White Feminism and the Denial of Privilege – or – None of us are buying your book, Robyn

The first time someone told me “check your privilege,” I was incensed. I didn’t have privilege! I am a woman! I have been oppressed. Everything I had learned from feminism told me so. I was hurt and confused and I refused to back down and quite frankly,  I made a fool of myself. A friend blocked me, and didn’t want to hear from me again. I was absolutely certain I wasn’t guilty of the “privilege abuse” practiced by men. I was trying to learn more about feminism, and I honestly didn’t see (at the time) how I was being intrusive. I was reading a lot, but I was reading white feminists, and there was NO mention of racial disparity in those books.

Everyone’s life should be an evolution, and one day, mine came. Feminists on Twitter were going as fast as they could, and they were talking about something called “intersectional feminism.” I messaged @JudeinLondon, who gave me a short explanation and suggested I check google. Suddenly, everything made sense. Intersectionality was the missing piece that I needed. The more I researched, all online, the more I understood. The next time someone said “check your privilege,” I knew what they were talking about, and could examine what I’d said. I was still hurt, inside I felt defiant. But I apologized, and asked what I had done. They were absolutely right. I learned, and I grew from the experience.

I’m not perfect. I want to jump into conversations where I don’t belong all the time. I get excited about trending hashtags, and I want to share my opinion. Maybe if I think of something witty, it will be okay. It’s not okay. Hashtags like #solidarityisforwhitewomen by @Karnythia and #notyourasiansidekick by @Suey_Park are not intended for everyone to be included. They were created for and by women of color for feminist discussion. A lot of really amazing discussion has happened and there’s been a lot of opportunity for learning, because unlike having a closed door meeting, we can all see what is going on. This is good and bad, because there’s been a lot of trolling of the hashtags as well. This is where white people CAN be allies. Call out the the trolls. Report them for their spamming of the tags. Use your tweets & account as a shield so the discussion can continue.

This morning Huffpo posted a blog post by Adele Wilde-Blavatsky: “Stop Bashing White Women in the Name of Beyonce: We Need Unity, Not Division.” and the nonsense that has been her Twitter mentions has not stopped.

After a discussion about white privilege, today, I made this tweet:

I then talked to a user who was convinced white privilege doesn’t exist and gave me the “white women are oppressed, too!!!” line. I tried. I failed. I blocked.

A couple of hours later, I got a response from @TeamOyeniyi:

After a bizarre conversation, I thought she’d gone away. But she came back again. And again. And then she left this post in my mentions (Trigger Warning: Racism):

On Feminism and White Privilege 

In her blog post, Robyn Oyeniyi attacks the use of the term “white privilege,” and claims it ignores matriarchal societies and that use of the term “white privilege” actually oppresses women of color. She talks a lot about Yaa Asantewaa, a woman who led the Asante people in rebellion against the British. She also claims we need to get rid of the term “intersectional.”

This is my comment to her post:

Yaa Asantewaa remains a figurehead to her people, but Yaa Asantewaa died in exile, under British oppression. While white women certainly have been and continue to be victims of oppression, they are also in many circumstances the oppressors.

Being told to “watch your privilege” is not the same as being oppressed. Women of color discussing their shared experience have the right to request that white women back out of or stay out of the conversation. Because we cannot share their experience, what we’re really doing when we try to join conversations about shared racial experience is hijacking their conversation and appropriating it for ourselves.

Cries of “telling me to check my privilege is oppression” actually furthers white oppression of women of color because you’re literally telling them they have no right to request a conversation remain among women of color.

Refusal to self-check our own white privilege is why many women of color want nothing to do with feminism. Feminism is so focused on white women that women of color feel they no longer have a place. If we want feminism to be an ongoing movement that includes all women, we need to check our privilege. Knowing when to be silent is a powerful gift that you not only give to yourself, but a gift you share.

I feel like all day long I’ve been told by white people that white privilege isn’t a thing. That it doesn’t exist. Yesterday, I was told that the DC area is a magical land where racism does not exist. At the same time, I grew up in the South, I witnessed oppression, I’ve seen men use their privilege and I’ve seen the wealthy use their privilege and I’ve seen white women use our privilege. I’ve seen a lot of people use their privilege in good ways,  but usually, it’s people who aren’t aware of their privilege. We are so steeped in privilege we just expect it to happen and when it doesn’t, we (white people) are shocked and offended when people of color aren’t surprised at all.

My fellow white people, we do have privilege. White women, we are oppressed in many ways by a society that favors white men over us. But we are still privileged. When someone says “check your privilege,” they are not necessarily calling you a bad person. They are asking you to examine what you are saying so that you can be a better person. Of course, if you are a bad person, or refuse to acknowledge your privilege, you probably deserve the smackdown that’s coming.

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About Grimalkin, RN

Trying really hard to be a decent person. Registered Nurse. Intersectional Feminism. Poet. Cat. Political. Original recipes. Original Stories. Occasionally Questionable Judgement. Creator of #cookingwithjoanne and #stopcock. Soulless Unwashed Carrot. This blog is dedicated to my grandmother, my beloved cat Grimalkin, and my patients.

Posted on December 27, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. If you would like to correct the spelling in your title, that might look better! I assume this comment will be moderated, so you can delete this paragraph.

    I find it very sad that someone supposedly so into equality prefers to consider only the one indoctrinated perspective rather than consider alternatives.

    Please do go ahead and insert my response to your now moderated comment. You may find other comments interesting too.

    Anger has never, in my experience, really led to much other than wars and civil unrest, such as that in Syria, South Sudan, Egypt and a legion of other places.

    Did you actually read the other article on The Upside Down World? I think you will find that very interesting.

    As for my book, since you seem so intent on advertising it for me, please don’t buy it. I have no idea why you thought I’d want you to, as the topic we were discussing really was unrelated. The book is part of my life, GrimalkinRN, hardly my whole life.

    • I apologize that I misspelled your name. I believe I have corrected it.

      As a woman who grew up in the Southern region of the United States, I have been exposed to racism from a very early age. I was actually taught that white people were superior to all people by divine right. So I have come quite a distance and traveled across many viewpoints to get to where I am. While I hope to continue to learn and grow, I doubt my views on white privilege will change much.

      Anger, in my experience, has led to freedom and change. It is an effective and inspiring tool, but only one of many. People in control are afraid of the anger of those under their control.

      A Twitter user actually requested I quote my own tweet in the title of this blog, which is why it is there. It is sarcasm. I never considered buying your book, which is advertised on your Twitter and blog page, so it does seem to be a big part of your life.

      • The name was correct – it was the “use” instead of “us”, but all good now I see.

        As much as you seem to want to believe you are the only one in this dialogue with any relevant experience, my kids grew up with the same beliefs – rich and smart to be precise. Whites don’t push when having babies either.

        As far as I can see you and I actually agree, you object to my use of language. I am not American, I don’t write as an American. Cultural Intelligence is required even between two nations separated by a common language. :)

        Any author could be considered rather silly if they did NOT promote their books on their website and other social media, don’t you think?

        I am not sure why you are so fixated on my initial small comment to you, it seems rather strange to me quite frankly.

        Goodnight

      • I replied to @Team Oyeniyi’s reply to you (and her article) like this:

        Where do I even begin?

        First: I am a Black American woman. Please consider this as you read through my response.

        Second: What does white privilege mean to you? What about oppression? I’m not sure I follow your line of logic. In your article, you seem to combat the use of the term ‘white privilege’ against the acknowledgement of strong women of color. The beauty (and ultimate downfall) of intersectionality is that one characteristic or truth is not necessarily mutually exclusive of another. For instance, just because someone may be oppressed, does not mean that they cannot exude strength. Following that same logic, because the Ashanti Queen took up arms to fight against colonialism does not mean that she did not feel/was not oppressed by it or other societal issues. I think the beauty of women throughout history (no matter their color or culture) is that we embody resilience, strength and creativity. Acknowledging the term ‘white privilege’ does not mean that white women are not/ have not been oppressed or that black women have always been oppressed (why are we comparing levels of oppression anyway?). It refers to a set of societal privileges that are real. De facto. You experience them, I understand them. Truth. Wikipedia explains it really well here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_privilege

        And while I do honor the women of color from our very complicated (dare I say?) intersectional past, I personally also champion strong, Black women of today who are still fighting in their own ways: Melissa Harris-Perry, bell hooks, Oprah Winfrey, Brenda Dixon Gottschild, Michelle Obama, Maya Angelou, Cathy Hughes, Ursula Burns, Condolezza Rice, Marian Wright Edelman, Susan Rice, Beverly Daniel Tatum, Mara Brock Akil, my mother Elaine Smith (I chose all Black American women to make a point, but have a lengthy list of women of all colors if you’d like me to post it).

        On that note, in regards to a comment that you left in a reply that read:

        “My point re Yaa Asantewaa is Ashanti women had authority in their own society prior to the arrival of invaders, that to undervalue the historical place of women of colour in their own societies is not beneficial. Women of colour are not striving for something new, they are striving to regain that taken from them and that needs to be remembered.”

        This is honestly a whitewashed way of thinking about ‘other’ societies (read: where women of color ‘come’ from). While you might be trying to be sensitive, it is not true to imply that colonialism was the beginning or turning point of oppression for women of color… Think: female genital mutilation in Ghana, honor killings in the Middle East, foot binding in China. These practices and absolute forms of oppression are definitely NOT something to be regained or remembered from history. Your thoughts on this issue, that women of color have ‘lost’ something that they are striving to regain, is actually A SYMPTOM OF YOUR PRIVILEGE. You are implying that women of color have our own societies to go back to/reference; societies that are somehow different than yours. I am as American as other White American women, and have no other ‘society’ to which I belong or from which to draw specific ancient strength or authority. I am not actively striving to regain what might have been taken from me in Germany, Ireland, the Americas, and whatever African country my ancestors were from. I AM currently fighting against thinly cloaked privileged comments from people who are not willing to engage with the idea of GLOBAL WHITE PRIVILEGE. White privilege is NOT only an American idea that stems from American slavery.

        There are so many more things to say, and it is very difficult to articulate without a lengthy in-person conversation with books, articles, graphs and other visual aids, but I will try to sum it up like this: By you not wanting to identify and acknowledge the idea of white privilege, you are in fact exercising your privilege.

  2. I think you need to chill out. Trigger warning Racism? in regards to what Robyn said? Not to put it so bluntly but she’s married to a black man…has biracial children…I don’t think it’s possible for Robyn to be racist. So you may need to rethink what racism means.

    On another note, Robyns article on feminism and white privilege was really great and thought provoking which unfortunately brought me here, to your article.

    I don’t want to sound rude but accepting your “white privilege” and using it as charity to help support POC women because you’re an “ally” is not as kind of a gesture as you think it is.

    You’re just rolling over and accepting what the rest of society say about the issue of white privilege, all the while on your high horse because you’re helping those of colour and care about people of colour.

    In reality, accepting your “white privilege” as is, you are accepting all those attitudes, all that anger, as being the norm and that it’s okay as long as you keep helping those that aren’t “privileged”….which to me sounds totally ridiculous, and a lot like the same attitudes that the British has during the scramble for Africa “we’ll strip you of your culture, way of life, everything because you don’t have privilege yet, we will share our privilege with you even if you don’t want it. OR what the early settlers said in Australia, wanting to help the Aboriginals, share some of their white privilege, which didn’t work so they just got rid of them. Then LATER stole an entire generation away from their families. OR The holocaust of the native Americans, I’m sure they wanted and gladly accepted all that white privilege too, except they didn’t, because almost all of them are dead.

    Yes white privilege exists, but no it’s not a tool to help those that are down trodden, it’s a reminder that feminism still isn’t changing mainstream western society. That we need to remember that all though bad things happen to us all, us “whites” have had a few helping hands of the last few hundred years, but it wasn’t always like that and we need to help everybody so we are all equal and there is no such thing as “privilege”… It’s an ugly reminder that in western countries, a lot of white people think privilege and power is what’s important.

    Not calling you a racist, not calling you any names to be honest, just trying to point out how damaging it can be to accept “white privilege” as the norm and calling out people on the internet who have confident friends.

    • shannanesmithannan

      …just because you have black friends (or are married to a black person) does not mean that you cannot be a racist. It’s the oldest excuse/reference in the book. Please stop using it. It hurts.

  3. I’ve finally figured out what specifically pisses me off about this “don’t blame white women” type of crap. The inference they have that WOC are invalidating their oppression by saying the oppression of WOC has added dimension.

    WOC are NOT saying, by any means, that WW are NOT being oppressed. These WW are just trying to assert the same kind of privilege of acknowledgement that they call men out for, insisting that everything be about them.

  4. http://www.amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html.

    White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
    “I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group”

  5. Lilith, I just wanted to say that, l, like so many others came here because of your post about nursing, and I just feel the need to say that I like you. Have a great New Year’s Eve.

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