This past week, something extraordinary has been happening on Twitter: women of every colour and creed from the world over have gathered on a digital battlefield and, under the banner of a small blue bird and with cries of #solidarityisforwhitewomen!, have charged forth, wielding their 140-characters for one purpose only: to vent their frustrations over modern day feminism's exclusion of those of us who don't have the face, figure or colour to fit into the mould of a white, middle-class, white-collar woman with something to say about women's rights.
The hashtag, created by blogger Mikki Kendall, has clearly struck a growing and restless chord - even in some of the very women whom we, from the other side of that white picket fence, would perceive to be epitomes of that same mould. The New York Times' cover "The New Shades of Feminism" highlighted by a Tweeter and showcasing four white girls from popular show "Girls" (apparently there was no pun intended), is a neat summation of what a lot of feminists from ethnic minority backgrounds feel: that when it comes to being a feminist of a different race and/or - as in my case - religion, and despite us hurtling towards the 2020's, you'd be hard pressed to find a single voice or face whom you would feel comfortable with speaking out on behalf of the women you so desperately want to see represented - let alone be recognised as a fellow feminist and treated as one. As I remarked to a friend in response to this week's article about the triple discriminations Muslim women face in the workplace, if I had a pound for every time I'd been looked past, blanked, condescended to, patronised , spoken down to, ignored or looked at with hesitation / suspicion / in sheer dumb-struck confusion - not by men, but at roomfuls of women at the very women's rights conferences, meetings and demo's I'd expected to feel at home at...well, I'd have a few extra thousand pounds in the bank.
It was in fact because of this growing awareness of a subtle, yet ceaseless potent exclusion of voices that I could relate to in mainstream feminist groups, that I went about setting up my own non-exclusive women's rights movement, Making Herstory. Created as much for my own benefit as much as for anyone else's, it was forged after years of my searching for the 'right space' in which I could take up the mantle of women's rights without being overlooked because of my brown face or the fact I stem of a certain faith. To my eyes, it shouldn't matter whether you're a man or a woman, black, white, brown or spray-tanned, atheist, believe in God or believe in the power of Jedi: if you feel as I do that there are far too many women suffering injustices out there and want to do something about it, you should be able to - without being made to feel suspect for things you can't help (i.e. the colour of your skin or where your parents come from) or things you can control but is no-one else's business but your own (i.e. your faith).
That is not to say however, that feminism should be colour-blind. Quite the contrary. As Bonnie Greer points out in the recent Channel 4 news debate on this very question, "Feminism is about human beings - and we aren't colour-blind...this issue has been with us for decades. It's not anything new - what's new is social media".
She is of course, completely right. Feminism has been trying to distance itself from charges of innate racism since it's inception: the figure of the white colonialist, privileged woman speaking on behalf of all women - including the silenced 'other' whose everyday realities she cannot possibly understand or fathom - continues to be the big fat, feared elephant in many a white feminist's living room. The fact is, and will always be, that feminists are composed of different colours, faiths, origins and socio-economic backgrounds - it would be a fallacy to pretend otherwise and internally erroneous for any movement to ignore. But what the thousands of Twitter warriors via #solidarityisforwhitewomen and I are essentially asking is why are we STILL in this stalemate plane of non-acceptance? Why, despite our efforts, endeavours, attempts and struggles to be seen and therefore treated as viable, active feminists, are we still having to battle the all-too debilitating barrier to inclusion that is racism, in what ought to be a global movement for the betterment of women's situations worldwide? Surely, after all this time, all the decades of pained theorising over race and class and what it means to be a 'feminist', we should long ago have been able to welcome those very differences without which we simply cannot inform, take a lead on, or tackle the wider issues at stake with any real impact or longevity.
And it lies in the truly democratic power-to-the-people platforms that social media tools can forge - when used for that benefit. Thanks to these tools, feminism as a global movement stands at a new and exciting frontier: one which will - if allowed - enable it to break through the visible barriers made up of black and white lines and move into a new plane of unified action which can exist without the negation of free and open discourse between feminists of all backgrounds. All that is required by our counterparts in the mainstream organisations to which we look for understanding, is the capacity to be actively UNafraid. Unafraid of new faces showing up at their meetings wanting to add a voice to theirs; unafraid of hashtags or blogs highlighting what is going wrong within the movement and what we can do to set it right. But most of all, unafraid of recognising that within every act of exclusion - no matter how big or small, intended or unintended - lies the mother of all ironies: that racism within feminism replicates some of those very same injustices and barriers against which ALL of us are fighting as 'just women'.
It's time to move on, to take heed of what we need to do to be as inclusive as possible, and prove that we can stand in solidarity to tackle those bigger issues which inspired each of us to become a feminist in the first place. #solidarityforeverywoman #allowittohappen