Race, Feminism, and #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen on Twitter

One thing I write very little about here on the blog is race. Maybe this is something I should change, I don’t know, but I’m as white as you get and I grew up in an upper middle class family in a lily-white community, which means that I am awash in white privilege—and I try to make sure to always bear this in mind. As a result, I’m often hesitant about bringing up race here, because I don’t feel that I’m in a position to appropriately speak to the issue. I don’t want to appropriate others’ experiences or claim more understanding than I have. Instead, I try to close my mouth and listen when people of color, and especially women of color, speak of their experiences and what they need from white allies.

And so with this post, I want to point you, my readers, to the twitter hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, which women of color have been using today to call out some of the hypocrisies of white feminism. Read, listen, grow. Here are some samples:

Read more at #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen.

And finally, one last tweet from another white feminist, with whom I agree completely:

What I Love about My Feminist Husband
Fifty Shades of Evangelical Justifications for Patriarchy
If We Can’t Come to Grips with the Past, How Are We to Grapple with the Present?
The unBiblical Tea Party Christian
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Melody Jones

    I’ve been watching that tag in awe for the past few hours. It hurts in this-is-an-opportunity-for-growth sort of way. Smashing the neocolonial imperialistic racist system should be more of a thing for us white feminists. o.o

  • Ace_of_Sevens

    Can someone explain about reproductive justice? I’m not sure what are saying should be focused on or how access to abortion or how access to abortion is a white issue, unless you mean that white people are more likely to be rural.

    • j.lup
    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Ah, okay! Reproductive justice is the idea that women should be able to choose when and if to have children, and should have the resources they need to choose to have children as well as the ability to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Basically, white women have much better access to birth control than do women of color, and white women are better able to afford children than women of color. So, if we want full reproductive justice, we have to focus on those areas as well as focusing on abortion rights.

      • Composer 99

        I suspect another aspect of this, with respect to terminating pregnancy is that white women are on average less likely to fall afoul of reactionary efforts to curtail access to abortion services.

      • Rosa

        Also women of color are more likely to have their right to reproduce taken away, historically and in the present. The abortion-rights movement does a bad job of connecting the right to NOT have a baby (birth control and abortion) with the right TO have a baby, at least in public debate. We don’t talk enough about the history of forced sterilizations and judicial forced-birth-control, or the conditions of mothers and pregnant women in prison or the military. All of those fall on women of color more than white women.

        Specifically, I’ve been at NARAL lobby days where women of color brought up recent history of forced sterilizations – stories women my age heard from their mothers and aunts – and some of the white women in the group had no idea that had ever happened. It’s a big barrier to organizing and reaching out between communities.

      • The_L1985

        Seconding this so much.

      • onamission5

        Yes! If I never hear another person say that women shouldn’t be having babies they can’t afford, it will be too soon. I don’t think that people who say stuff like this even stop to think about the racist and classist implications in such a statement, but to people who have a history of having their reproductive rights denied them because of race and/or class (and/or disability, for that matter), it’s glaringly obvious.

      • CarysBirch

        Yes. I’ve started actually calling people out when they make statements like “you should need a license to have kids.”

        Not. Okay.

      • Leigha7

        The problem with this phrase is that it’s usually very well-intentioned. You hear about people who are downright terrible parents, and you know they’re screwing the kids up, but they aren’t technically ABUSIVE so you can’t do anything. So you wish there was some way to prevent kids having to grow up in that situation. But the only way to do that would be to take away some people’s right to have children.

        In a perfect society…well, in a perfect society, people wouldn’t be bad parents. But in a near-perfect society, you could potentially take away these people’s right to have children because you know it would mean fewer mistreated children. But we are nowhere near that, and NO ONE is qualified to determine who would and would not be good parents. Sure, most of us probably know people we kind of hope don’t have kids because we suspect they’d be really bad at it, but we can’t KNOW that. We also can’t guarantee that, if there was some sort of system in place to try to determine who would be good parents, it wouldn’t do so based on race, class, or religion.

        In fact, history suggests you can pretty much guarantee that it would be. And that’s why it would be wrong to do so, even if we could.

    • The_L1985

      Two words: Birth control.

  • Monala

    Thanks for posting this; I’m feeling this myself. May I vent little? I’m an African-American woman who was raised middle class. I’ve always worked for community based nonprofit organizations, and through my work I was recently introduced to the work of Donna Beegle. Beegle is a white woman, raised in generational poverty in a migrant worker family, and she works to educate people about poverty. I was eager to read her work and learn more.

    Well… I’m struggling with it. Not the information and perspective she presents about poverty, which I think are very good, but what she presents about race. Here’s a direct quote: “For those in poverty who are White, resources and programs were and are scarce. For them, poverty also carries an additional stigma….While the poverty among minorities is increasingly associated with unjust and inequitable conditions, White people are frequently blamed for their poverty….Others assume that because they are ‘White,’ they should be able to ‘make it’…. White people living in poverty are the one group of human beings in our society that we are allowed to call ‘trash.’… [and] are the one group we can publicly humiliate…. Without targeting poverty as a societal problem that cuts across racial lines, the social-class conditions for millions of Americans will remain invisible… In addition, people in poverty from different races will fail to see their common struggles and unite.”

    My problems with the above passage? Numerous:

    1) “resources and programs [for Whites] are scarce” seems to imply that anti-poverty programs don’t serve White people on an equal basis as people of color, which is not the case. It is likely true that because White poverty is often a rural phenomenon and many/most anti-poverty programs are located in urban areas, rural people may have less access to them. But nothing in Beegle’s writing indicates that, so her passages suggests that because of their race, White people find help to be scarce.

    2) “White people are frequently blamed for their poverty.” So are people of color. All. The. Damn. Time.

    3) “White trash” may be an insult used against poor Whites, but it’s one of the few significant insults used against Whites. Compare that to the numerous insults used against African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, and other people of color. And again, people of color are humiliated publicly All. The. Damn. Time.

    4) “people in poverty from different races will fail to see their common struggles and unite” – since the whole passage prior to this points to ways in which poor Whites are victimized, without indicating who is doing the victimizing, to end with this line seems to make the “people in poverty from different races” the victimizers here, or at least the ones who are insensitive to the struggles of poor Whites. As if the lack of unity among people in poverty can be laid at the feet of poor people of color, instead of recognizing that wealthy Whites have long used (and continue to this day to use) racial division to keep poor people divided.

    Beegle probably has some good things to say (in fact, she had some very good things to say before I got to p. 55 of her book), but now I don’t want to keep listening because she seems unwilling to recognize racism.

    • Rilian Sharp

      Maybe she meant the rich people are the victimizers, not other poor people.

      • grindstone

        I think the thinking for points 2 and 3 go something like this: if you’re white, you have no excuse to act so trashy (read: live poor), because you had all the same advantages everyone else did. In other words, if you’re poor, you’re letting down the [white] team.

        I’ve long felt that the race issue in America gets deliberately, constantly stirred so that we never see the class issues….they both exist, and neither can get fixed.

      • Monala

        Oh, I agree, the phenomenon she describes is real. If she had just written that these are some of the challenges that poor Whites experience, then it wouldn’t have raised my hackles. It was those descriptions, coupled with comments that it’s poor whites alone who are blamed for their poverty, poor whites alone who are insulted and publicly humiliated, poor whites alone who find it difficult to obtain services–as though poor people of color don’t experience those things many times over.

        What if Beegle had instead begun the passage as she did (noting that even though the percentages of people of color in poverty are higher, there are actual more poor whites in the U.S. in raw numbers), and then made her comments inclusive? For example, “Just as poor people of color are often blamed for their poverty, poor whites are as well. Just as poor people of color are often called horrible insults, poor whites are referred to as ‘trash.’”

        And even more, she could have named the reason that poor people of different races find it difficult to unify. Hint: it’s not because poor whites are referred to as trash and thus poor people of other races don’t see their struggles. It’s primarily because of deliberate attempts to stoke white racial resentment.

      • grindstone

        I agree entirely, with your first and second posts. I have not read her work, so my comment may have been covered

      • Monala

        Maybe she did, but she never said so. Everything else she wrote about poor Whites was written in the passive voice (e.g., poor Whites are blamed, are allowed to be called trash, etc.). Who’s doing the blaming, the name-calling, the not serving? She doesn’t say, and she certainly never mentions rich people.

        Then, in the last sentence of the passage, she suddenly switches to the active voice: “people in poverty from different races will fail to see their common struggles and unite.” Suddenly someone has some agency here: poor people of other races who are failing to see their common struggles and unite with poor Whites.

        And because this is the concluding sentence of that section, it appears to be the passage’s conclusion: that poor people of other races fail in this area because poor Whites are being blamed and ignored, not because there are deliberate attempts (primarily by rich Whites) to stoke racial resentment. And furthermore, that stoking is aimed at poor White people, and thus the lack of solidarity is usually because poor Whites don’t want to unify with poor people of color, not the other way around.

    • Mel

      Due to family circumstances, I moved a few years ago from the working class, multi-race, multicultural neighborhood I was raised in and continue to work in to a rural, agricultural area. The area has roughly even numbers of white and Hispanic people here, but is segregated. Really, really segregated. I spent the first year in shock because I’d never seen such blatant, obvious stereotyping. I’ve spent the remaining time trying to punch holes in the stereotyping.

      The best sentence I’ve found for working with adults who are older than myself is “Huh, that hasn’t been my experience at all with (fill in the blank group of people.) Tell me more about why/how you believe this.” This at least opens a convo about how we stereotype people.

      With people my age, “Um….did I miss the time-travel to to 1950′s? Because you’re sounding more like Wallace than I’m comfortable with…”

      I’d always love some more tips.

    • katiehippie

      Thank you for this. I’m interested in working on poverty issues but I want to make sure I really understand how to say things.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Thanks for sharing. :) I think from what you say Beegle is making the mistake of assuming that people who care about solving racial issues don’t also care about solving poverty regardless of who it afflicts. I’m very aware that I have class privilege in addition to white privilege. I’m keenly aware that the women who work at my children’s daycare center (all white except for one Latina) are from a different class background than I am and have struggles I may never face. A month ago I had someone insist to my face that race was no longer an issue in the U.S., that it was only poverty that is an issue, and that we should ignore race and focus on poverty regardless of who is poor. Why is it that we can’t address both? Why can’t we admit that there are real problems of white poverty in this country without ignoring the way race affects poverty for people of color? And seriously, I have yet to meet someone who cares about the problems minorities face who doesn’t also care about poverty writ large. Anyway, again, thanks for sharing. :)

    • Wren

      I disagree with your point 3. Publicly calling POCs any of the various slurs will cause a negative reaction most of the time. People saying “white trash” are rarely thought of as using a slur.

    • Noelle

      I hear you and agree completely. The author is also omitting that simply by being white, one is born with a ready disguise to fit in with the rest of the non-impoverished population. It doesn’t take much to escape the assumption one is white trash. New, clean clothes (doesn’t need to be designer. The simple generic jeans and t-shirt outfit will do). Good basic hygiene. One of any hair-styles that doesn’t fall under the white trash stereotype. And that’s it. Nobody knows that you lived off food stamps and free school lunch. Anyone who doesn’t have a relative lack of melanin in her epidermis is required to do a whole lot more to get that same assumption thrown her way.

      • luckyducky

        Basically “white trash is as white trash does and black is black.”

      • Shayna

        Yeah, it’s like white defaults to good, you have to specify white trash. Meanwhile, where I live, you can tell when someone says black, or Mexican, or immigrant – they are defaulting to bad, they have to specify good (ie – not one of those _____).

        Blech, it is a nasty attitude.

    • J-Rex

      Are white people blamed for their poverty? Yes…but not in the same way as minorities are. They’re judged as individuals who made the wrong choices or didn’t have what it takes.

      When minorities are blamed for their poverty, they’re blamed as a group of people. This person didn’t have what it takes…and neither do any of them. This person got involved with drugs and gangs…like they all do.

  • Rilian Sharp

    What else is reproductive justice? They’re implying that there are reproductive rights issues that only/more affect not-white women? What are they?

    • guest

      Another issue, that Libby Anne doesn’t mention in her comment above answering this question, is that nonwhite women are far more likely to be subject to involuntary sterilisation.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Read what I wrote above. It’s not about women of color being biologically different, it’s about the fact that race issues, which yes still exist, intersect with reproductive rights in such a way that a narrow focus on abortion leaves those issues unaddressed.

    • Holly

      I believe the person making this comment may be referring to reproductive coersion as an element of reproductive justice.
      “Non-Hispanic Black and multi-racial women were most likely to report pregnancy coercion, birth control sabotage, and unintended pregnancy.”

      (Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2896047/ )

    • lollardheretic

      See, for example, the recent story in California of forced sterilization in the California penal system (prisons) of female prisoners. Women were supposedly consenting to sterilization (they weren’t.) Big lawsuit.

      • Leigha7

        I…I completely missed this. How did I not hear about this?

  • Noelle

    I love Shannon Stevens’ “Faces like ours”

    “We’re gonna be okay; at least we have white skin, and when you have white skin nobody can send you away.”


  • luckyducky

    I am deeply sympathetic with the women of color’s frustration with (white, upper middle class) mainstream feminism — as a white, upper middle class woman… and I think that Shelby Knox really nailed it on the head — it is time for us to shut up and listen.

    It is hard to hear that you’re not being a good ally and that your fight for equity is in and of itself disenfranchising. When we fail to do what we demand men (patriarchal structures) do for us — listen and take the experiences and struggles of the seriously — we are not being good feminists.

    It is also important to recognize how much gender, race, and poverty (among other “identifiers) are all part of a social hierarchy that privileges some and denies the full humanity of others. What should unite us is that they all have a common source — and we do ourselves no favors by not seeking to be genuinely inclusive in our feminism [NB: seeking -- it is inevitably a process not a state of being]

  • CarysBirch

    Libby Anne, thank you for this, I don’t follow twitter all that much, but I like to see a few things like this.

    I feel equally unqualified to talk about race, so I understand your hesitance, but thank you for giving me the opportunity to shut up and listen with you. :)

  • AlLynne

    Hi everyone maybe this book might help I was thinking about some of the same issues a while back when I came across this book.
    Just a side note I love this blog it helps me when I’m trying to eloquently express some of the same issues. Thanks Libby Anne!

  • http://kathrynbrightbill.com/ KB

    Oh, and another thing. White feminists aren’t ever going to have the decision to take their husband’s last name upon marriage result in a homeland security investigation because the last name change from a Latino one to a white-sounding on their professional license triggers questions about whether they’re really an undocumented immigrant who had been using fake papers and just got in a green card marriage. That just happened to my natural born citizen sister in law.

    That’s something white feminism doesn’t even consider in the never ending discussion about taking one’s husband’s last name upon marriage. No white feminist is ever going to have her own government, in the land where she was born, treat her, not as a second class citizen because of gender, but as a non-citizen until proven otherwise based on a last name.

    • Little_Magpie

      ugh. upvoting in solidarity, not because I like that it happened. (and yeah, I realized I just used that word solidarity… doh!)

  • Johnny Cake

    Yes, I was thinking about this in your last call for atheist/feminist/survivor blogs, and how few of the sites you follow are written by atheists of colour. May I suggest http://www.gradientlair.com/?tag=atheism as a place to start. Trudy, the writer of Gradient Lair, is an eloquent voice of atheist womanism. Unfortunately most of her discussion of atheism involves fighting off white atheists’ whining. This sequence by a variety of Tumblr people is very nice as well: http://jhameia.tumblr.com/post/50837408496/just-a-quick-note-to-atheists-from-an-atheist

    In response to race and class together as “conflicting” issues, poor white people have always been played against poor POC. There’s a great scene in DJANGO UNCHAINED with a white character named Jerry who may be poor as dirt but at least he isn’t black. Whiteness always comes first. Likewise, being a white woman is no fun, but at least she isn’t black. Living in the shelter system, you see a lot of infighting between white and nonwhite folks.

  • realinterrobang

    Why on earth should feminist women of any colour care if white women make more than MEN of colour? That’s the worst sort of “What about the MENZ!” special pleading. The fact that women of colour don’t make as much as white women is a feminist issue for sure, but I do recall even white feminists discussing that. Fixing structural racist MALE income inequality is NOT (white) feminists’ problem, and I’m sorry to hear that feminists/womanists of colour seem to think it is.

    • Monala

      You’re actually making the point in your comment. The issue is, while black men have some privileges above white women because they’re men, white women have many privileges above black men because they’re white. And some white feminists don’t recognize that fact.

      For example, some white feminists have pointed out that black men had the right to vote 55 years before white women did. And on paper, that’s true. However, due to Jim Crow laws and the fact that for many generations the vast majority of black folks live in the South, in reality, white women were able to exercise their right to vote for 45 years before most black men could.

      Another example: the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action have not been black men, but white women.

      Furthermore, it’s pretty offensive to consider black women’s concerns about the treatment of black men (which includes abuses by the criminal justice system, the school to prison pipeline, and so forth) as “What about the MENZ!” special pleading. We’re talking about black women being concerned about the very lives and well-being of their fathers, brothers, partners and sons.

    • Composer 99


      Why on earth should feminist women of any colour care if white women make more than MEN of colour?

      If they (the feminist women of any colour), personally feel a structural racial income gap is approximately as significant as a structural gender pay gap, why shouldn’t they care?

      Fixing structural racist MALE income inequality is NOT (white) feminists’ problem, and I’m sorry to hear that feminists/womanists of colour seem to think it is.

      On what basis do you presume to decide what is, and what isn’t, feminists’ problem(s), for any feminist other than yourself? I don’t see what is unreasonable about feminists of colour wanting support from white feminists to dismantle institutional racism as well as sexism. I also don’t see what is unreasonable about them getting irritated if such a subject is left out of feminist discussion.

      That’s the worst sort of “What about the MENZ!” special pleading.

      I fail to see what is special pleading about women of colour asking others to take racial privilege into consideration, even if it might benefit people who have privilege on some other axis (namely men of colour). It still benefits the women of colour.

      (I would also add that it’s a leap to accuse someone of special pleading on the basis of a single Tweet.)

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      You clearly missed the whole intersectional thing.

    • A Reader

      This is like saying that I shouldn’t care about gay rights because I’m not gay. The point of feminism (at least to me) is that we should all be considered equal. “Equal pay for equal work” is not followed by an asterisk that denotes race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or sex. Feminism is not a fight for white women to be equal with white men (or it shouldn’t be, anyway). It’s the idea that we all deserve basic fairness and respect no matter our outer differences.

      Income inequality, and inequality of any kind, is not subdivided into “male inequality” and “female inequality”. Our economic and social interactions are influenced by a lot of factors and are most certainly not held in a dichotomous vacuum.

    • Leigha7

      Seriously? One subject you hear a lot about is that men make more than women. If white women make more than men of color, that means you have this, in terms of income (and job prestige, typically, because a lot of the difference is in terms of promotions and the number of white men in upper management positions):

      White men > white women > men of color > women of color

      You honestly don’t see how that’s a problem? Even if, for some ludicrous reason, you wanted to only ever address issues about women and totally and completely ignore men (which would be stupid), women of color are clearly positioned at the very bottom of the hierarchy here, and the gap is far from insignificant. Given that most feminists DON’T want to limit themselves to only caring about women’s issues, the hierarchy as a whole is a problem because everyone, regardless of gender or race, should have equal opportunity to have a good, high-paying job.

      Also, every move towards equality is good for the whole of society. Even if you can’t bring yourself to care about people who are different from you in some way, at least keep that in mind.