On The Need for White Feminists To Do Better

Last week, women of color called on white feminists to do a better job when it comes to talking about race. As a white feminist, I was embarrassed by the poor (or non) response of many to The Onion’s horrific tweet calling 9-year-old black actress Quvenzhané Wallis a “cunt” after last weekend’s Oscar ceremonies.

Therefore, on Friday, Melissa McEwan graciously gave me the platform of Shakesville to write, what became, a 4000-word post on why white feminists need to do better.

As I said in the post:

I’m keenly aware that I am here, a white lady, writing about this right now. I’m extremely aware that the takeaway may be that I am trying to play “good white feminist” up against “bad white feminists.” Today is March 1. It has been over five days since The Onion posted that tweet, since MacFarlane sexualized Wallis, and this is my first sustained critique of the entire episode. I admit wholeheartedly that my writing of this post was not because I am some kind of superior social justice activist but rather that I felt terrible guilt yesterday when my friend, @graceishuman, tweeted the following:

Like @StephHerold said, *institutional* white feminist response has been basically *crickets*. So from my POV the issue is less that white feminists didn’t speak up for Quvenzhané. Many did. To me the issue is more that it almost always takes black women to point out these silences and attacks. The silences and attacks from white feminists, I mean. It shouldn’t be all on black women + other WOC to address this substantively. With few exceptions it’s always WOC starting the convo about racism in feminism. Has to change.

I shouldn’t have needed that push. But I did. And once I read those words from someone I respect more than almost anyone else in the world, I felt compelled. This is the result.

I, white lady feminist, have a responsibility here and I want to meet it.

My ideas weren’t new. Many, many women of color had already said much of what I said (the quoting and linking in the piece hopefully makes that clear).

From the post:

Yes, I saw plenty of white feminists tweeting their anger about The Onion and MacFarlane. But let’s be honest about Twitter. It’s ephemeral. It quickly disappears unless someone takes note of a particular tweet’s URL, screenshots it, or puts it into a chirp story or storify post. There is a reason people write blog posts. There is a reason we do this kind of long-form writing: It lasts.

While it is wonderful that so many people jumped to Wallis’ defense in the immediate aftermath of the Oscars and the Onion tweet, if we want the message to have staying power, we’ve got to write it down. Every time we choose to take the time to write one thing down and not another, we are making a political choice about what topics matter enough to us to make that effort. While tweeting matters, too (at least I hope so, shit), white feminists’ reaction to women of color pointing out our lack of response cannot be a defensive “but I tweeted about it for a day” and feel like that is good enough. If nothing else, what women of color are saying to white feminists is that it wasn’t good enough. White feminists need to listen.

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4 thoughts on “On The Need for White Feminists To Do Better

  1. This is a very fair point, but from personal experience a white woman talking about race is more often than not attacked by other women, proclaiming to her to check her privilege.
    It’s upsetting that’s the way I have experienced things, seeing as I believed feminism to be mostly about furthering the sisterhood felt between all those who consider themselves women.

  2. I don’t know what you mean by “check her privilege.” That you have been told you cannot write on race because you have privilege? That has not been my experience with reception to my writing.

    I do think that as white women, we have to be particularly sensitive to HOW we write about race.

    At the same time, black women who write about race get a TON of shit for it. For example, Tressie, who wrote basically the same thing I did and whose work was a major inspiration for mine, got a lot of blowback from white women, to the point where she wrote about it: http://tressiemc.com/2013/03/02/on-white-womens-anger.

    My white privilege shielded me from a lot of that response.

  3. I don’t think “attacked” is the word you’re looking for, pixiemumbles. To me, what I see is women being appropriately called out on problematic statements or reactions, and yes, being told to check their privilege. That’s not an attack, and I find it…interesting that you choose that word to describe WOC standing up for themselves against white women. It’s not an attack to tell someone they need to do better, unless that someone doesn’t think they need to do better and doesn’t want to be told they’re not already doing just fine.

  4. Pingback: Losing Access to Sisterhood: Tomboys, Masculinity, and the Unmaking of a Girl | Spectra Speaks

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