It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.- Audre Lorde
Over the last few days, I have read a few articles in the media rightly congratulating the brilliance of Beyonce's new album but also bizarrely claiming it is somehow a slap in the face to 'white feminism'. While it may be true that certain female writers or journalists (including women of colour) may have said things that challenge Beyonce's stance and influence on certain women's issues, such voices by no means speak for all women, including white women. However, what is clear from these Beyonce articles is that the women writing them appear to claim that such voices do speak on behalf of white feminism (whatever that phrase means) and even more bizarrely all white women. Yet since when did all white feminists (or women) claim that being married, a mother, sexually assertive etc was not acceptable or feminist? Certainly not any feminism that I, or many others, would sign up to. Mikki Kendall, who has also gained renown for the dreadful Twitter campaign #solidarityisforwhitewomen, is particularly guilty of such 'white women bashing'. Kendall's article about Beyonce's album not only does all of the above but appears to also suggest that 'white feminism' is anti-man. Yeah, right.
As a white woman there can be no doubt that I do enjoy the privilege of being white and need to be aware of how that privilege operates and differentiates my experience from women of colour. However to ignore the many different intersections of 'whiteness' such as language, culture, class, education, sexuality, religion and so on is to literally 'whitewash' me and all other white women to a flesh colour. The irony of doing that is the whole point of post-colonial theory was to expose such non-inclusiveness and encourage people to recognise and celebrate their differences not to suggest white feminism is a 'one size fits all' for white women either.
Sadly, this is not the first time I have come across such a 'white women bashing' message from women in the media. Last year, the Feminist Wire collective published an article I wrote on the burqa and hijab in the wake of the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin: 'To Be Anti-Racist Is To Be Feminist: The Hoodie and the Hijab Are Not Equals'. The FW collective then backtracked after a backlash from their readership and after publishing a letter signed by over 80 feminists denouncing it. I subsequently published a follow up to the article 'When Anti-Racism becomes Anti-Woman'. I and other women who tried to defend the article online (including women of colour from Third World countries) were attacked as either white imperialist racists or suffering from false consciousness. The clear message was that if you're white you cannot criticise anything that is done or said by non-white people unless it follows a certain kind of left liberal 'post-colonial' strain of thought. In any case, white women cannot win on this issue. As Swati Parahsar stated in 'Where are the feminists to defend Indian women?' if white women do not speak up about the oppression of women of colour they are accused of white indifference, if they do they are accused of white imperialism. We're damned if we do damned if we don't.
The British satirical publication, The Daily Mash, satirised this distortion of the post-colonial message stating that:
According to the Guardian's Guide to Privilege Checking, the concept is the latest funky, hi-tech way to shut down opinions you dislike without making it too obvious that is exactly what you are up to.
On a more serious note, to 'blacken' the name of the work and efforts of white women in the feminist movement and to portray them as the 'enemy' of women of colour is a great disservice not only to white women but also to women in general. In addition, it only serves to further divide women and empower patriarchy and misogyny. Seeing women blame each other for issues related to patriarchy is tragic. It is no accident that right-wing, religious, misogynist patriarchs are all too happy to recite post-colonial theory and cultural relativism to justify and perpetuate their power and cultural practices that restrict and oppress women of all colours races and cultures. Maryam Namazie, an Iranian ex-Muslim feminist, puts it well:
This is precisely what is wrong with multiculturalism. It gives precedence to cultures and religion rather than people and their rights and lives. And it says that human beings - depending on how they are pigeon-holed - are fundamentally different, and should be treated as such. The idea of difference has always been the fundamental principle of a racist agenda not the other way around.
So I propose a new hashtag campaign for women (and men) tired of the misguided cultural relativism called #stopblamingwhitewomenweneedunity. It is not acceptable anymore to ignore white privilege and intersectionality in feminist discourse but at the same time let's stop blaming white women for issues that clearly effect them too. Issues such as marriage, physical safety and autonomy, access to good family planning and health care, pregnancy, abortion, rape, domestic violence, slut shaming, denial of opportunities in work and education and so on still effect women across all cultures, races and nations (albeit in differing ways). If we allow race and 'culture' to divide rather than unite women then the patriarchs have won. On the other hand, women united can never be divided.