Image of three octagonal shapes, the first is red and says "STOP" the second is yellow and says "LOOK" and the third is green and says "LISTEN"

An(other) Open Letter to White Feminism from a White Feminist:

The Amy Schumers & Patricia Arquettes & Vanessa Places & Taylor Swifts & Nancy Lee Grahns & Meryl Streeps (et al) Must Stop

This is scarcely new, but clearly bears repeating because many white feminists—particularly those, it seems, who have reached a certain tier within their respective genres/professions—are plagued with what The Guardian’s Monica Heisey dubbed of Amy Schumer, “a shockingly large blind spot around race.” Samples include: Patricia Arquette at the 2015 Oscars demanding, “it’s time for…all the gay people, and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for,” (offering no intersections therein), “to fight for us now,” leaving one to infer not only that her definition of women is white, cis, and straight, but that the struggles for equality for all groups who identify outside of that microcosm are—what, over? Then Schumer, reveling in the glow of being christened comedy’s new feminist icon, when asked to address her racist offerings—both by Heisey and many women of color (writers, comedians, fans)—took to Twitter in defense, defining them merely as “dumb jokes” to be dismissed (why, then, should we credit her for the feminist-minded jokes?), then proceeded to block scores of women of color who attempted to engage her, shutting down any possible dialogue and actively hiding behind Twitter—and Hollywood—walls. Vanessa Place, whose name and work may be somewhat less familiar to the general public, but who holds some esteem among writing communities as novelist and conceptual artist, focusing recent efforts toward a dubiously problematic re-writing of Gone with the Windand in promotion of said work began tweeting (in arduous, 140-character increments) what she apparently intended to be the entirety of Gone with the Wind—all under a Twitter profile photo of actress Hattie McDaniel as the character of “Mammy,” and a banner image of  a minstrelsy poster of a Jemima caricature, circa 1899.

Further, there is Taylor Swift, America’s latest feminist band-wagoner, centering herself in Nicki Minaj’s criticism of the industry (later underscored by expert exploiter and appropriator, Miley Cyrus). Or Nancy Lee Grahn, actress for daytime’s General Hospital, who—in response to Viola Davis’s essential Emmy Award speech invoking Harriet Tubman, spotlighting the importance of opportunity for women of color, and praising other women of color in the field—tweeting vitriol and declaring what amounts to #AllActressesMatter. And, most recent to this writing, the entire cast (and marketing team and executive decision-makers) of Suffragette who green-lighted a promotional photo shoot for TimeOut London in which the cast donned tee shirts emblazoned with a slightly abridged version of Emmeline Pankhurst’s famous quote, “I would rather be a rebel than a slave.”

These are just six recent examples of the insidious problem born at the intersection of feminism and white supremacy (so glaring a problem, it’s been deemed its own brand): White Feminism. Recognizing, examining, and working to ethically navigate one’s own privileges while simultaneously battling against one’s own oppression can be a challenging balance, sure. I trust, however, that this balance is not even in the same realm as navigating the many layers of oppression faced by more marginalized women—and cannot in any possible reality compare to the continual pain of repeatedly being thrown under the ol’ bus by white women in the name of feminism. Despite these continued injuries and exclusions white women perpetuate against women of color, each time, we hold the incidents in a vacuum. The same vacuum that maintains the ongoing state of white supremacy: white people expect to be held accountable (if at all) on an incident-by-incident basis, not as a whole—not as representatives of a larger group, and certainly not as representatives of their entire race. Indeed, feelings of culpability rarely (if ever) cross the shoulders of white individuals when other white individuals do harm/commit crimes/etc. Yet simultaneously, it is a function of white supremacy to hold entire groups accountable when a single person of color makes a mistake or enacts a wrong. Further to all this, white people expect forgiveness when they apologize—regardless how sincere or insincere the apology—and are often indignant if it is criticized as insufficient or otherwise not immediately accepted.

Let’s not forget, too, that white women—we white feminists—are still coddled in soft criticism. Consider the language Heisey used: “blind spots” where such actions should instead be named with more precision: “racist,” “ignorant,” “cruel.” Racism harms through ignorance as much as through intent. It is a cruelty as much as it is a personal shame. One of the principal stumbling blocks white feminists (white Americans in general) have in the conversation of race is the baffling phenomenon of a higher sensitivity to being accused of racism than to the actual pain experienced by people of color enduring racism. The long-documented matter of impact over intent remains elusive for many white Americans—progressives and conservatives alike. I can intend to have driven neatly in my lane, but if I neglectfully smash my car into your child, I guarantee you will be more concerned about the impact of my actions. This isn’t the most difficult concept to comprehend, yet white feminists are palpably failing.

Meanwhile, as fans and media flock to defend these white women for their intended good, and the fauxpologies gush, replete with tears, the grave lacking of a genuine and fundamental understanding of this concept continues to harm women of color, and feminism—at all its intersections—as a whole. The ineptitude, lack of understanding, lack of study, lack of care at its most base, human level, is perpetuating white supremacy and growing the already vast chasm among feminists. If you have not incorporated any thought to the experiences of women of color, transgender women, lesbian and queer women, and the myriad intersections in between—when you’re upset about 78 cents (but haven’t considered 64 cents—or 54 cents), or street harassment (without considering disparities), or reproductive health care rights (without considering access), or yes, vying for a role/job/award you so rightfully deserve (but didn’t consider opportunity)—then perhaps you’re not ready to engage the conversation just yet. Keep reading, keep working, keep learning, keep listening, but please stop injuring other people with your particular brand of feminism.



Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

New York, NY

JEANANN VERLEE is author of two books: Said the Manic to the Muse and Racing Hummingbirds, winner of the Independent Publisher Book Award Silver Medal in poetry. She has also been awarded the Third Coast Poetry Prize and the Sandy Crimmins National Prize for Poetry. Her work appears in failbetter, Rattle, Adroit, and BuzzFeed, among others. Verlee wears polka dots and kisses Rottweilers. She believes in you. Find her at

JEANANN VERLEE is an author, performance poet, editor, and former punk rocker based in New York City.

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