Why We Need To Talk About White Feminism“The best thing any white feminist can do is educate herself, and listen and engage with the experiences of women of color without silencing them.”
Posted by HuffPost Women on Monday, August 10, 2015
This video was posted by HuffPost Women on last week. Since then, it has been shared over 9,000 times. It has popped up in my social media feed a whole lot and I’ve been tempted to share it each time. But I haven’t. Mostly because I feel like I need to do more than just share this video.
One of the things they say in the video is that being a white feminist does not mean that you are a bad person, it just means that you have a lot to learn. And that is very true. As a white woman and a feminist, I fell into the trap of white feminism early and often.
I can still remember some of my earliest failures as a feminist. In undergrad during one of my many women’s studies, I was chatting with a group of my fellow students on a break. We were talking about the beginnings of feminism and the roots of the movement. I quoted verbatim from a book that I had read about how the feminist movement began when women started to move out of the home and to take jobs in public space.
31 year old me looks back at that me and just puts her face in her hands. Because wow.
So I spout that to the people I’m with and a girl from my class says to me “But women of color were already working outside the home. In fact, a lot of them were balancing work and home life. What did feminism do for those women?”
I don’t even remember her name, but holy shit did I need that truth bomb dropped on me.
I stammered a lot and admitted that I hadn’t really thought of that. And that I clearly needed to. She recommended some books and articles that I should read and basically told me that I needed to shift my way of looking at things to include women of color when I talked about feminism.
She was so right.
The thing is, I’m sure that I had said white feministy stuff before that. And I’m sure I had done it in company. The people I was with just didn’t call me on it for whatever reason. I am so grateful to her for calling me out. For putting me on the spot. And I’m glad that, when she did, I was in a position to really hear her and process what she was saying rather than getting defensive.
Being called out is hard. And this isn’t the only time that it has happened to me, just my most vivid memory of it. I was embarrassed. And a little ashamed of myself. And honestly there was a spark of anger there at her calling me out. Because being called out is hard. Being wrong is hard. And being told that you are wrong in front of other people is embarrassing.
The fact of the matter is that it’s important that we allow people to tell us when we are wrong. And that we admit to ourselves and to the people around us that we don’t know everything. I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older how important it is to reveal our flaws and mistakes and pitfalls to the people around us. It lets other people know that they are not alone in not being perfect. It is deliriously easy to act as though we are somehow perfect. To present a face to the world that is blemish free. To edit our speech so that it is free from grammatical errors. But the projection of those things harms us. It makes us hold ourselves up to a standard of perfection to which we cannot possibly adhere. And it harms the people around us by making them think that, when they fall short, they should never admit it.
All of that is to say that I am far from a perfect feminist person. I have been guilty of white feminism. I have even been guilty of TERF-dom. These are not things that I am proud of. But they are things that, with time and education and good people calling me out, I have very much moved past. And if I don’t admit that to the world, then everyone who is guilty of those things will only ever see me as a person who does not make those mistakes. If I do not have empathy for people who are in the same position that I was in when I first started learning about feminism and social justice, then how can I expect them to listen to me?
So I say this to those of you out there who may be struggling with being called out and all the things that brings up for you: No one pops out of the womb full of perfect knowledge of how to walk the world. We are all walking and growing together. It’s OK to fuck up.
It’s how you learn.