Whiteness and Privilege within Minority Movements.
The thing about white privilege is that if you are white skinned, have blond hair with blue eyes…. you have it. Even if you are a minority in one aspect, you can be privileged in another. For example, I am a Latino, and although I could not be labeled as white, I do have relatively light brown skin.. and this means, when comparing to more dark skinned Latinos, I face less racial discrimination. Another easy example is that although I am below the poverty line, I have a privilege as an American Citizen that others around the world do not enjoy. I recognize my “easy american life” is not due to magic but due to systematic american imperialism – the plunder of the resources in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Middle East. Privileged in one aspect, oppressed in another – an example of how intersectionality works.
Intersectionality becomes increasingly important when we talk about multiple oppressed intersections like,black women, who face unique forms of oppression because of misogyny and racism. These experiences produce a long historical dividing line between Feminism and Black, Latino, Muslim, Asian, and Poor Women. Within feminism, the different experiences of women who are not western, white and middle class, are routinely ignored. This is a longstanding criticism of the Feminist movements – that they systematically ignore the plights of women of color, lower class, or non-western status, and instead concentrate on the problems plaguing white western middle class women specifically. Women of color have a long history of trying to address and inform white women about this issue, but it seems their criticisms have historically been ignored, almost erased from feminist history.
This becomes an issue when modern mainstream Feminists makes the same mistakes. What we see today is that white western women try to generalize their experiences to all women, when in reality, they are only highlighting experiences of a relatively privileged few. To generalize from white to universal experiences of women, is to erase the unique forms of oppression other women face who are not white. When a rational of white privilege and supremacy is defining much of the movement – where only victims that have voices just so happen to be white, it leads racist discrimination within the Feminist movement itself. It has been happening for so long that women of color, most notably black women, have rejected the feminist label itself, highlighting the racist transgressions made by white women in the movement, and instead call themselves womanist.
Lately, all I have been doing is listening. Listening to black women in particular about their fight against oppression and how so often they get mistreated and dehumanized by modern mainstream feminism itself. It is often infuriating and triggering to see how white feminist women behave towards black women. You would hope that white feminist, who are good at talking about male privilege, would at least make an attempt to understand white privilege… but that is not what is happening, and historically not what has ever happened.
Whiteness it seems, plays a prevalent role in feminism, but also, as many vocal black people have noticed, in movements like the mainstream gay rights movement. If you look at the mainstream LGBTQ movement, its faces are… well… mostly white and middle class. I have yet to see the mainstream LGBTQ movement talk about issues like racism that effect a large part of their group. It seems to be making the same mistake as the feminist movement, Ignoring key things like intersectionality. You can not have solidarity within a movement, if you refuse to talk about and in effect undercut different forms of oppression people in your group are facing. It is the same with the modern atheist movement, where all they talk about is white western middle class problems. A movement whos most famous people are white males with islamaphobic sentiments leads to people of color not wanting to be a part of it. As an Atheist I have had my fair share of personal clashes with white atheists acting racist and all it does is make me not want to be a part of their movement – some time ago I decided to divorce myself from the label, because the label is attached to too many, frankly, racist white people. It seems that black women have done the same with feminism because of racist white women, and who knows… maybe people of color in the LGBTQ movement will do the same if it continues to make the spear head of the movement made of up white middle class problems. (Though the transgender end of the movement notable black trans-women on the forefront)
The main problem, is that white supremacy is everywhere. Due to a world history of European terrorist states conquering and colonizing indigenous lands, we have a world where racist ideology is so embedded, that it leads to structural problems within all cultures. You simply can not escape the narrative that white people are the “default race” and as such, they are the only voices that matter. The only voice that can be “universalized” to the experiences of all people. So when you get minorities like women fighting for rights… the faces of that movement, somehow always manage to be white and middle class. This is not a coincidence, it is due to a history of white supremacy and colonialism. When society wants to look at victims of oppression, it seems the only victims that society cares about is the white ones.
It is because of this that certain “divisions” crop up in minority movements. You see, when the ones suffering the most, like black and brown poor folk, voice their opinions and reject the mainstream white narrative, they are always told to be quite and stop being “divisive.” They are told, that in order to present a unified front to fight against say imperialism, classism, sexism, homophobia, they must put their objections to racism aside… that, “we get to that later.” Only, later never comes… and while there may be upward momentum in certain areas like sexism, homophobia, classism, etc, the white supremacist structure stays in tact. Think about that. Can black women truly be treated as equals if there is progress against sexism but not racism? No. If there is only progress in sexism but the racist structures remain.. that means the only ones who will get equality are white women, meanwhile black women as still fighting against racism. This is an issue. The reality is that, if the mainstream narrative within minority movements becomes white, and I think because of the power structures of racism it will tilt towards that direction where possible, then the narrative ignores the structures of white supremacy, and erases the experiences that are unique to people of color. When you develop a white narrative within any movement, than there will be a deep division. A division based on the fact that, the mainstream white narrative can not speak to the narrative of other people who are not white.
An example of this is what is happening within feminist circles on twitter. Recently women of color have been very vocal about mainstreams feminism’s failure to address the white supremacist narrative that plagues it. Predictably the mainstream voices of feminism denounced these complaints as “destructive and insulting” unwilling to examine what role white privilege plays in the things they write. When this began, black women in particular were being targeted and harassed by white women, and men in general, in order to silence their voices. Seeing this type of division, a group of internet harassers who are labeled “4chan trolls” targeted women of color in order to “destroy” feminism’s social structure online. What they did was coordinate an attack, where they would pretend to be women of color who are “radical feminists” on twitter, and post hashtags they knew would upset the white mainstream voices of feminism and make these white voices fight against the voices of color, notably imitating Asians, Latinos and black women. They would create caricature hashtags that were tailor made to inflame males and whites in order to discredit feminism and create a drift within the group.
As I saw this all unfold, I was surprised to the extent of harassment that black women in particular face – and this is where my privilege was showing. However, I knew that it was because of my privilege that I best just sit and listen. Listen to what the victims of this harassment are going through and try to understand their experiences. What I saw as a response from vocal feminist was deeply unsatisfactory. It just reminded me of all the clashes I had with white people, and sometimes other people of color in general, when discussing white privilege. Anyway, as this event unfolds the black women predicted one thing… that as soon as the mainstream white feminist get a hold of this, they are going to erase the black narrative and paint it as their own. That is exactly what I saw in this piece – http://goo.gl/zmUhvF. This piece was plain terrible.
The absolute first thing I noticed, and a question I posed to the author of this piece on twitter, is that the cover photo of this piece is a white woman. This piece, was supposed to address the “4chan trolls” taking advantage of racial division lines in feminism… and the article in turn represents online feminism with a white woman on a computer? It is totally contradictory to the intent of the piece. If the article itself says that to pretend they are a “homogeneous lump” is a mistake… why is that exactly what they just did? By putting the representation of online feminism as some faceless white woman what other message can you be sending besides “white women represent all woman.”? Did the authors not understand that the primary complaint coming from women of color?
Then it gets worse, they provide a summary of the events that completely ignores that the trolls where targeting black women and other WoC specifically to piss off white men and women. Instead they generalize it to trolls exploiting some current infighting weakness in to movement. This erases the fact that feminism has a long historical problem with white women ignoring other WoC and instead paints a false front of unity, which a few lines later, the article says this is not what they want to do. Self-contradictory much?
Later they briefly allude to this division with the hashtag link of “solidarityisforwhitewomen” but the article never actually tries to discuss the real issue at hand. It is not just that the trolls are organizing their harassment, it is that if white women where doing what they are supposed to and listening to WoC in the first place, the trolls would not have a weakness to exploit. The weakness is their because white women in the movement act racist and that is an issue worth more discussion than just a handwavy link. The article turns this moment away from some self reflection, about the failures of feminism due to white supremacy, and instead chooses to paint this picture of false unity and triumph over harassers. This is exactly what many of the black women predicted mainstream feminism would do, and that is what they did… they erase the experiences of WoC and a avoided a deeper discussion of white supremacy – showing once again, that there is no solidarity within feminism, and it is because white women, who have the voices in the movement, refuse to examine their privileges.
This is not the first time this has happened either, mainly mainstream feminist voices online are constantly and consistently erasing the experiences of women of color. Take this article I just looked at today from Jezebel: http://goo.gl/D5lr4A. The article takes a racist event that happens to black people online all the time – because they are constantly targeted by racists online… and instead summarizes it like this: “The lesson here is that if you enjoy something and that thing gets popular enough, it’s only a matter of time before some asshole ruins it for everyone.” Umm what? No this is not just “some asshole” this is a symptom of a much larger issue of racist harassment black people face online. Instead of talking about the constant racism they face here… they effectively try to generalize the experience, and in effect erase the unique experiences of oppression black people face online. This is not an “everybody problem” white families do not face such racist harassment, this is a problem of anti-black racism and to ignore that, is to ignore their lived experiences. That is just an article I have scooped up today, when the reality is that Jezzebel, a famous feminist website, is constantly trying to take the experiences of black women and repackage them in a way that erases their existence.
Yet, feminist circles are not the only failures here when it comes to confronting racism….. in fact, my own Latino culture is rampant with similar failures. So I am going to be real. The Latino community is hella anti-black, and a lot of us know it, but do not like talking about it. You go to any central or south american country and you are going to find the same thing over and over and over again…. the light to white skinned latinos have the most social, economic, and political power. Most leaders, academics, businessmen are… white latinos. Then you can go to poor sections of the any of these countries and what will you find? That the poor sections are filled with dark skinned latinos… this is not a fcking coincidence. It is just symbolic of the historically racist colonialism that was left behind in all latin american countries.
This racist social structure is going to, and does, have an impact on what Latino communities think and feel about blackness. However, Latinos love to play colorblind and love to preach unity when it suites our needs….. but get us alone and talk about black people, and you are ganna see a lot of internalized anti-black racism come out. Talk to the older generation, ask them what they think about when their children bring their bf/gf home who are “morenos” … yeah, then you will see some sht fly. I, for one, am tired of seeing this faux unity in Latin American communities, but knowing under the surface, there is some nasty sht going on.
Nasty sht like light skinned Latinos benefiting greatly from white privilege and then gettin mad at brown and black Latinos when we point out to them that “yall look white.” I am tired of them acting all hurt because they claim Latino status when it suites them, and then stabbing black and brown folk in the back when it don’t. I mean, I can understand that to call them white annoys them because it denies their own cultural heritage of being Latino… but at the same time I am annoyed that they deny their white privileges. They deny that they benefit from racism against brown and black folk by being able to pass for white; they deny that many Latinos consider light skin as a “mark of beauty” and “a feature” they want to have on their children; they deny that Latinos everywhere do not want dark skinned kids; they deny that we, black and brown folk, do not get treated the same because we can’t pass for white; they deny that it is not a coincidence that Latin television is filled with mostly light skinned faces…..
Let’s get fcking real here…
A White Latino killed Trayvon Martin.
This is no fcking joke. The Latino community can no longer afford to ignore what anti-black racism and white supremacy is doing to us. The truth of the matter is that not understanding white privilege within Latino communities is fcking dangerous. If we Latinos want solidarity with black people, then we need to breakdown colourism, not just colonialism and imperialism.
We need to do this because black people do not just exist outside our community, they exist inside our community too. Trayvon could of just as easily been a black latino, like a Dominican. I am tired of Latinos being scared of a black and white racial label, when the reality is that, although you can self identify as anything you want, white and black exists within our culture. No matter what kind of Latino you want to identify as, if the system seems you as white, you got white privilege, and if the system sees you as black, then you are going to face the same discrimination most black people face. You can not deny the effects of white supremacy in our very existence.
So when I see think pieces that look like this: http://goo.gl/Torasq… I think… finally. Finally we talk about race in Latino communities. Yet when I see reactions like this: http://goo.gl/4Jvvt9… I am extremely upset and disappointed. That reaction completely misses the more important point. Instead of putting up photos that show how diverse we are and claim faux solidarity.. we should have used this as an opportunity to discuss why it is dangerous to keep ignoring white supremacist impact on our communities. Whatever the stats may be of the census, the inescapable fact that Latinos have the ability to to be white, and claim whiteness. What does this mean? What can this mean? Some black people in america are scared what this might mean http://goo.gl/6b2pZy… and I can’t blame them. So when Latinos continuously ignore these signs… what does that mean about us?
When the NYT article broke… Latinos reaction’s to this was sub-par. Most reactions, quickly admitted anti-black racism was an issue, but then rushed over it and instead rejected the NYT piece outright in favor of more “nuanced” views. The nuances presented were as follows:
1) Non-Latino trying to write about Latinos, without talking to Latinos, is foolish.
2) We can not be boxed. We are racially diverse.
3) We identify with our cultural heritage as Latinos and individual nationalities more than we do with “americas version of racial stratification.”
4) We were confused with the census. We were forced to pick between categories of race that we do not see each other as because of point 2.
Now I can identify with all this.. I ain’t white, I ain’t black, I don’t look Indian, heck people think I can look like people from the middle east. I simply have no idea what race I am, and I don’t identify as any race, I am mixed. I am just a Latino from El Salvador and light brown. That is who I am, and I know a lot of Latinos feel similar. You can’t replicate the Latino experience, you have to live it, live in this strange middle ground.
Yet that is not a fcking excuse to avoid a conversation about racism. But that is exactly what happened… they used “nuance” to undercut and not talk about the issue of racism within our culture. Race in Latin American countries is a bit different from the experiences of race in America, but it is NOT something that defies all american categorization on race. What I read from Latinos is that somehow because race is a bit different from the american experience, there is no danger of us claiming to be white. This is untrue, if it were true we would not see all the light skinned Latinos at the top of the social structures in our countries. In fact because we do see colourism in our countries, we need to admit that it is true. There is a real danger that, a certain section of light skinned american Latinos, if we keep avoiding the issue of race, will be the new white.
Very few Latinos reacted in a way that responded to white supremacy. I could only find one, http://goo.gl/AGugQH, and it was a great one, that discussed what this means. By all means, read it, because I literally do not have the words to express it better than that.
Truth is we will become a dominant political group in America soon enough, and we need to think how white supremacy impacts such a diverse group of people. White supremacy sees and opening and it is taking advantage of it. To fight it we need to look at ourselves in very critical fashion, or we risk a whole generation of George Zimmermans. Latinos who not only act on anti-black racism, but use their white privilege to get away with it. This is not a future we should want, nor is it one that we can afford to ignore.