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):
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.