Feminist of Color: On Feminism & Trust

My experience of feminism has basically been my experience of Christianity–I am in complete agreement with what I identify as the core values, but cannot seem to get along with other followers. As feminism imagines, I want to believe in a world in which all women lift up other women, but my own experience with most white women (not unlike my experience with many Christians) has been that the gulf separating our realities is too vast for me to bridge alone.

I’m thinking back to that time I befriended a white, punk rock chick. In the short time I knew her, I sat with her while she cried about two difference breakups. In public. I considered her a friend until she told me the story about how “all the Asians stole all the boys” when her high school merged with another nearby school. Even if I could have manifested the words out of my shock to respond to such problematic nonsense, it was not on me to tell her how racist she was being. It’s not my responsibility to kindly educate those around me on the way that tropes of the dragon lady/lotus blossom have real world ramifications for the health and well-being of young women. Nor is it my job to explain how assigning allure and perceived popularity through no fault of the objectified person’s own but rather by the fact that she simply exists in the same world as cultural representations of hypersexualization linked with subservience help maintain and recreate an environment of exploitative, cultural tourism.

Or, I could recall the time the female head of the Honors Department called on me in a seminar and asked me alone (the only female student of color) if I had read the article I chose to report on. And how when I called her out on it in her office, she dismissed me by saying that a male student in her earlier seminar hadn’t done his reading. When I pressed the issue, she told me she was sorry if that’s the way I’d taken it and then proceeded to tell me how I was not using the seminar adequately.

And of course, most recently, the white, self-identified liberal co-worker who asked me if I felt powerless after she barraged me with a series of defensive and aggressive statements that she tried to disguise as a conversation on politics. As if that was within her right. As if she already knew me.

There are more stories, because there are always more stories. My identity is multi-faceted in a way that seems to make it easy for me to lift up other women, but makes it difficult to relate to and trust the other self-identified feminists I meet. All of the women mentioned above either identified as feminist or made their careers on the back of the Women’s Rights Movement. I yearn to be more involved in the movement that has meant so much to me, but find it difficult to work up the energy to feed something I have to constantly assert a space in which is supposed to be empowering.

So, take this for what it is: me, putting out a call for shared experiences, for people who are interested in dialogue, for suggestions on how to make the vision of all women lifting up all women happen.

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3 thoughts on “Feminist of Color: On Feminism & Trust

  1. lkeke35 says:

    I, too have some great difficulties with the feminist movement. White women who are part of the movement, are always calling for WoC to support issues that are important to them, while ignoring issues that are important to us. I looked at Womanism, and may still go that route. Womanism seems to be much more intersectional than most of feminism I encounter, which mostly seems to be for and about the needs and wants of affluent white women.. Right now, I no longer call myself a feminist.

    • e lewis says:

      Thanks for taking the time to respond! I’m sorry that my own response is so late! I completely agree with your sentiments. I also looked into Womanism, but that was quite a while ago and I think I ought to revisit it. I remember at the time feeling as if Womanism was explicitly for Black women. As such, I resisted the kinship I felt with it because I was so afraid of the idea of appropriation/imperialism, which is just such a classic example of the shallowness of my own thinking, the depth of divisive propaganda, and the scope of a racial hierarchy which makes the (intellectual/physical/emotional/etc) work of Black peoples invisible. I think it also didn’t help that when we did discuss Womanism at the college I attended, the white students seemed so threatened by it, which really dictated the tone of the discussion. Do you think that there will ever be a point when you call yourself a feminism again?

      • lkeke35 says:

        Maybe one day, I will. When I was younger, I identified as a feminist even though there was no such thing as the Internet, or intersectional feminism.

        I like the idea of intersectional feminism, though. I know some women are into that, realizing that WoC, transwomen and lesbians have different priorities and deal with different styles of oppression than cis-straight white women.

        My friend and I, at work, often have discussions about how misogyny and patriarchy affects me vs, how it affects her. She is white. It’s all a devaluing of womanhood,, but it takes different forms for different women. For example, black women appearing in slutwalks. That’s something that’s empowering for white women. It’s not empowering for WoC, because it is always assumed that WoC are sexually available at all times. WoC are stereotyped as sexy, spicy, hot, dragon ladies, etc.while for white women, it’s nice, virginal and clean. So yeah, of course WoC are sluts, so them slutwalking is meaningless, but white women should feel ashamed.

        Or the use of the word “nice” to make white women compliant with abuse vs. the use of the word “loud” to shame WoC into being quiet about maltreatment. It’s all patriarchy that’s styled to fit each type of woman differently, to keep them in their place. This is what intersectionality addresses.

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