My White Skin and Feminism: A Balancing Act | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

My White Skin and Feminism: A Balancing Act

Comment Editor Alex Goodwin discusses how we must strive to meet the demands of intersectional feminism, even if they are higher than they seem

I know what you’re thinking: ‘Wow, what a pretentious title.’

But the truth is, feminism has lost its way, and as a white female, I’m struggling to find my way back. Struggling to deconstruct gender biases, struggling to acknowledge my privilege, and struggling not to silence ethnic minority women in the fight for female power.

Emma Watson, a well-known women’s advocate, came forward in January and stated that the accusations she was a ‘white feminist’ were wholly correct. In a letter she wrote to her book club whereby she introduced the first read of 2018: Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, the 27-year-old actress addresses her white privilege.

Watson discusses her famous 2015 UN speech and acknowledges how her belief that ‘being a feminist is simple’ was a product of her race. Watson’s personal assessment of herself has formed the more complex questions surrounding the dynamics of race and gender.

According to society, we won the race lottery but lost the winning gender ticket

It would have been more useful to spend the time asking myself questions like: What are the ways I have benefited from being white? In what ways do I support and uphold a system that is structurally racist?’ writes Watson. ‘How do my race, class and gender affect my perspective?’

I asked these questions to myself recently. I realised that, in the same way I gain perspective through my gender, I am undoubtedly blinded by my race.

The notion of ‘White Feminism’ stumped me for a while. I love all women, so I can’t be a white feminist, correct? When I tweet about women’s rights, or when I write essays for my gender studies modules, I don’t specify my argument is only directed towards white women. Therefore, surely, I am an intersectional feminist. Right?

Wrong.

This is not because I am racist or because my intentions are bad. But rather, I realised the impact of my voice was that of appealing to and building up individuals in a way that did not address minority women.

This conversation is uncomfortable for white women. According to society, we won the race lottery but lost the winning gender ticket. If we are being brutally honest, we know the colour of our skin pins us at society’s structural inequalities silver medal position. Above men of colour, but below white men.

So, what are we meant to do about it? How do I balance my privilege but continue to use the voice the society lottery has given me (due to the inherited pale skin of my parents) for good? How do I fight the cause for all women... not just the women that look like me?

The notion of intersectional feminism has erupted amongst feminist theory over the last year. However, as a woman in politics, the racial bias of gender studies has become ever clearer.

Since my first year of university, the white female lecturers from my department have introduced me to all types of feminist theories and movements: liberal feminism, discourse feminism, radical feminism etc. But as I sit amongst a room of one black and twenty white females, I realise that not only is there not one ethnic minority female member of staff in the politics department that lectures on feminism, there is also no discussion of ethnic minority women.

Can a senior lecturer, a white woman, that broke every glass ceiling, sit there and preach about the woes of being a woman when she, in fact, disregards her own privilege? I have spent up to and beyond one hundred minutes a week discussing feminism, yet these minutes do not encompass the women that face a harder fight.

The title of ‘Feminist’ is a brand. A brand that does not reach the women living in oppression in Guatemala, Chile, America or even the UK

My knowledge of intersectional feminism has come about through a personal need to explore my own complicit role in structural injustices. The feminism I was adhering to was that of a narcissistic nature. The very nature of the claim ‘feminist’ has become a brand, rather than a movement. Jessa Crispin’s novel Why I am not a Feminist explores the banality of the movement. ‘The mainstream wants to claim the radical space for itself while simultaneously denying the work radicals do.’

Crispin, for me, hit the nail on the head. Wearing a T-shirt that reads ‘Feminist’ means very little if the impact of your feminism is benign. Did you march with Women outside parliament? Did you question your lecturer's racial bias in her arguments? Did you scream from the rooftops that women did not collectively receive the vote one hundred years ago? The ‘Feminist’ brand is one that does not reach the women living in oppression in Guatemala, Chile, America or even the UK.

If you’re having to prove you’re not a racist, you’ve done something very wrong

The history of white women is not a story untold, nor has it been whitewashed or erased. This is the truth lived by so many women of colour all over the world. The very root of their ancestry was re-written and oppressed by white men, who were more than once under the commanding thumb of white women (Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria – before you try to argue with me).

Of course, this is not to say that white feminists dislike women of colour. However, our defensive measures that come to play when we discuss race highlights a deeply-rooted issue. If you’re having to prove you’re not a racist, you’ve done something very wrong.

Similarly, this is not simply about ‘white vs black,’ and today there is the ‘grey’ that is being lost in intersectional feminism. Native American women are just one ethnicity completely left behind in our debates – if you need proof, go and watch the film Wind River. Similarly, the racism that Chinese people face in Britain is so inherent, it does not even flicker as a thought. We should be sharing the stories of black, Hispanic, Chinese, Indian, and Native American women as we would the women of our own colour.

Privilege is silent. We can’t hear it or see it. It’s just there. But if white women remain silent, we are the problem, not the solution. Therefore, gender debates need to incorporate questions of race, otherwise we are simply conforming to the structures we were trying to dismantle in the first place.

 

4th year Political Science and International Relations student (@alexgoodwin_)



Published

4th April 2018 at 9:00 am



Images from

Alec Perkins



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