Feminism and race

I have recently come to realise that I am woefully uninformed on issues of race, particularly as they intersect with feminism and women’s lives. I grew up in what was more or less a sea of white in Cambridgeshire, went to a school where you could count the number of Black pupils on one hand, and have always had that horrible white guilt dilemma thing about not knowing how to refer to people who aren’t white and being too worried about offending people to ask (Black children? children of Colour? of colour? – please let me know what is appropriate). Despite being involved in anti-BNP action on the ideological basis that I am against racism, discrimination and anti-immigrant sentiment, I almost never think about race because, well, I suppose in the little bubble of white privilege that is my daily life, I don’t need to.

I know that this has to change: if white people like me actually put in the effort to listen to people of colour then, at the very least, we would know how to refer to them, ffs. Maybe then we (I) could actually start confronting our (my) white privilege in order to help bring an end to racism, just as feminists want men to confront their privilege in order to help put an end to patriarchy.

But I will admit right now that it is literally only in the last few weeks, in light of the recent furore surrounding blackamazon, that I have begun to do this. To my shame, I have, up until now, scrolled past feminist blogs in blogrolls that seem to have a heavy focus on race, subconsciously thinking ‘That’s got nothing to do with me’.

Perhaps I’m just particularly bad, but I’d hazard a guess that I’m not the only white feminist that has done this. Like I said, this has got to change.

Latoya Peterson of Racialicious has a really useful introduction as to why issues of racism and sexism intersect and why feminism must also address race:

There seems to be a fundamental lack of understanding that other things inform the sexism that women experience. Some feminists can discuss women being viewed as weaker and less capable, never realizing that some of us are not ever allowed to hold that label. I’ve never been called “weaker” in my life. The stereotype that comes with black women is that we are supposed to be unbreakingly strong. Unceasingly capable. We are not supposed to be weak.

I have never been asked to fetch coffee. Never. Does that mean sexist shit doesn’t happen to me at work? No. But that sexism is informed by my race, so instead of assuming this cute young woman should sit prettily in the corner and make coffee, they assume that this name “Latoya Peterson” will manifest into some neck-swiveling straight from the ‘hood stereotype. The white girl being relegated to the coffee machine still has a job. My resume is in the recycle bin.

I’ll put my hand up now and say that this perspective had never occurred to me. And if I don’t start taking the perspectives of women of colour into account, what use is my feminism to women’s liberation? How can I claim to want to liberate ALL women if I subconsciously base my definition of women solely on my own experience and reality?

I can’t. So my journey to a place where I am no longer an ignorant white girl starts here. (Thanks for the link, Helen G!)

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