I was raised in a sheltered, conservative and mostly white town, which made it difficult for me to understand how white, upper-class privilege affected my perceptions growing up. My parents are both agnostic and encouraged my siblings and I to think critically, which helped me avoid some of the crazytown antics of many of my peers (such as denouncing drinking and sex at Young life meetings—a.k.a. cult gatherings—before heading out for a night of drinking and sex), but I still internalized plenty of notions that were straight-up wrong. When I was younger, I believed that panhandlers were homeless because they refused to get jobs. I believed that Planned Parenthood clinics only existed to provide abortions. I believed that losing my virginity would make me “dirty” and that as a female I was responsible for fending off the advances of evil boys who were incapable of controlling their private parts (the fact that I might have felt sexual impulses myself was internalized as unnatural and suppressed).

Needless to say, I have changed my mind about a lot of things since high school, and none of these realizations came easily. They involved taking a deep look inward and actively challenging ingrained beliefs—and in the process, my very sense of self. For example, it was pretty challenging to realize that my interest in international development, which began when I was very young, was a product of my white, middle-class privilege. As much as it pained me to admit it, my background cultivated a subconscious belief that my country provided equal opportunities for everyone to succeed, that poor people across the globe deserved help more than people across town, and that all developing countries needed to end poverty was more resources and manpower from the West. It took living in developing countries—as well as working with, studying with and befriending people from different backgrounds from my own—to confront this uncomfortable truth head-on. It wasn’t pretty. In fact, sometimes it looked like this:*

white privilege

I know what you must be thinking—white chicks love making everything about themselves, amiright? That’s totally fair. But I have always followed the policy of “write what you know,” because I hate being insincere. I will never be able to understand what it’s like to be a woman of color, so it doesn’t make sense for me to pay lip service to the very real concerns that #solidarityisforwhitewomen brought up. All I can contribute is my own reaction to learning about the gravity of this tension that I have only ever understood on an abstract and topical level. I spent hours combing through that twitter feed, reading black feminist blogs and watching Mikki Kendall and Tara Conley’s interview on HuffPost Live (several times)—and concluded that this issue goes way deeper than I will ever understand. Still, that won’t stop me from trying.

The most difficult part of this process for me was seeing how little confidence the women of color guiding this conversation seemed to have in the ability of mainstream feminists to change their perspective on issues of intersectionality. In the Huffington Post interview, when asked if women of color ultimately wanted solidarity with white women, Tara Conley responded, “I want solidarity with people who care about what I care about.” After some uncomfortable laughter, Mikki Kendall said, “I want solidarity with people who want solidarity with me.” The tone of these comments implied that neither woman expected those people to be white women. And after researching the backstory of how this hashtag came about, I honestly can’t blame them.

Here’s the thing: I get that the argument that masking diversity in the name of “solidarity” in feminism does not benefit women of color. Women who claim to be “colorblind” are just as ignorant as women who don’t identify as feminists but believe in gender equality, and they should recognize their hypocrisy as such. But disassociating from the feminist movement entirely is like saying, “the government doesn’t represent me, and therefore I’m not voting.” In the words of Sojourner Truth, “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again!” The feminist movement has a lot of clout, but as blogger Flavia Dzodan points out, if it isn’t intersectional then it’s rendered bullshit.  And in order for the feminist movement to be truly intersectional, women of color need to keep showing up. They need to keep getting in feminism’s face and forcing it to check its privilege. But they need to do this in a way that invites and challenges mainstream feminists to join them in sincere solidarity—not in a way that pre-emptively dismisses them for being insincere.

It’s been a few days since #solidarityisforwhitewomen really took off, and everyone (myself included) seems to have benefitted from taking time to really process what went down. In an interview with Bustle**, Kendall voiced this sentiment pretty perfectly. “I saw someone tweet to me today that it feels like an abscess that has been run, that this was a poison that had been built up, and finally it’s out, and now we can heal. I think that is absolutely the case,” she said. She also seemed to have changed tone about her take on “solidarity.” “I’m not saying that white women in the West just need to take a moment to step aside and get off the mic,” she said. “I’m saying that we need to take turns at the mic.” Amen, Mikki. Let’s get started.

*This pic came from Twitter, but I couldn’t track down the original source. If you deserve credit for it, please claim it!

**Yes, I do appreciate the irony that the brainchild of mansplainer Bryan Goldberg covered #solidarityisforwhitewomen more thoroughly than many mainstream feminist publications. More evidence that feminism needs to get its act together.


2 thoughts on “#Solidarity?

  1. I think most of your article was great. And as a a woman of color and a feminist, I appreciate that you are interested in solidarity with different kinds of women. However, you’ve fallen into the trap than many white feminists (or anyone in a dominant group) fall into; you put it on the shoulders of WoC to make solidarity accessible to white women. Even though you seem to be trying really hard not to, you are asking WoC to make intersectional feminism easier for white women, instead of asking white women to work harder at understanding intersectional feminism.

    You write, “But disassociating from the feminist movement entirely is like saying, “the government doesn’t represent me, and therefore I’m not voting.” This is not a valid comparison because the WoC who leave the feminist movement do not drop off the face of the earth and somehow lose all of their belief in equal rights. They join and create new movements (humanist movement, Womanist movement, there are more), or they just find feminist spaces that are more inclusive and understanding of WoC.

    Moreover, you go a step further when you write that, “But they need to do this in a way that invites and challenges mainstream feminists to join them in sincere solidarity—not in a way that pre-emptively dismisses them for being insincere.” Now you’re suggesting that WoC need to be more welcoming to white feminists. We need not be suspicious of a movement that has, time and time again, abandoned us. You are also suggesting that women of color haven’t welcomed white feminists into their movement, when that’s untrue.

    When those women said that they wanted solidarity with people who wanted solidarity with them, they meant exactly what they said. Do they expect that solidarity to come in the form of copious amounts of white women? No, and rightly so. Do they know that there are white women with whom they can achieve solidarity? It certainly seems that way to me. The point is, it not the jobs of WoC to seek out white feminists and coddle them through intersectionality training, constantly exaplaining what white privelge is and which issues you should care about. It is the job of white feminists to educate themselves about intersectionality. It is their job to listen when WoC express concerns about being silenced. It is their job to stop silencing them. It is their job to start looking at racism the same way that they look at sexism.

    I appreciate that you want to be a part of an inclusive feminism, but please don’t put it on the shoulders of WoC to be create a movement where white people feel comfortable. Because the point of feminism, and intersectional feminism specifically, is that you are going to be uncomfortable, angry, and confused, no matter what race you are.

    • Sarah,

      Thank you for your comment. I found it very well-thought out and informative. I apologize if my post implied that WoC should “seek out white feminists and coddle them through intersectionality training”–of course this should not be your responsibility. What I did mean to convey is that looking inward and realizing that your well-intentioned actions have actually hurt people is an extremely difficult process that privileged women will need to go through in order to make the mainstream feminist movement more intersectional. It is because this process is so difficult that many women (and men) would probably rather not face the issue–and why they haven’t adequately done so throughout the movement’s history. But some women (and men) might surprise you with their willingness to do so.

      I think it extremely important for white women to be vocal about intersectionality and to challenge other white women to do the same. Similarly, I think that men should be vocal about why feminism is important, because they are more likely to reach audiences that female feminists could not. But just as men can’t speak intelligently about feminist issues if they don’t make sincere efforts to understand the lived experiences of women, white women can’t speak intelligently about intersectionality without making sincere efforts to understand the lived experiences of WoC. So again, thank you for taking the time to comment on my post.

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