Like many others, I watched with intense interest as Twitter was virtually taken over the other day by the hashtag #Solidarityisforwhitewomen, started by blogger Mikki Kendall in response to the Hugo Schwyzer debacle and what she describes as “dismissing women of color (WOC) in favor of a brand of solidarity that centers on the safety and comfort of white women” in a piece for the Guardian. I had only been vaguely aware of Schwyzer and his abusive behavior before his recent meltdown, but the issues brought up by #Solidarityisforwhitewomen are longstanding critiques of white feminists, many of whom responded to the hashtag and its participants with the type of defensiveness that further silences the WOC who felt it necessary to speak out in the first place.
Then yesterday, #Blackpowerisforblackmen emerged, the brainchild of Jamilah Lemieux of Ebony.com, in a similar vein as #Solidarityisforwhitewomen, only this time directed at black men (not unlike myself) who have not been inclusive of the concerns of black women while trying deal with racism and white supremacy. And a familiar defensiveness emerged among the unsuspecting black men, with one brother calling it “one of the most ridiculous, counterproductive trends in black twitter history,” and another (the self-proclaimed “Blackest Man on the Internet”) flat out denying that sexism is even a problem in the black community.
But if you, as a white woman or a black man, sat back and read both #Solidarityisforwhitewomen and #Blackpowerisforblackmen without centering your own feelings, I think what you would have witnessed is a critical moment of community building among women of color that speaks to an unfortunate truth. Across movements, WOC are still being silenced, their concerns are going unaddressed, and their work is being policed in a way that leaves them with Twitter hashtags as the most visible means of fighting back.
The natural defense is to point to the number of WOC of who have substantial platforms and access to widely read publications (I mean, there are a number of WOC doing work right here at Feministing). But that underscores the problem. Think of what it must mean that even with the in-roads that WOC have made, so many still can’t see themselves represented in these movements. The narrative includes them but only if they stifle their concerns and wait for the “appropriate” time.
What #Solidarityisforwhitewomen and #Blackpowerisforblackmen show us is, for WOC, it is always the appropriate time. And those of us implicated on the other side of these hashtags have no other choice but to listen, do some deep self-reflection, and emerge as better comrades in the struggle.