Across Liberation, Toward Difference: Dismantling Racism within Feminism

April 22, 2013

The Feminist Wire launches a 10-day Forum on Race, Racism, and Anti-Racism within Feminism

April 22, 2013 marks the first day of The Feminist Wire’s (TFW) 10-day Forum on Race, Racism, an Anti-Racism within Feminism. Over the next eleven days, TFW will publish essays, love notes and art work as part of a continuation of a decades…in actuality, centuries-long painful, difficult, and yet, very necessary dialogue amongst and between feminists of color and white feminists.  Please visit TFW daily throughout the duration of this Forum (and beyond); and please spread the word to your networks about the Forum.

Following is an extended excerpt from the Introduction, which was coauthored by TFW Editorial Collective members Aishah Shahidah Simmons and Heather Laine Talley.

Across Liberation, Toward Difference: An Introduction to TFW’s Forum on Race, Racism, and Anti-Racism within Feminism

Photo credit: Todd Williamson/Invision for Fox Searchlight/AP
Photo credit: Todd Williamson/Invision for Fox Searchlight/AP

Perhaps in this twenty-four hour news cycle culture, the horrid sexist and racist sexualization of nine-year old Quvenzhané Wallis both at the Academy Awards and in Twittersphere is now old news. And maybe for her sake, it should be.

White feminists’ silence in the face of racism is old news too, but feminism’s troubled relationship with race and racism is something to keep talking about. It was the reaction to Tressie McMillan’s analysis of white feminists’ response to the attacks on Quvenzhané Wallis that ignited our interest in hosting this Forum on Race, Racism, and Anti-Racism within Feminism. To be sure, The Feminist Wire has been engaged in these conversations since our founding, but what McMillan’s piece noted was the yawning vacuum of public response to misogyny directed at a Black girlchild.

Many white feminists jettisoned the opportunity to think about silence as racism. Instead, they cited examples of white women’s response to defend against the critique of white silence. While it is true that some white feminists publicly responded, the very impulse to deny a pattern of silence sidesteps critical feminist and anti-racist work. The legacy of feminism has taught us to ask: in what ways am I oppressed and marginalized? In thinking about race, racism, and anti-racism within feminism, an equally important question is: in what ways do I oppress and marginalize?

We come to this introduction as Collective members, but we have divergent relationships to the very topics we’re exploring in this Forum. We are a Black feminist lesbian and a white, anti-racist, queer feminist who are committed to a vision of feminism that is fundamentally intersectional. We resist the pull to participate in the “oppression olympics” (as coined by Native American feminist scholar-activist Andrea Smith) because we firmly believe that none of us are free until all of us are free.

Given white feminists’ palpable silences in response both to individual acts of racism and to an enduring pattern of white supremacy, our investment in this project is shaped by a specific ethic–we reject the idea that white women can “opt out” of this conversation or instinctively fall back on defensiveness. If our feminism aims for liberation, the discomfort of doing the work cannot function in the service of sid-stepping this difficult dialogue, avoiding self-reflection, or putting either off until later. Later is now.

Here, we want to make TFW’s position abundantly clear: Silence in the face of racism is never justified. In fact, silence in the face of any form of oppression or marginalization is never justified.

And yet, feminist silences are, all too often, racialized. Thus, in the context of talking feminism and race, our relative position to feminism depends upon whether feminism unmodified stands for white women.

This is an attempt to reexamine race and racism from multiple feminist perspectives. To be sure, this is not a Black-white dialogue. This is not a cisgender dialogue. It is not exclusively academic in nature nor entirely activist in spirit. It is multi-voiced, even as it is not representative. It is a conversation that pre-dates all of us, even as it is a dialogue that is no less important now than in previous iterations of feminism, from the suffragettes exclusion of African-American women to the whiteness of the sex wars, to white feminism’s response to and engagement with transnational feminism.

A theme emerges in this Forum–white folks will be called out. And not just because of white silence to recent events, but also because our time is one that is shaped through and through by white supremacy. White privilege may be diluted by class, geography, ability, sexuality, gender identity. And yet, the structural underpinnings of the institutions that inscribe our lives and everyday patterns of seeing and talking are bound together by a legacy of racism, the overvaluation of white bodies at other humans’ expense, and policies intended to promote thriving for white folks.

This Forum is certainly not meant to be the definitive statement on race, racism, and anti-racism within feminism. TFW is committed to cultivating an ongoing dialogue, and so even as we start this Forum, we know that this is only the start of a long-term and potentially difficult conversation, part of which we will continue to publish…”

You may read the introduction in its entirety by clicking on this link: http://bit.ly/ZD0Z9J

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