “we’ll keep our culture, you keep yours”
    Some of these countries actually have or had in the past two sets of laws for things such as marriage and immigration. Example: one law for white Germans citizens who want to marry a foreigner and one law for ethnic Germans citizens wishing to do so. The results hurt minority women disproportionately for reasons I won’t get into, but you can imagine.
    Another example of overreaching left style multi-culturalism: there have been some high profile honor killings of young women in the past couple of years. In some cases men were getting lesser sentences because of “cultural considerations”.
    So sometimes things are not so clear cut on the outside as to what politics are sexist and racist.

  10. NYSofMind
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    I can’t help feeling that some (SOME) of the criticisms of mainstream feminism for its lack of openness to the idiosyncratic conerns of women of color lie in reprioritizing race issues over feminism issues, and it gets me a little frustrated when I read critiques of feminism’s affinity for using the justice system as an ally in targeting domestic violence. I think there are some lines in the sand, and having better enforcement of domestic violence laws is an inviolable tenet and goal of feminism, and when mainstream feminism is critiqued for supporting a system that unfairly sends black men to prison, it seems that two imperfect solutions are in conflict, and the less-feminist solution, deemphasizing policing of domestic violence evidence and charges to prevent unjust imprisonment of black men, is what’s being championed by these critiques. I’m not inclined to give up a plank like anti-domestic-violence advocacy in the name of pursuing racial justice within my feminist advocacy. I believe in racial justice, but, yes, I prioritize my feminism advocacy over my anti-racism advocacy, and I think it invites a certain weakening and dilution when you can’t acknowledge that things are in conflict and you need to think outside of the box before you can move forward. I haven’t heard any call for trying to resolve tensions like the racism of the justice system versus its integral part in preventing domestic violence, and I’m not smart enough to synthesize an answer… but I think that feminism advocates need to make their priorities clear when these tensions arise, and it isn’t a flaw or a failing to say that you care more about trusting police to intervene in domestic violence than you do about battling police racism.

  11. gerdy
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    In reading my daily dose of Feministing, I wanted to comment on this post in particular because I think it’s one of the most important issues facing modern day feminism. I think that Feministing does a great job of highlighting a broad range of issues and that this is one of the steps that we as a community can take to start to change. But it does concern me how few comments this post has gotten in comparison to others. The GTA post already has nearly 100 comments because it is an issue we can all get behind and be outraged about. It’s much more clear cut. It just highlights the difficulty we face in overcoming the barriers. I’m not saying anything particularly novel here. We all know that it’s always more difficult to have conversations and really start making changes with more complicated issues. I just think that even the comments of this post reflect this. We’ve only got a few comments in this thread. And even though those comments have been thoughtful and useful, others have probably not commented because of the seemingly overwhelming nature of the issue. It’s hard to even begin when an issue is this hard, this multifaceted and requires so much thought, dedication and nuance to even make a slight dent in the problem. But I do think that it can be done and that Jessica took a step in the post she put up concerning her reactions and previous experiences. I just hope that we can continue this because Racialicious had a completely valid point when she writes about not being suprised, about seeing patterns repeated and nothing changing. It’s easy to become fatigued or to push it under the rug or to simply become more actively involved in the issues we’ve fought for longer or feel more passionately about. But this month has highlighted why that’s just not working. And I don’t want to see the patterns repeated this time. I may not have any solutions at this point, but I know that we’ve got to do better.

  12. atheistwoman
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    Gerdy, it upsets me too. There was some article that has been quoted again and again about Jessica where she says that in the past she wouldn’t post stuff that was not ‘trendy’ because no one would comment on it. That understandably made a whole lot of people a whole lot of upset.
    Mina, in my lower moments (forgetting my privilege as a white woman) I have angrily thought that too. I have definitely thought, so what, are you saying women shouldn’t have rights, are you saying that I should just stay home and pop out babies now because of what *someone *else* said. It felt to me like they were selling me up the boat. I have also been over at racialicious in the past and been offended by some of the commenters making misogynist statements about Hillary.
    BUT IT ISN’T about what I feel or think. It is about the women who feel that feminism has repeatedly sold them short, repeatedly ignored their voices, and issues, repeatedly been white/middle-class centric.
    I always just assumed that feminists would know better. That someone calling themselves a feminist would know enough to know that a global, intersectional analysis was the only way to ‘get shit done’. Over the past few weeks I’ve learned never to assume.

  13. atheistwoman
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    Gerdy, I agree, about the comments. A while ago there was some article that has been quoted nonillion times about Jessica where she says that she used to not post more serious stuff because no one commented. Understandably that made a whole lot of people a whole lot of angry
    Mina, in my sulkier moments (I am a white woman)I have had those thoughts as well. I have often, for instance been frustrated by some of the more sexist commenters at Racialicious. I have felt that if they are rejecting feminism, not only are they rejecting their own rights, but they are rejecting *my* rights to not just stay home and pop out babies while hubby goes off to support the racist corporatocracy. Obviously that thought pisses me the hell off, otherwise I would not be a feminist.
    BUT THAT IS NOT THE POINT. It isn’t about my thoughts or feelings. It is about the thoughts and feelings (and very lives) of the women who feel that time and again feminism, as a US/white middle class centric/movement has sold them and their friends short. Women who feel feminism has sold them short, denied their voices, ignored them, belittled them, sold them out, betrayed them.
    That is who it is about. It is not about me. It is not about white privileged feminists.
    BTW, I don’t think Latoya is out right rejecting feminism in her post. Although others have.
    PS. I used to assume that those who used the label feminist realized that global intersectional analysis was the only way to ‘get shit done’. After these past few weeks I learned the hard way that assumptions get you into trouble.

  14. atheistwoman
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    oh sheesh, I thought my comment had been lost to the ether. Well I guess listen to the second one, or whichever you like best. :) .

  15. Mina
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    “…Interesting point, but realize that right-wing/left-wing European politics are not the same game as what Americans think of right and left wing.
    “The reality is that sometimes the European policies of the left wing have racist and sexist outcomes if this was not their intent.
    “Europe, especially N.Europe, has a different brand of multi-cuturalism that tries to ‘appreciate’ each individual culture. It sounds rosy at 1st glance, but the result is that after 2 or 3 generations folks are not integrated and remain marginalized and discriminated against…
    “Some of these countries actually have or had in the past two sets of laws for things such as marriage and immigration. Example: one law for white Germans citizens who want to marry a foreigner and one law for ethnic Germans citizens wishing to do so. The results hurt minority women disproportionately for reasons I won’t get into, but you can imagine…”
    Sounds racist against minority women to me!
    “…Another example of overreaching left style multi-culturalism: there have been some high profile honor killings of young women in the past couple of years. In some cases men were getting lesser sentences because of ‘cultural considerations’.
    “So sometimes things are not so clear cut on the outside as to what politics are sexist and racist…”
    That’s close to what I had in mind, actually. Somehow I’d got the impression earlier that some leftist politicans turned racist against minority women in the name of not being labelled racist against minority patriarchs, and when the locals calling equal rights for women “racist” are louder than the people calling “separate but equal” laws for treatment of minority women racist then who wants to end up with which label?

  16. david
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    Dear Gerdy and Atheistwoman,
    I would like to thank you for your points; I think you were both right on in what you said. As you said, it is so easy to get behind some issues and yell, but then there are the other issues like this one where you are forced to re-evaluate yourself, and that is hard and not always fun. Obviously the post has given all of us the opportunity to re-evaluate our privilege; it gives me an opportunity to realize that in most of my thinking about feminism, I come from the perspective of a white male and rarely think about minorities except for how socioeconomic things might be affecting them. I have no idea what the top concern of a minority male feminist might be, and that is just a reflection of my white privilege.
    There was a post similar to this one that I was very upset about a while ago. Here is the text of the post.
    Prisons and STDs
    Check out my latest at the Nation. It is about the connection between rate at which STDs spread and its relationship to the rate of incarceration in communities of color and how prisons are a feminist issue and should be on the agenda of the feminist movement.
    Posted by Samhita at 01:03 PM | in Feministing | Comments (3) | TrackBacks (0)
    I was so excited when I saw this posted, as a matter of fact, it was the first post I ever commented on. As a man I of course care a lot about this especially now that there are over 2 million people in US prisons. I was so angry and upset that only three people commented on it (two plus myself). I felt like no one cared about all the men who were getting raped and assaulted everyday in prisons, and without access to any legal or psychological help or means of fleeing. I couldn’t help but wonder how many posts there would be if it were about a women’s prison where women were getting raped, or getting STDs or something like that.
    Gerdy, you said “We all know that it’s always more difficult to have conversations and really start making changes with more complicated issues.â€? I agree with you, but as I reread your post a couple of times, I started wondering to myself what these “complicatedâ€? issues are, and what complicates them. I think it is two things, 1) if it effects you directly (i.e. your invested interest, or rather your lack there of) 2) and if recognizing the issue forces you to recognize that you are somehow privileged and need to account for that. I know that in my life these are always the two things keeping me from talking about or participating in a cause, even when I know how important it is. I am sorry if I offended anyone with what I said, I wrote about how I felt, and I know I am new to the movement and am probably unaware of a lot of things. So, if people take issue with what I said, I would love to know and be corrected and to learn others opinions, all I ask is that we try to do it nicely, I am always open to changing my views if someone gives me a good reason.

  17. Sappho
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

    @ Gerdy and Atheistwoman -
    It’s true there are less comments here, but there sure are pages and pages of discussion about it over on Racialicious. Really good discussion. I guess I don’t know how much overlap of people there is with Feministing, but I’m part of that overlap.
    From what I’ve been reading over there, I think a lot more women of color feel empowered to participate in the discussion in that forum, which is pretty important to the whole issue. I don’t mean to criticize Feministing on race at all, but it’s not a women-of-color dominated site, and I think that makes a difference.

  18. atheistwoman
    Posted April 30, 2008 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    Sappho, isn’t that the point that everyone is trying to make though? That white women ignore WOC issues?

  19. Sappho
    Posted April 30, 2008 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Sort of, but a lot of what people have emphasized on Racialicious is the importance to listening to women of color. It is absolutely important for white feminists not to ignore WOC issues, and for Feministing to stay aware, but we might better achieve that by engaging with the women of color who are involved, not just discussing what we think POC issues might be from a distance or in a mostly white group.

  20. Jessica
    Posted April 30, 2008 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    There was some article that has been quoted again and again about Jessica where she says that in the past she wouldn’t post stuff that was not ‘trendy’ because no one would comment on it. That understandably made a whole lot of people a whole lot of upset.

    That is absolutely NOT what I said. I said it was disappointing when posts dealing with more serious issues weren’t commented on – and we were trying to figure out how to address that. I NEVER said we would stop posting on such issues because of that. I was criticizing how so-called trendy issues get all of the attention. You know, I really hate having things I’ve said taken out of context.

  21. atheistwoman
    Posted April 30, 2008 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Jessica, I apologize for the confusion. I realize that the quote is a) inaccurate and b)out of context.
    I was just saying that when people saw the quote out of context and just repeated it that way, that people were upset by it. I should have been more careful in my wording. Saying misquoted rather than quoted would have been a good place to start.

  22. gerdy
    Posted April 30, 2008 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    David
    I agree with the points you made about what makes a “complicated” issue complicated. Anything that involves self-criticism just adds a whole new level for people.
    Sappho
    I’ve been reading the commentary over at Racialicious as well. And I think you’re right with the point
    “we might better achieve that by engaging with the women of color who are involved, not just discussing what we think POC issues might be from a distance or in a mostly white group.” I’ve added a few new sites to my favorites to help me personally with this. But that’s also one of the things I love about Feministing. They link to so many other blogs and posts that I may not know about. Then I end up spending hours jumping from link to link and getting more diverse viewpoints on an issue than I ever imagined. Changing the Feminist movement for the better certainly won’t be a walk in the park, but it has made me slightly hopeful to see such open dialogue on so many sites about the history of feminism and the role racism has played in the movement.

  23. madderthanhell
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    When reading post and the comments over at Racialicious, I realized that I although I read the WoC/PoC (for lack of a better term) blogs, I read and I lurk,but I never comment. As I did finally comment over at Latoya’s blog, I am always scared that I am going to say something stupid – something that will only underline my “white feminist priveledge”.
    And that is a mistake on my part and I am going to correct that. I have to start educating myself across the board and not just sticking to feministing and The Curvature where I feel comfortable and often comment. For someone who indentifies as so progressive and educated about feminism/racism/social issues at large, when I take the links to other blogs that I have not read before I realize how little I do know.
    And although this is sometimes overwhelming, I think it is vitally important for those of us that feel this way to just dive in and start asking questions if we don’t undertstand something. Read books that we would not have not normally read. I will never know what it is like to be a black woman or and any person of color for that matter, but that should not stop me from becoming educated so that I can be the best ally that I can be.

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