Sparked by Cherry’s recent post “the White woman” and by the discussion that ensued (and my über long comments) I decided I’d make a post of my own, or make my comments into a post: I’m very far behind my blogging now and there’s a massive queue of posts waiting to be finished and posted, but when my mind is in posting mode it just takes me forever to finish my post, whereas in comments I just spin off spontaneously. So comments into a post it will be.
Anyway, this is a followup from the intersectionality series. I’m quite glad to see more and more criticism of intersectionality (= the fact of attacking feminists in the guise of anti-isms) springing up lately, as it’s greatly needed. We really don’t have the luxury to keep on with all these forms of backlash within feminism, and it’s been going on for decades, it’s time to stop this shit. Formulationsofoppression is no longer public but she also wrote a couple of insightful posts on this issue too.
We talk a lot about the effects of pseudo-anti-racism on feminism, how it’s male-centred, how it erases female experience of racism and patriarchal oppression in general. How it’s used to destroy all the basic tenets of radical feminist theory and to sabotage the movement from within (by lefty men). But little have I seen feminists talk about what female-centred anti-racism actually means to us.
Yet it’s crucial for feminists to work on this seriously. How do we try our best to make liberation the liberation of all women? What is an anti-racism truly centred on women’s experience of racism and our need to free ourselves from men collectively, that doesn’t target women as straw enemies and isn’t used to divide and conquer women?
I obviously don’t have all the answers, but I’ve been discussing and thinking about this for some time already. This is what I said at Cherry’s, reformulated and edited:
What I’d like to see happen wrt anti-racism in feminist circles, is:
#1. Misogyny to be considered always as seriously as racism, classism, anti-lesbianism (and all other isms) and not LESS as is often the case from those who claim to defend the anti-racist cause (or anti-classist, anti-lesbian, etc.). And especially to consider all other forms of oppression as variations stemming FROM misogyny, and thus as having similar patriarchal mechanisms, intents and effects on women, since they’re all organised and executed by and for men within patriarchy. The central organising principle of all oppressions is men’s oppression of women, all other hierarchies are subordinate to, serve this primary purpose. Therefore within feminism we should treat racism (and other isms) in the same way as we’d treat misogyny in women: through consciousness-raising, with all the conditions it entails for the unravelling of thought to be possible, or self-protection when the woman is too violent to be dealt with.
#2. That as a rule we stop attacking women in feminist circles for any reasons whatsoever, whether it be racism, misogyny, whatever. Assuming that something she said / did was problematic, just try to explain to her how what she said / did was anti-woman/racist, without accusation or guilt-tripping. Most of the time it isn’t a big deal and it’s just a matter of getting it and not repeating the same mistake: like, “putting it this way is actually racist” “Yeah, you’re right, it’s racist. I’ll be careful not to say it again”. If simply laying it out doesn’t work, if she isn’t capable of hearing that right now, just leave it for a time being and maybe take some distance. Depending on what the problem’s about, and generally as all forms of consciousness-raising it might not be integrated overnight. It might need some time, patience, etc. Nothing’s straightforward when we decolonise, and the process might reveal a lot of pain. Changing the way we think and behave and see/relate to the world is a very long process, and the time it takes depends a lot on the material conditions in which we are at a given time, which determines the freedom with which we can actually change (ie whether we’re in a fairly safe situation or not wrt male violence / institutional violence, strong PTSD etc.). As said in the paragraph above, we should protect ourselves and our work from women who are too destructive to be dealt with, and if necessary warn other women about the way they operate in groups so to prevent them from continuing their rampage, but that’s all. Never attack women. Never ever.
#3. I want to see an anti-racism actually focused on the big picture, that is on identifying, naming and challenging the institutions and men responsible for racism, and on researching how racism against women operates specifically in our area (or globally) so that we can actually do something about it collectively. Ie sharing resources, making services accessible to women excluded by them, supporting women who face administrative discrimination, putting pressure on institutions, etc.: this to me is far more effective and productive than having our eyes autistically riveted on ourselves or other individual feminist straw enemies. Bashing women (or ourselves) as an anti-racist strategy is not only destructive and divisive but is of no use whatsoever for improving the condition of women affected by racism. Alone, women don’t have the power to change other women’s situation (ie bring down the racist institutions) precisely because they don’t have this power, because we are all oppressed by the men in charge of racist institutions.
#4. And especially, I’d like to see an anti-racism focused on seeking to reach out to, developing ties, friendships and networks with as many women from different classes as possible, and to integrate this as a constant feminist ethics and effort of liberation. It is only through getting to know women and by working or being with them on a long-term basis that we can support each other, create the kind of actions that can really protect us from certain forms of institutional (racist) persecution or exclusion and create meaningful alternatives for ourselves; it’s also the only way to better understand how women from different social backgrounds or histories of violence are affected by patriarchal oppression. Feminism remains limited in scope and depth when it doesn’t have the potential to adapt to, involve and include as many women as possible (as long as it remains strongly feminist-focused), whether coming from the lower or higher male social hierarchies. Depending on where we come from, it might take a lot of thinking and some effort to figure out how to reach out to groups of women in our area we don’t usually have access to (for social, economic, class, generational, cultural, ethnic and many other reasons). It especially requires a lot of time and patience as certain groups of women can be so far off from our own social world that it can take years to find each other, build trust and start doing things together. On the other hand, it’s really not that difficult, and it really leads to amazing things.
#5. This effort of constantly trying seek outwards for long-term feminist friendships and networks with women rather than staying within one’s own group out of habit is also, I believe, the only thing that can truly eliminate the divide and conquer patriarchal rule between women. Once we become friends or colleagues, the question of how we should “include” such and such women becomes completely obsolete. We’re part of the same network or group, it’s obvious everyone will actively participate from beginning to end, and this in turn will necessarily affect the result and the kind of women who attend. Once we know each other and work together, it reduces the potential for conflict, and women are there to speak for themselves.
[NOTE: This stands in contrast to token inclusion which usually makes up for the fact that the event or service has been made by and for a fairly monolithic group of women. In the case where true feminist partners haven’t been found, whatever the reasons, I’d find it more honest admit that there’s still some effort to be done and not to invite some women in the last minute to serve as tokens, especially if their agenda doesn’t really fit in the context – you can’t invent cooperation. It actually reinforces a sense of separation and resentment between groups and is also an insult to the intelligence of the women invited to speak – it means to some extent that they’re not invited for their work and skills but to represent a social group and be used as a cover-up, and it also reinforces the lie that feminists can only be found within certain social classes. So inviting women mostly for the group they represent also results in forsaking feminist standards in the name of token inclusion, which can lead to awkward situations whereby such women say awful anti-feminist things and the set-up makes it impossible to criticise because it would then appear as racist.]
Here are the rest of my comments, edited for clarity
I find pseudo-anti-racism disguised as feminism far, far more damaging to ALL women within feminist circles than the problem of racism per se, because it destroys feminism more than racism itself does, and it’s totally deliberate. This is the pattern I see over and over again. I must say I’ve never seen a feminist collective being destroyed by the sheer level of racism from women against other women within it, such as concerted, organised group efforts to attack women in front of everyone in a racist way, however I’ve seen countless collectives being brought down because of women attacking other women as straw racist enemies: women attacked in the most vicious ways, that literally took the form of a trial, under the guise of purging racism from a group. Sometimes even 50 or 80 women would stand around one woman, who would be the accused, and she’d be denied even the right to defend herself. What it did was to purge feminists from a group.
I’m sure I’ll be burned at the stake for saying this, but the fact is, racism coming from feminists within feminism (as opposed to the racist persecutions conducted by male patriarchal institutions) is actually a minor problem within feminism compared to the ravage of false anti-racism (and the ravages of male-instituted racism), which is ironically what prevents and diverts women from doing substantial anti-racist actions in the first place.
Of course radical feminists still say and do racist things, just as they continue to do and say anti-women things: there’s always room for improvement and some things are outright awful, destructive and unacceptable. I’m not denying this. But once women become radical feminist, most are very aware of the different systems of domination in patriarchy and are very careful to pay attention to different women’s needs, and usually try their best not to reproduce behaviours of domination and subordination. They are well-meaning, most of the time (I’m not talking about infiltrators here). Racism (classism..) being one of the oppressions defined by men and thus defined as real (although not racism as experienced by women), many women are MORE careful not to do or say racist things than they would even with misogyny, because it’s considered a far greater crime than misogyny in patriarchy.
We have to be clear: when we talk of racism WITHIN feminist circles, we’re not talking of women who exploit poor or marginalised women, who are employed in the immigration offices that kick female immigrants out of the country, or employed in patriarchal media corporations or institutions that invade and loot people’s land, who manages the slaves of her husband / owner, etc, etc. We’re not talking about any such level of responsibility in racism (not that any of them have any decision-power to make it stop, other than not participating in it herself). No. We’re talking about things that feminists SAID, as in WORDS. Or minor behaviours such as limiting the scope of her projects or actions to her own network of women which reflect her class belonging, to some extent. Or a woman bought a Nike T-shirt. Or she fails to include this or that issue in her book, film or whatever.
These minor behaviours that can usually be corrected through cooperation will be treated by women in feminism as irredeemable crimes of the highest order worthy of being banned from the ‘movement’ forever. And very often, women will be accused of racism in spectacular ways for no valid reason at all. Well yes there was a reason, each time it was in a context of the accused woman criticising men, men’s sexual violence or aspects of male violence. It was very specifically anti-feminist, and framing it as anti-racism was a way of making the attack unassailable by conferring activist legitimacy to it.
It’s a sad reversal to accuse and attack feminists in this way for barely saying or doing anything when in such contexts the REAL agents directly responsible for racism (men and their institutions – state, corporations, media, etc) are never even named let alone directly attacked, and rarely if ever is anything concrete suggested to understand the big picture or make things easier for women who suffer from institutional racist oppression, which would actually do something about racism.
Besides, in these contexts where women are dramatically accused of racism as if they had massacred 20 women, usually nobody bats an eyelid when anti-women decisions are taken or when something misogynist is said and goes unchecked, etc.
The attacks are often framed as you, by nature of being white, are inherently guilty of this great (invisible, multiform) crime, and if you don’t feel guilty it’s because you’re in denial of your own guilt. Alternatively, if I’m annoyed by what she said it’s because I’m in denial of my racism.
This creates a climate where anyone and everyone can be guilty of something even without knowing, like there’s something bad and rotten inside you that can spring up any time. We dread being accused of racism like we dread the Last Judgement, as if it would taint our soul for life and we’d be denied our place in feminist heaven. It’s a climate of terror because you’re made to believe you can be bad in spite of yourself and you don’t know when it’s going to happen, so you have to anxiously survey your thoughts and actions all the time out of terror of being accused, as it can cause you to be kicked out of feminism and that can have serious consequences if it’s the only thing your life holds on to at the moment. You can see the difference in atmosphere whenever we talk about racism: all of a sudden it takes a hush-hush quality, you can feel the tension in the room when just before it might have been quite jovial. Women don’t talk so freely anymore, everyone seems to be stepping on eggshells. There’s this invisible thought-police like a sword of Damocles hanging over women’s head. This is an excellent way to censor women and make feminist women fear to speak and even think.
In this context, if you may have observed, the only one(s) looking relaxed and confident will be the accusers themselves, confident of their moral superiority to the other women. Sometimes they may be even very charming and charismatic, which increases the level of mindfuck or the feeling that you can’t question her politics because she was so nice to you, she offered her help, etc. The women who do this accusing and bullying are undoubtedly colonised by lefty male standards or definitions of racism and usually hold a lot of contempt for feminism, so much so that they might feel legitimate in lecturing an entire assembly of women or radical feminists who have decades of political experience with absolute lousy, non woman-centred political analysis, on the grounds that it presents as anti-racism. I’ve seen it time and again. This legitimacy comes from men, which is why from this perspective women’s work and women’s collectives have so little value as it to be acceptable to destroy sometimes decades of community work in one single bout of accusation.
Anyway we can’t underestimate how anti-feminist it is to persuade women that they might dominate others in racist ways even against their own perception (on top of the fact that it reverts patriarchal blame on women). Trying to dominate someone else certainly isn’t something that can be done unconsciously, we’re always aware of when we want to manipulate, take power or assert our authority over someone. It means telling women to suppress their perceptions of reality, and that’s the best way to gaslight and assert power over someone. Once it’s legitimate to attack women in this way, to use the threat of racist accusation in order to obtain submission, it makes us vulnerable to scapegoating and opens the door to all sorts of power abuse: denying the right to speech, taking control over decisions in the name of anti-racism, etc.