Dear white people: STOP TALKING. (Just for a second. Please?)

Take a seat, white people. Take a stadium full of seats, actually, because we have a lot to discuss.

Let’s take a quick look at what white feminists have been doing on Twitter so far in 2014:

  • Trying to “reclaim” intersectionality from the women of colour who created it because they feel like intersectional feminism is simultaneously “too intellectual” and “not academic enough” (and also, when did white people ever see a thing created by black people that they didn’t want to steal and make their own?)
  • Claiming that they can absolve themselves of the responsibility to own their privilege by claiming to be green instead of white (yes, REALLY)
  • Storming into hashtags like @Auragasmic’s #WhiteWomanPrivilege to sound the NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE KLAXON

Damn. We’re only halfway through January. What’s the rest of the year going to be like?

I thought white feminists had hit critical mass in 2013 with the whole “Miley Cyrus is feminist, stop slut-shaming her! (but really, is Beyonce feminist tho?)” thing, but it seems like they were only getting started. Women of colour are, depending on who you talk to, either too intellectual or not intellectual enough, too outspoken or not outspoken enough, too aloof or too crass, or, y’know, just big ol’ scary bullies. White women have built us up into some kind of collective bogeyman (bogeywoman? bogeyperson?) – a looming monolith of coloured folks who won’t stop whining when they misstep, who won’t sit down and shut up when they start making white folks uncomfortable, who’ve made feminism hostile to women who want to feel like they own it.

Sorry, whiteys. This movement belongs to all of us. Accept that you don’t get to call all the shots or get left behind. I don’t really care which, to be honest – at this point, I could take or leave most of you without shedding a tear. But if you’re going to stay (and really, I’d like for you to stay even though I can’t stand you, since I do support all women), we are going to need to talk about how this is going to work moving forward.

Here are some things you need to stop saying if you want to be a useful part of the feminist movement in 2014 and beyond.

1. “NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE”

Every now and then, a woman of colour will be talking about her experiences when she begins to hear that all-too-familiar wailing sound. That sound is…

…the NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE KLAXON.

I don’t know if you’re aware of this, white folks, but we know full well that not every single white person on the planet has done the thing we’re talking about. You do not need to interrupt us as we share our lived experiences to tell us that you would never act that way, or that none of the women you know would do those things. Maybe that’s the case and maybe it isn’t, but how does that affect the veracity of our stories? Unless you personally know every single white person in the world and can vouch for the fact that not a single one of them has ever done [x], you need to sit the hell down and let us finish talking. We’ll take questions at the end if we feel like it, not before.

Discrediting a WoC’s lived experiences by sounding the NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE KLAXON isn’t just rude and demeaning – it’s downright racist. It derails conversations and re-centres them around white people and their perceptions and experiences. You hate it when men do that to you, so why would you do it to other women?

2. “But what about ME?”

A WoC is sharing her experiences and you just have to jump in and point out that, hey, that happens to white women too, why isn’t she talking about that? Is she…reverse racist?

No, she’s just trying to have a discussion about WoC, and you’re derailing it. Again.

This has happened to me several times in the last two weeks alone. I try to talk about sexual violence against WoC and someone HAS to point out that white women experience sexual violence as well. YES, I KNOW. But I’m talking about the hyper-sexualisation of WoC in particular and why that leads white men to target them disproportionately, not about sexual violence in general (I talk about that all the time, why not join in on those discussions rather than trying to make this one All About You?). Or I’ll bring up the perpetuation of racist stereotypes in the NFL and someone will have to point out that the NFL mistreats white athletes as well. Yes, it does! I’m a huge fan and I’m aware of this! But what does that have to do with the fact that DC’s NFL team has a racist name and mascot and the NFL commissioner refuses to do anything about it and has even supported anti-reform sentiment?

White people, I know this hurts to hear, but NOT EVERYTHING IS ABOUT YOU. We have discussions about white people’s problems all the goddamn time. We will have more discussions about them tomorrow. We will have even more discussions about them the day after that. For now, I’m trying to talk about something that disproportionately affects PoC and WoC in particular. You’ll get your turn in the spotlight. Why must you begrudge us ours?

3. “Why does it have to be a race thing?”

Short answer: because it is a race thing.

Long answer: because it is a race thing, and questions like this are why it’s become a race thing in the first place.

The other day, I tried to have a discussion about the exotification and fetishisation of non-white women, particularly their skin and hair. We’re often described in ways that specifically otherise and exoticise us, and this is both uncomfortable and dehumanising. It took about ten minutes for a white woman I have never so much as spoken a word to in my life to chime in with, “but all women are exoticised, why is this about race?”

Really? I mean, REALLY?

Yes, all women are objectified and subject to the male gaze. Women of colour are objectified in a particular way – by being treated as exotic objects, like museum exhibits you can fuck (before you go settle down with a white girl, because everyone knows we brown and black girls are just too wild and untameable, right?). That was the discussion I was having. Again, I talk about how women in general are objectified all the time. Why not join in on those conversations? Why do you feel the need to make this one about you?

(Bonus lulz points: when called on this, the woman in question claimed she’d been “branded a racist” and that we “all wanted her to die”. Well, no, but if you’re offering…)

The reason we “make things about race” is that they’re about race. It really is that simple. Maybe you don’t see that because it’s not something that affects you personally, but that doesn’t make it any less true. And when you challenge us on that – when you claim we’re “playing the race card” or “reading into it too much”, you’re invalidating our lived experiences and silencing us. End of.

4. “Why do you have to be so mean?”

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

This is just playing into cheap racial stereotypes. Angry Black Woman. Scary Brown Lady. Neurotic Asian. Sassy Latina. Backwards Muslim. By our powers combined, we’re the Intersectional Bully Squad!

This is one of the most down-low and dirty ways white women try to silence us, and it has to stop.

A woman of colour calling you on your shit is not being mean. She’s calling you out, the same way you call men out for slut-shaming or street harassment or rape jokes. We are trying to help you. We want feminism to be all-inclusive and welcoming and we’re doing our best to get you to play ball because the truth is, we know we work better together than we do when we’re at odds. But just because we understand the value of solidarity doesn’t mean we’re going to let you walk all over us. If you’re going to silence any criticism by calling it bullying, don’t expect to be respectfully engaged and coddled in return. We get enough people trying to silence us. We don’t need to deal with your shit too.

5. “You’re being so divisive.”

Let me take a few deep breaths before I tackle this one. Bear with me. Give me a moment…

…And I’m back. Still mad, but coherent. (I hope.) Let’s do this.

When a white woman talks about her experiences, that’s feminism. When a black woman talks about her differing experiences, that’s divisive. What’s wrong with this picture?

This continues to be white feminism’s go-to silencing technique when nothing else works. Tried calling them bullies? Tried making the conversation all about yourself? Tried sounding the klaxon? When all else fails, accuse them of being divisive and paint yourself as someone trying to save the movement from falling in on itself. That’ll do it.

Thing is, we’re not trying to divide. We’re trying to unite. We’re trying to make feminism bigger, better, broader and more open. We’re trying to make it about ALL women, not just the ones who can afford fancy suits for their TED talks and TV appearances and book signings. That solidarity y’all love talking about? We are trying to make that happen. We are bringing in women who are too poor for academia, too brash to be palatable to those upholding the status quo, too far away from support, too different to be noticed. We are taking the platforms we have – platforms we’ve fought for, by the way, because we sure as hell didn’t get given this space without having to fight tooth and nail for it – and sharing the mic with women who wouldn’t get a chance to say their piece otherwise. We are doing what feminism is meant to be doing. We are using our voices and helping other women use theirs.

That isn’t division. Look the damn word up in the dictionary. What we’re doing? That’s solidarity, the real thing. No lip-service, just putting our money where our mouths are.

What are you so scared of, white feminists? Are you honestly so addicted to power and control that it scares you when a woman who isn’t just like you has something to say and says it? Do you want us to have to beg your permission before speaking? Because that sure as hell ain’t going to happen, not any more. We do not need your permission. We have our own voices, our own platforms, and you’re damn right we’re going to use them, because this is as much our movement as it is yours, and we will keep reminding you of that until you finally take it to heart.

I do not want a feminism without white women. I want a feminism that has space for every woman, regardless of skin colour, sexuality, gender, profession, wealth, education or health status. I want a feminism where black women and native women and disabled women and trans women and sex workers and non-binary people and queer women and poor women are sharing centre stage with white, rich, cis, able-bodied, straight, educated women, because they all deserve a slice of the pie. I want a feminism where we all get our time in the spotlight. If you don’t want that, that’s divisive. Being inclusive and welcoming isn’t.

I am one brown girl with several mental illnesses and a hot temper. I don’t want this mic to myself. All I’m asking for – all any intersectional feminist is asking for – is the chance to share the mic around. Not just with us – with all women, no matter who or where they are, no matter what they do for a living, no matter whether or not they know the “right” words to express the way they feel. That’s all we want.

If you think that’s too much to ask, I have to ask you – what the fuck is the point of your feminism, anyway?

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32 thoughts on “Dear white people: STOP TALKING. (Just for a second. Please?)

  1. ‘We do not need your permission. We have our own voices, our own platforms, and you’re damn right we’re going to use them, because this is as much our movement as it is yours, and we will keep reminding you of that until you finally take it to heart’ BRAVO. Spot on!

  2. Well feminism in inherently bigoted. Who do you think has more privilege? A white woman or a black man? That doesn’t exist with you folks does it? It’s always the man who’s the enemy. It’s never really about class.

    Reality:
    1. Class
    2. Race
    3. Gender

    Feminist Reality
    1. Gender
    2. Gender
    3. Race but only when there’s no Miley Cirus around.

  3. “Maybe you don’t see that because it’s not something that affects you personally.”

    This. It’s called privilege. It’s frustrating for me (as a white woman) to point out sexism or misogyny to male acquaintances & they claim they’ve never seen it. Why would women (who claim to be feminists) use this exact same invalidation technique on WoC? Why?

    FWIW, I’m sorry that some of us can’t seem to shut up & hand over the mic. I’m sorry some of us continue to invalidate and abuse you.

    I’m so, so sorry.

    • ^^^ what Koko said.

      I remember seeing a post on Tumblr that summed this up pretty well, I can’t remember the exact wording but it was about finding yourself thinking Oh God, white people, when you are actually white. (Say, for example, every time Rush Limbaugh opens his mouth…)

      Have had some interesting conversations with (white) racists where if you’re a white person, well, you clearly don’t know what you’re talking about, because you’ve not experienced racism, but if you’re a POC, then you’re prejudiced and not in a position to contribute. I don’t know how folks like that actually manage to function day to day, because even trying to wrap my head around that kind of doublethink from the outside is so damn tiring :-/

      In conclusion: I’m sorry. I hope we are doing better.

      • I think my husband has the former experience, though it’s usually, “why do YOU care so much about racism? Is it because you married a brown girl?” I guess they don’t understand why he would willingly attempt to break down a system that favours him so much. I know people say the same thing to him about feminism. “Why do you care so much about women’s rights, anyway? I bet your wife just has you really whipped.” Because men can’t care about other people unless they’re being forced to, apparently.

  4. “(and also, when did white people ever see a thing created by black people that they didn’t want to steal and make their own?)”
    I’m glad we have *you* fighting for change against racism. *Ahem* I mean racial prejudice. *Ahem* I mean you’re practically stormfront upside down.

      • How do you know those tears are white? You don’t need to be white in order to be uncomfortable about generalizations.

        You don’t need to be white in order to feel uncomfortable around people who use terms such as “whitey”, the same way you don’t have to be gay in order to feel uncomfortable around people who use terms such as “fag”.
        ^
        (That was just an example, please don’t rip me a new one, it’s not my intention to accuse anyone of homophobia. Or anything, really. I just intended to say, the fact that your rights and voice have been and still are grossly abused does not give you the right to call people names)

        • “Stormfront upside-down” was a pretty good hint.

          And the difference between “whitey” and “fag” (and don’t EVER use the latter in my comments again) is that the latter is a slur but the former isn’t.

        • “The latter is a slur but the former isn’t”
          Well, Wikipedia includes it in its list of ethnic slurs, but I guess that may not count for you if you don’t consider Wikipedia a valid source, which is of course totally valid.
          It’s true “whitey” doesn’t carry the baggage other slurs do, but in mi humble opinion any word used with the purpose of making someone feel bad for something that is not their fault counts as a slur (“an insulting or disparaging remark or innuendo”, according to Merriam-Webster).
          If you were using “whitey” as an affectionate term, maybe it would be a good idea to tell the readers, so nobody makes the silly mistake of feeling unduly insulted by it.
          Then again, the tone of your post didn’t give me the impression you were using it as an endearment.

          PS: I realize “whitey” is nowadays pretty uncommon as an insult (see http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=261066, for example). That doesn’t mean calling people names (whatever people, whatever names) is conductive to anything useful.
          PPS: If I offended you, or anyone, by citing that other slur earlier, I apologize. I intended only to use it as an example.
          PPPS: As you didn’t seem to consider “whitey” a slur, I hope you’re not offended by my using it so repeatedly now. If you’re, I apoligize for that as well.

  5. “Sorry, whiteys”
    My mind is closed upon the opinion that anyone who uses the word “whitey” or indeed “browney” or any other kind of -”ey” is a racist and I wont give them a microphone.
    “also, when did white people ever see a thing created by black people that they didn’t want to steal and make their own?”
    Have you eaten any Jamaican food?
    “I am one brown girl with several mental illnesses and a hot temper. I don’t want this mic to myself. All I’m asking for – all any intersectional feminist is asking for – is the chance to share the mic around. ”
    I’m a sane white man and I’m telling you for free no one shares the mike without you having to prise it from their fingers because (as Robert Bolt once observed) “a man can do whatever he wants, but he cannot want whatever he wants”. This is why Intersectionality is doomed to failure.
    If you want the mike you need to think of a better way to take it. Anyway you can fill the internet with as much nonsense as you like – where is this magic platform that you imagine other people have that you dont? I mean where is it? What is it? How is it? Perhaps what’s stopping you being heard is not what you say but how you say it.
    “Yes, all women are objectified and subject to the male gaze. Women of colour are objectified in a particular way – by being treated as exotic objects, like museum exhibits you can fuck (before you go settle down with a white girl, because everyone knows we brown and black girls are just too wild and untameable, right?). That was the discussion I was having. Again, I talk about how women in general are objectified all the time. Why not join in on those conversations? Why do you feel the need to make this one about you?”
    Because obviously any white man with black woman in a long term relationship is undermining this narrative just by existing. In short : that statement it is about me. But however many generalisations you make no one should take them personally because the end justifies the means. Very Marxist. But extreme socialism and strong ideas of racial identity dont seem to go well together historically. So…
    Why shouldn’t I take your hard left narrative as personal criticism?
    Have you got me muddled up with Boris Pasternak? Ironic isn’t it? You want people to “join in on those conversations” but not if they disagree with you? Sorry but the racism of your generalisations about white men glints through your prose like rotten wood. And even if it is some form of justifiable anger (if you believe just anger can excuse racism which … I’m not sure I do)…. nothing’s actually changing, is it? You’re not closing the wealth gap, you’re not reducing the black unemployment stats, you’re not… but maybe that isn’t the point.

  6. Interesting points – I just discovered your blog.
    Is it strange that, as a ‘whitey’ I completely identified with this post, being the only cauasian/white girl inside of a mediterranean/cocoa culture..?

    • In my opinion, it’s not that strange, as inside any given group with power there will always be pressure against “the odd one out”. I think that race, religion, gender, class, or any other characteristic which defines you in some way can become just another convenient platform upon which to write “oddness” in order to leave people out. Human beings are weird :^/

  7. You slightly terrify me, and I feel so much worry and anxiety and guilt when I read this because I’m carefully trying to think of times when I might have stupidly done something like dismiss the lived experience of a WoC, or do whatever the ‘white’ version of ‘mansplaining’ is. I’m getting better at reading this stuff without flinching. And it really made me think. I think I’ll have to re-visit it a few times to really absorb it.

    But btw, you are a total badass — keep fighting the good fight (I have no doubt you will anyway).

    And I completely agree RE intersectionality and the hypocrisy of a white, middle-class women-only version of feminism. I think that’s divisive, not what you’re doing. I mean, I love the academic side of feminism, but it HAS to be informed by the real world and the experiences of many different women from different perspectives, which isn’t always particularly academic, or well-publicised or eloquently expressed. Real women’s problems are often terrible, pointless crap that they were made to go through, and we need to give them *at least* as much time as the academic psychoanalytical abstract stuff, regardless of who they are. And feminism is important, but every kind of prejudice will always only be made worse when it intersects with another kind of prejudice, so …?? I feel it’s sort of obvious that we should care about this, if we claim to care about women, and not just ourselves.

    OK, I’ll stop now. Sorry. I just wanted to be able to talk to you. You seem scary, but in a really cool, eloquent, kick-ass way. I think feminism needs a bit more scary.

    • We generally call it “whitesplaining”, and yeah, it gets really old really fast.

      I don’t think I’m particularly scary unless I get angry. I just get angry a lot. I think the natural response to injustice is anger.

  8. you white people are the root to one word globally and that is –PROBLEM–globally you —problems-are colonials and don’t belong on non white lands whites are illegal in America since 1492 we should have a decolonization referendum and send back white invaders to Europe and cancel all citizenships as they were made by invaders ILLEGALLY

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  10. I really appreciated reading this. As a white female, I’ve just started to understand how disguised my privilege can be at times. I have to admit, it’s not pleasant facing the fact that much of what you said is true.
    As a note to any white women reading this who are feeling a little offended, this piece came off “harsh” to me too, and it’s hard to come around to admitting that the “harsh”ness we’re reading, is partly because it’s warranted (we won’t get the full message otherwise), and is also largely in part because of those “angry black women” stereotypes mentioned.
    As white people, we’re socialized to believe those stereotypes sub-consciously, while simultaneously, on a conscious level, believing that we have total control over our thoughts/judgement/sterotypes. Obviously both cannot be true, and it takes some serious honesty, research, and self-examination to realize how in control of your mind you are not.
    In an ideal world, it wouldn’t have to be about race like one of the things that was mentioned that we need to stop saying above, but the problem with that is the fact that we’ve allowed racial issues to shape our nation so much, that not recognizing race now, naturally puts non-white people at a disadvantage and de-humanizes them in almost every way, but we all just get to pretend that we just leveled the playing field somehow and feel good about that.
    It may hurt to know you can be so hurtful without meaning to be, but it’s an issue that needs to be confronted if we ever want to see true equality come to fruition for all I think.

  11. I’d never heard of this. I’m a Pakeha (white person) come from New Zealand, but I’ll try to bear it in mind. I’d like to know though; Muslim clothing is demeaning because of what’s behind it, that the woman has to dress a certain way to prevent the lust of men. That’s what’s behind them covering their faces. Some may claim to do it for different reasons (ie culture), but the Koran commands women to cover their faces so that they won’t tempt men to sin. I have a question for you; if a certain cultural practice is meant to be demeaning to women, and they know it to be so, should it be disregarded or should it be embraced to take away the “slut-shaming” aspect? Like the burqua, for instance, or even the hijab. Please research this subject; you’ll find that’s what’s behind it.

    That being said, I’d like to add that I will be happy to bear your post in mind. I might even read it over and over again. I’m sorry for what non-whites have been through.

    I appreciate your post. PLEASE KEEP TELLING US ABOUT WHAT PEOPLE OF NON-WHITE COLOUR GO THROUGH; WE NEED TO KNOW.

    Regards,
    A person who cares for people

    • Did you just ask me to research the rationale behind one of my own cultural practices? Really? Really?

      Did you know that hijab applies to men as well as women, and that it’s just as imperative on men to avert their gaze from women to prevent lustful thoughts as it is for women to cover themselves (even more so, in fact)? Did you know that men have an obligation to dress modestly as well, especially during prayer? Did you know that in Islam, a man who stares lustfully at a woman, no matter what she’s wearing, is committing a sin?

      Please educate yourself before you tell me to learn about my own religion, which I’ve been studying since the age of five. Bye.

  12. As a “white” feminist I found this article really amazing / interesting and has helped ‘open my eyes’ if you like, so thank you! On another hand, I wanted to actually ask a question. In relation to religions such as Islam, I find it very difficult to understand how feminism fits. I’m often told by people (mostly “white”) that it is an oppressive religion which forces women into wearing the hijab. Then I’m told in a studies of religion class that the hijab, for example, is not actually ‘required’ or mentioned as necessity in the Qu’ran, and that inherent sexism is actually much more of an underlying societal issue rather than a religious one. Then, I read feminist blogs who find empowerment in wearing the hijab. I just don’t really know what to think!!
    Thought it might be interesting to hear your thoughts, seeing as you are definitely more educated on the subject!

    • Gracie, I wrote about this topic in my post “Muslim, queer, feminist”. You can find it by searching my blog. If you have any other questions, shoot me an email and I’ll answer as best I can. Thanks for reading!

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  14. As a cisgendered feminist/ egalitarian who happens to be white, I truly apologize for certain white feminists and other whites not being sensitive to what people may experience different from them . Being a cisgendered white woman in a middle class family , I’m aware of other privileges I have that others don’t . I do have a non-verbal LD (which has some physical aspects )and there are some medical conditions I have not related to it, so there are other privileges people have that I don’t . However there are privileges I am lucky to have that other people with disabilities or less able -bodied than me sadly do not have

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