Dismantling White Feminism in the Fight for All Black Lives

What has historically been recorded as women’s liberation and in the emergence of feminism has actually been dangerous white supremacy, racism, or what is often referred to as white feminism

 

Key moments in history help illustrate the suppression of non-white women by white feminism.

 

Sojourner Truth, a Black American abolitionist and women’s rights activist spoke up when Feminists were divided over whether to advocate for abolition or women’s rights. In her, “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech given at the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio she defended the value of a Black woman in the era of slavery. 

 

I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?” she pronounced. 

 

Less than a century later, Margaret Sanger, the woman revered for founding the birth control movement and who advocated for women’s reproductive rights supported eugenics. Sanger is quoted in a letter to Clarence Gamble, the heir of Proctor and Gamble and a doctor, in December 1939, “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.” 

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Sanger and Gamble were only the start,  white feminism continues to ignore the forced and coerced sterilization of Black, brown, and Indigenous women and inmates who are still targeted and sterilized in this eugenicist manner.

 

White feminism has used or tokenized Black women and non-Black people of color to further white feminist goals.

Historical image of women marching

“Where are the voices of all my white feminist friends when a Black woman had been tragically murdered?” Rachel Cargle, a Black American author and anti-racism activist, wrote in her 2018 article titled, “When Feminism Is White Supremacy in Heels” for Harper’s BAZAAR. “If there is not the intentional and action-based inclusion of women of color, then feminism is simply white supremacy in heels,” Cargle explained. 

From the suffragettes who sent Black women to the back of their marches to the white women who handed Donald Trump the presidency with their votes, white women continue to ignore the needs of, and oppress Black women. The long list of sexual assault allegations, including a 13-year-old child, were ignored because many white women have historically seen themselves as Christains or conservatives before they identify as women, presumably in order to maintain their proximity to power and privilege. 

The Black Lives Matter movement — the movement and global organization founded and organized by Black women — has erupted worldwide after the brutal murders of Trayvon Martin George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others, by the police. It has created an awakening of sorts, among white women. White women are aghast at the brutality of a system that they have only begun to scratch the surface of, and are showing up for Black lives like never before.

 This is a beautiful thing. 

What can’t happen, but is often happening, is white women are expecting their Black friends, neighbors, or colleagues to “teach” them about racism. Black people cannot carry the burden and endure the emotional labor it requires to teach white women or to cater to white women’s guilt. 

If white women want to be better allies, SWEET JANE can give you a place to start. 

Anti-racist work is a complicated, nuanced, and lifelong journey of reflection. This is by no means a comprehensive list but should assist white women in starting the anti-racist work they now feel so passionately about.

Anti-racism protester with sign
What can’t happen, but is often happening, is white women are expecting their Black friends, neighbors, or colleagues to “teach” them about racism. Black people cannot carry the burden and endure the emotional labor it requires to teach white women or to cater to white women’s guilt. 

 

Black Lives Matter protestor
Humility is Key

Diving into anti-racist work after a life benefitting from white privilege is going to break down many belief systems, which can result in people getting offensive, angry, and missing the message. Listen, acknowledge the wrongs you may have perpetuated, and aim to never make the same mistakes again. This is not to say that you are a bad person, it is about recognizing where you can do better. 

For those who are great public speakers and organizers—this is not about you or your experience, this is about Black lives. Your role in anti-racist work should start by listening, learning and centering Black voices and their long-time organizing.

Vote with an Anti-Racist Mindset 

Take a look at how our education systems are still separate and unequal. Explore how America is still failing its Black mothers, the differences in infant mortality rates in Black women, and how slavery still shadows healthcare. From education, to healthcare, to the climate crises, everything is connected to systemic racism and the oppression of Black people and other people of color. 

Familiarize yourself on the issues that are imperative to being anti-racist, which will reveal the systems that have benefited you, at the expense of others. This is not your fault. It is the way they were purposefully created and maintained. 

Be a part of dismantling these deadly and oppressive systems. White women made up about 37% of the electorate in the 2016 general election, Black people made up 12%. We cannot let that happen again. 

Be an Accomplice 

Being an ally is great but the movement needs more people willing to be an accomplice. Disrupting the status quo will not be easy and may cost you something. Whether that is a friendship, or your day off, or maybe even your safety. Being an accomplice is about being present and willing to use your privilege for the benefit of the movement. 

The recent protests are an example. Organizers asked white people to stand at the front of marches, illustrating their willingness to use their whiteness and their privilege to shield Black protesters from harm. They understood if the march was led by Black protesters, the odds of being met with police brutality was much higher. Being an accomplice is not comfortable or easy—but it is still much easier than moving through life as a Black person in America. 

Familiarize yourself with racial justice organizations in your area that challenge institutional racism and white supremacy, and ask what you can do to help. 

Have Uncomfortable Conversations

People who use divisive comments, racial slurs at family dinners, or express “all lives matter,” need a conversation on racism. If someone came to your mind, that’s who you need to be speaking with, to help them understand the reality of why this movement is so important. 

This however, cannot happen unless you do the work of understanding the false narratives around the movement first, so that you can help explain those ideas to people in your network who might be holding some misconceptions. 

Social Support 

Social media can create a biased tunnel vision. Public posts that center Black voices and educate the underexposed can be impactful. It also can be an opportunity for open dialogue about the movement. This does not mean centering yourself and your experience in a movement for Black lives, rather to uplift Black voices and organizers. 

Make Money Moves 

Over 10,000 protesters have been arrested since the recent demonstrations against police brutality and for Black lives began. Black defendants and other defendants of color receive bail amounts that are twice as high as bail set for their white peers – and they are less likely to be able to afford it. While the pandemic is still rampant, prisons and jails are more unsafe than usual due to an inability to create social distancing therefore amplifying an infectious disease. Donating to local bail funds is a positive way to support and protect protesters. This is just one way you can put your money where the movement is. 

 

Photography by James Eades, Joan Villalon (2), Library of Congress Archives via Unsplash 

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Do more.

 

For 21 days, do one action to further your understanding of power, privilege, supremacy, oppression, and equity. Created by Dr. Eddie More Jr., this can use the practice of building habits to open one’s intentions to anti-racists work. Learn more. 

Luna Reyna is a community organizer and movement journalist. She is deeply invested in shifting power structures and centering the work and voices of marginalized communities. Follow her on Twitter @lunarvibrations or Instagram @_lunarvibrations_