It’s Time for White Feminists to Stop Talking About Solidarity and Start Acting

I wasn’t always a feminist, let alone one with intersectional awareness and a politicised pride in my Blackness. When I first dove hungrily into feminism, starved as I was of any meaningful understanding of my life, it was the work of radical feminists such as Andrea Dworkin and Germaine Greer that I devoured. I feasted on their anger for it spoke to me deeply but their messages didn’t nourish me. I choked on the poison of their narrow reflections. Where was the representation of my life as a Black, mixed-race lesbian? Where was I to find solace and solidarity and an understanding of my existence and the oppressions unique to my position at the intersection of woman, lesbian and Black?

The feminist community at large currently has a basic understanding of what intersectionality means, in no small part due to the internet and the rise of online feminist activism. However, only those of us who have known the fear of slipping through the cracks can properly articulate the relief that this theory holds. When I was younger and coming to terms with my sexuality I was convinced that I couldn’t be gay. I thought that lesbianism was a white woman’s game. I didn’t know of any Black lesbians; Audre had not yet become my Lorde. Intersectionality gives us the framework to understand the multiplicity of lived experience. It gave me insight into why my womanhood felt so different from that of my white friends and allowed me to understand the implications of being the Other on a structural level. I was able to understand that maybe some of my experiences hadn’t been shaped wholly by my actions but by forces of hierarchy way outside of my control.

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What does it mean to me, a permanently angry brown dyke, when mainstream feminism fights for the right to be ‘sexy’ and unthreatening to men and urges us to quell our fury? It persuades us to be passive, pale dolls and to dress our struggle for liberation in quiet positivity, suspenders and sex tips. Black women, such as myself, don’t have the luxury of the pacifism and politeness found in today’s white feminism. We must use violence, both physically and in the vehemence of our words, because we are more desperate.

This study, referenced in a previous Autostraddle article about compulsory heterosexuality and street harassment, shows that people of colour are over 10% more likely to face physical harassment in public than white citizens. This is true of my experiences. As I waited in line at a shop the other day, the man in front of me turned around and started talking to me. When I didn’t respond in a suitably enthusiastic manner, he reached out and grabbed my breast without shame. I hit his hand away, seething with rage at his audacity. Other examples include the numerous times men at my local LGBT club have grabbed my ass, my afro, my waist, which forced me to get into physical altercations to get them off me, to defend myself from the fear that creeps in when a stranger violates the bounds of my personal space.

White feminist acquaintances have been quick to admonish me for resorting to violence, even after seeing the marks left on my body by men and hearing about the way I have been repeatedly targeted. A white friend told me she noticed that when she comes out with me and my other women of colour friends, we face more aggressive and sexual harassment than that of her white friends. Pacifism comes from a place of privilege, as Veena Cabreros-Sud says in my all-time favourite feminist quote:

“Most white feminists look at me disdainfully when I recount some of my choice violent moments. They are appalled, morally repelled by this unbecoming behavior. One even giggled, holding her breastbone ever so lightly and saying she’s not the violent type, blah blah blah. The messages are, 1.) I’m educated and you’re not, 2.) I’m upper class and you’re not, 3.) I’m a feminist and you’re not (since her brand of feminism is equated with nonviolent moon-to-uterus symbiosis). My “men” can do the fighting, but I, gentle maiden, shan’t; the new feminism remaking a generation in the image of the suburban, wealthy, sophisticated, genetically genteel. No one protected me when a loved one cracked my head on a public street one night, not even the college educated Upper West Side white women strolling by pretending not to notice. I don’t like getting hit either, but what are you gonna do when someone grabs your tits? Meekly whisper you won’t stoop to your attacker’s level? And what level is that exactly? If that’s the way “women” react, how do we classify the elderly Filipinas on a subway train who, when Joe Dickwad grabbed my ass, congratulated me for whacking him as hard as I could, screaming obscenities, and chasing him — to his utter shock and dismay — through the station? They were the few who seemed to acknowledge, respect, and allow for “aggressive” forms of resistance instead of strapping on moral straightjackets for the nineties which we “women” must squeeze into. If that’s a woman, I’m not one. I am an animal who eats, sleeps, fucks, and fights voraciously – I assume a “good” woman does it gently and in the missionary position only.”

bell hooks recently called Beyoncé a ‘terrorist’, which highlights the power that Black women must put behind their words in order for people to listen. If bell had given her critique of Queen Bey in less explosive terms, would anyone have cared? Whilst I don’t agree with hooks’ assertion about Mrs. Carter-Knowles, and I balk at Black women turning their violent words against fellow Black women, I accept the urgency behind what she is saying. She fears for the Black girls of the world, precarious as their situations are, and she was doing her best to make her concerns known in a world that routinely ignores Black women.

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We have less to lose and more to gain than white women. We are more likely to be unemployed, are more likely to go to prison, and struggle to see truthful reflections of ourselves on screen and in print. If we soothe men with one hand and fix our hair with the other, like popular exclusionary feminism tells us to, then which fist is left to smash the system that chokes us? There is no room in the language of liberal feminism and its conservatism for the blood and bile that is spilt from those of us who stray from the normative. In fact we, as brown women, as angry women, as women loving women are admonished by our smoother, safer, softer sisters for holding the fight back with the suffocating scent of our lavender menace and the stings of our fists.

White, rich, straight, cisgender women such as the writers at The Vagenda and Jezebel as well as celebrities such as Lena Dunham and Lily Allen control the mainstream feminist discourse (even whilst shirking the feminist label in the case of the latter) and form the wider public opinion on our movement, as they are afforded the coverage to bring their ideas to the masses. Rhiannon Lucy Coslett and Holly Baxter of The Vagenda have half the talent and insight of Trudy of Gradient Lair, yet it is they who have recently had a major book published and regular columns in The Guardian and the New Statesman. The aforementioned white women don’t use their privileged platform to uplift the sisters below them. Instead they dig their heels into our shoulders, stride across the bridges we call our backs, without so much as a glance down. They ignore women of colours’ righteous fury at the double bind we face under white supremacist patriarchy like discussing acts of sexism against Iggy Azalea without acknowledging her known racism and homophobia. This says to minoritised women that they and their feelings don’t matter. Why should such heinous things be brought up when Iggy’s white womanhood has been victim to the kind of sexism that brown women face every single day, without the luxury of a sparkling pop career?

Time and time again we see white feminists such as Caitlin Moran and Julie Burchill enact their brand of selfish individualistic feminism upon us. We see them proclaim that they ‘literally couldn’t give a shit’ about their sisters of colours’ right to media representation, in the case of Moran, whose best-selling book How To Be A Woman repeatedly uses the t slur as well as being cissexist and biologically essentialist throughout. Or see them write odes to racist thought. Burchill’s Damaged Gods talks about the barbarity and backwardness of men of colour, yet she is still hailed as a progressive feminist voice, her views are legitimised  by the prominent platform she is given as the go to outspoken feminist in the English media. A position she has held for decades despite publishing multiple transphobic tirades, most notably a horrifically transmisogynistic piece in the Observer in 2013 which denigrated trans women in ways too vile to repeat.Flavia Dzodan, Latina feminist and originator of the oft-quoted line, “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit!”, wrote an entire article about the numerous high profile white feminists (such as Sarah Ditum, noted Guardian journalist) who have rubbished intersectionality. It describes how they are swathing their discomfort with something not wholly made for them in accusations of complexity and alienation — all in one simple concept about the actuality of our multi-faceted lives?! We can’t stand for this.

To be feminist is to be aware of our interconnected struggle as women, but to also see that not every struggle is our own. Use your voice as a privileged white woman to shout down racism wherever you see it. Be thankful that you will never know the sickening lurch that sways through your blood when your humanity is denounced and denied because of your race by women who profess to care about all women’s liberation. The title feminist is to be taken up by women who have moved beyond a selfish view of one’s relationship to society, an outlook that is nurtured and encouraged by the neo-liberal matrix we find ourselves struggling to survive in. It is difficult to throw off no doubt, but we can and we must. In her speech “The Transformation of Silence Into Language and Action,” Audre Lorde spoke of how she was doing her work to dismantle the binds of this sick sad world and questioned her sisters, ‘…are you doing yours?’

I recently wrote a Facebook status explaining how sick and tired I am of asking white people to stop wearing bindis and fashioning their hair into the mess that they have the audacity to call dreadlocks. Predictably, it didn’t end well. I explained that I can’t abide the blatant and flagrant cultural appropriation of symbols that are dear to people of colour. It’s simply not fair that people of colour’s own cultural markers mark them out as ‘backwards’, ‘unclean’ or ‘unprofessional.’ Meanwhile white people don the same things and are lauded for their (stolen) creativity and uniqueness. White women who have sat by my side in feminist meetings, who I was once proud to call my sisters, rushed to shout me down and accuse me of stirring hatred and racism and it then dissolved into personal attacks on my character. The thing that really struck me was their repeated affirmations that they cared deeply about tackling racism and wanted to work together to end it. Well to them I say: listen the hell up when a woman of colour calls you out! I was literally giving them an easy way to chip a little bit of racism away from the world but their cognitive dissonance is so strong that they can say we will fight racism with one side of their mind whilst perpetuating it with the other. This is how whiteness operates; it is insidious and sly. It lets white women feel that they have the coolness and collectedness of reasoned, dispassionate logic on their side and thus they reign righteous over women of colour’s understandable anger and frustrations. I once made the mistake of falling for a ‘feminist’ white girl who would get angry at me for daring to call out the racism and misogynoir of a mutual male friend, though of course she would never admit that she might hold racist thoughts herself via her tone-policing and what I came to see as her fetishistic view of me and other Black people. This is the reality of our white supremacist society, and by extension the feminism of white women who allow it to permeate them without critical reflection.

Then there are those white women who steal the language Black women have created to articulate our situations. They will declare themselves ‘intersectional feminists,’ and as they take this word as their own, they soften its edges and declare themselves absolved of their whiteness. Stop paying superficial lip service to intersectionality, white feminists. It is insulting and strips the power from one of the most important concepts in the politics of gender liberation. If you can’t take a stand against racism you have no business calling yourself intersectional for feminist brownie points. I can’t listen to a white feminist who coos about her love of bell hooks but dismisses the words of a woman of colour she knows on the subject of race.

When will white feminists take collective responsibility for educating themselves? When will they understand the power at play that sings in their skins? We don’t exist in a vacuum and women of colour don’t exist to hold their hands and explain in painful detail why their behaviour continues to hurt us. Intersectional feminist politics are not for white women to co-opt as their own. It is explicitly a theory that was formed from the mind of a Black woman, Kimberlé Crenshaw, to explain Black women’s situations, as they were ignored by the white-centric feminist movement and simultaneously by the male-centric civil rights movement. I cannot speak for every Black woman, and I would never profess to. We are not a monolith. But I think we ought to stand wary of a white woman who calls herself intersectional. You won’t listen to us and you will exclude us from your movement but you will take the ideas you like?

It is far more impressive and sisterly to me to see white women acting in an intersectional way. I want to see them reach a point where they are critical of the feminist action they take and weed out the racism that seeps through their organising and the feminist media they consume. I want to see white feminists understand why they can’t use racist narratives, such as those that surround the Western view of Muslim women who choose to wear hijab, to fight sexism. They must understand that they are not the default. That white is not synonymous with womanhood. We, as women of colour, are women too. We are their sisters. I long for the day that they call out and collect their fellow white people instead of letting women of colour do it time and time again at the expense of our mental and physical health. That is sisterhood. That is selflessness; and it is precious.

For women of colour intersectional thinking is a reflex to us once we become aware. We can’t stop scouring the crowd for brown faces and we can’t stop thinking about the implications of the word “slut” on our already tainted brown bodies and we can’t stop thinking about how we didn’t know we could be beautiful until we found messages away from the mainstream. White women must stand beside, not in front of us and force themselves to think about who exactly their feminism is fighting for.


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Kesiena Boom is a 20 year old mixed race, lesbian student of sociology living in Brighton, England. She has no time for mansplainers, right wingers and peanut butter but is totally here for sisterhood, critical reflections on sexuality and mango sorbet. She hopes to become a polemical feminist scholar when she grows up. She spends too much time on her tumblr loggingoutofpatriarchy.tumblr.com.

Kesiena has written 2 articles for us.

129 Comments

  1. Thumb up 18

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    The current black women movement that white feminist are taking away is the natural hair movement. Black women/women of colour cannot have a movement specifically for their people without it being co-opted for it to be legitimate in mainstream.

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      That is bullshit (that it’s being co-opted, not that you said that).
      No white woman has ever been told they shouldn’t wear their hair naturally. Why the hell do we (as white women) feel we need to take over everything anyone else does?

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        No white woman has ever been told they shouldn’t wear their hair naturally? Every curly haired girl I knew growing up was expected to straighten their hair (a 2 hour process for many of us) because men like long, flowing locks. Curly hair was frumpy. It showed the world that you don’t respect it enough to be presentable. To simply wear your hair as is proved you weren’t feminine, thus not worthy of male attention, and a target for bullying.

        I was not aware that white women are apparently commandeering the ‘natural hair’ movement, unless you’re referring to the curly girl movement. I grew up thinking my hair made me inherently ugly and was something I had to spend a lot of time trying to hide. I don’t think it’s wrong to try to change that for the younger generations.

        How does recognizing the existence of white problems prevent us from recognizing the existence of colored problems? Why can’t we all just agree that life is hard and treat all problems as they arise? Why are my problems automatically worth less than someone else’s problems for such superficial reasons as color? Some people have it harder than I do, true, but why does everyone feel the need to point that out? My problems are still problems. I will never understand this petty privilege scale, and I don’t think equality will ever happen so long as we are arguing whether women or men or minority races or LGBTQ have it worse than anyone else. Putting minorities above everyone else only pushes everyone else to the bottom, and you can’t lift yourself up by pushing others down.

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    In my experience, when you start to feel defensive (and that’s what really happens to white feminists when challenged, though this applies to the general case), you should:

    1. Stop talking/typing and listen.
    2. Assume good will on the part of the other person.
    3. Assume that you don’t have the context this comes from.

    It’s okay at that point to admit that you’re taken aback, and ask for what it is you’re missing. But also:

    4. The other person controls when the conversation ends. Educating you is not their job. (Think of all the times men have asked you to explain why you are a feminist!)

    And most of the time, at least for me, I have to let it go. If I’m very lucky the lightbulb goes off and I get where it’s coming from. These are so awesome, so worth it, it’s like a permanent level up as a human being. But sometimes, where I’m coming from is too far away and it’s going to be another day, if ever, when I understand it. This doesn’t mean I’m right and they’re wrong (though that’s probably it for some of them), it just means that today I shrug and say, “I can’t get there from here, sorry.”

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      I think this advice is valid, but I think we need to take a serious look at the idea that white feminists respond with racism out of “defensiveness.” It promotes this idea that in some other, safer space, or if they simply had more time to think about what’s being said to them, they might respond better. I think it’s time to really start to consider that when white feminists act racist, it’s because they are racist – that is, because they specifically want to maintain their ties to the white power structure.

      Plenty of white feminists are fighting to get the things that white, middle-class men have, without thinking or without caring how those men maintain that privilege. To individualize this defensiveness, to make it about the poor social skills or poor analysis of the individual woman being called out, is to deny that some white feminists have aligned themselves with white patriarchy. They support the white power structure by selling out non-white women (or any other women that the white power structure doesn’t want), and in exchange, they are given access to the perks of being a white man. These are the feminists who are upset about wages but not about racist/classist sentencing laws, who applaud the “diverse” bodies in their Dove commercials or whatever, but can’t handle seeing a woman get down and defend herself. They’re not defensive, they’re racists.

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    Wow that’s a powerful article! Awesome awesome awesome. I’m blown away by it, not only because of its incredible content, but by the writing, it reads like a manifesto, like a poem, as if it should be performed.

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        And… I recognise myself in all the awful things you write about white women. I try not to be that person, but I am. I’m aware of it and read listen read listen read listen as much as I can to educate myself. And reading you is insanely educational. Again, because of content, but also because the words, poem, song are so. damn. powerful! The power of your writing has really made me think and will make me act (I’m going to write to my friends who practice yoga for starters). You hope to become a polemical feminist scholar?? You ARE a polemical feminist scholar. You’re way ahead of the game.

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    “I long for the day that they call out and collect their fellow white people instead of letting women of colour do it time and time again at the expense of our mental and physical health. That is sisterhood. That is selflessness; and it is precious.”

    yes, a million times over, yes.
    handle your people. we shouldn’t be the only ones with eyes and ears for all of this shit.
    we can have all the closed/sacred QPOC spaces in the world but if our white “allies” aren’t having meetings to breakdown their own racism and quiet acquiescence to the racism in their groups and meet them head on, if they’re not ready to fight when it’s scary, when we’re not there to coach them along, then what is the fucking point?

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    Oh my god I’m so glad this was posted here. I agree with everything that’s been said! I didn’t realise that the nonviolence thing was so white-central, but now that I’m thinking about it, it totally makes sense. Most of my friends are white feminists, and while they’re usually pretty respectful, I think this is something we should all read, and I’ll definitely share it on fb. The whole “oh we shouldn’t fight back” “turn the other cheek” bullshit is so fucking dangerous and insidious, and I definitely used to feel that way. It’s only been fairly recently that I’ve actually allowed myself to be angry and feel that nonviolence is NOT REALLY VERY USEFUL a lot of the time and yes I DO have the right to take care of myself and fucking fight back if necessary, and so do others! My younger cousin is very much of the nonviolent, everyone-has-the-right-to-their-own-opinion, we-should-love-those-who-hate-us ilk and it DRIVES ME INSANE. But yes, yes to all of this!!!

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      I agree with you, and I have also been guilty of adopting the “turn the other cheek” motto for a long time. It took me a while to realise that this is exactly what women are usually taught to do and how insidious it is, as you put it. “Be patient, be kind, be thoughtful, be tolerant, and ignore the agressors”.

      “Hello? It’s the 50s calling. We want our reductive definition of feminity back.”

      We can do this, together. We can learn to be rightfully angry, so things can move forward. :)

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    Eeeeee! A name and face I recognise published on Autostraddle!

    “It is far more impressive and sisterly to me to see white women acting in an intersectional way. I want to see them reach a point where they are critical of the feminist action they take and weed out the racism that seeps through their organising and the feminist media they consume.”

    Listen, if I had a pound for everytime a white woman labelled herself an intersectional feminist only to say/act in a way that was the exact opposite of being intersectional, I’d have enough money to sit on a island where I wouldn’t have to deal with these so called “intersectional feminist”. You’re not intersectional just because you say you are, like it does’t work that way. Show me your intersectionality, don’t just tell me about.

    This is everything, seriously. Remind me to give you a hug when I see you next.

  7. Thumb up 18

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    Your opening line is my whole story. I wasn’t always a feminist. I’m guilty of everything, from slut-shaming other girls in my high school days, to claiming that the womens rights movement was hurting traditionnal values, like choosing to be a stay-at-home mom. I come from a family where the word “feminist” was never used without “angry” as a a prefix. The path towards the light was long, bumpy, and scary. Scary, because it involved acknowledging how wrong I had always been, and basically starting all over.

    I’m getting there. I want to call myself intersectionnal, but I realise that the word isn’t worth a dime if I’m not also acting. There aren’t many opportunities for me to stand up for women of color on a day to day life where I’m surrounded by white friends, my white family, and white culture. And I also realise that I’m not failproof either, and that I have to fight back against years of “learned racism.” I find that being aware of my own racism is the most important action I can take. I have to unlearn, I want to do it on my own, and I don’t need or expect free cookies for it.

    I wrote a Facebook status earlier this year, saluting Lupita Nyong’o’s speech, and wishing for more movies staring women of color. A few white men casually replied, saying they “didn’t think the movies would be so much better with black women in them” and that there was “probably an actual reason more black women didn’t get important roles”. I was flabbergasted.

    As a white woman, I have no idea what racism feels like. I am well aware of its existence, but that Facebook incident was like a first row seat to a tragedy I can’t even begin to dissect and understand properly… I told the guys off, I told them how little girls with dark skin needed role models too, but it felt like it wasn’t enough. My reply wasn’t good enough. It was the best of reminders that I need, that we all need to keep fighting for an inclusive feminism.

    Thank you so much. xx

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    I love this article! I’m a light skinned latina and as such I pass as white a lot, and the things feminists will say when they think there are no people of color in the room astound me. And their outright confusion on why I’m calling them out is almost as bad. “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit” was probably the single most formative thing for my feminism I’ve ever read. Thank you for writing this!

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      As a mixed race woman who often passes for white, I totally feel you on what people say around you when they think you’re white. And then when I explain that I’m Middle Eastern and Native, I get “Oh I see it now”.

      *However, I do understand that I carry tons of privilege for this as well though.

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      It depends. I did two years of undergrad and when I told people I was hispanic in college I got, “don’t worry, I couldn’t tell!” Or “but you’re not like, ‘hispanic’ hispanic, right? Just a little?” Inevitably, when white women’s studies majors said those things and I called them on it, they were offended I was rejecting their colorblind compliment. It burned me out on academic feminism fast.

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        I know what you mean! I am also light-skinned (my dad is Mexican, my mom is White and Native) and when I was going to Evergreen State College, I was often confused for Asian, specifically Japanese. When people found out I was actually Mexican, the reactions were noticeably and overwhelmingly obvious disappointment. Since moving to Seattle, I am told often that I “look white” and I don’t look like “most Mexicans.”

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    “This is how whiteness operates; it is insidious and sly. It lets white women feel that they have the coolness and collectedness of reasoned, dispassionate logic on their side and thus they reign righteous over women of colour’s understandable anger and frustrations. ”

    YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
    Passion does not equal unknowledgeable for fucks sake.

  10. Thumb up 7

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    This article is so much yes.

    This part in particular for me: “I recently wrote a Facebook status explaining how sick and tired I am of asking white people to stop wearing bindis and fashioning their hair into the mess that they have the audacity to call dreadlocks.”

    Because as a mixed-race queer, having spent a good portion of my life navigating my own blackness, trying to figure out if these sorts of things were things that I was “entitled to”… it’s infuriating to see all of these cultural markers become voided by being made into trends.

    I can’t. Anymore. :(

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      Hey girl, hey! I remember when two summers ago the “christian icon bracelet” became a thing. I was puzzled. I would ask my friends who were wearing them if they could name the saints on the icons. They would stare at me like I’m an alien and admit that no, they couldn’t, but the bracelet was “cute”. I’m currently not practicing any religion, but I went to church every week until I turned 14, so to me, the idea of turning christian icons into cheap jewellery makes me endlessly uncomfortable.

      All that to say, even though the dreadlocks and bindis aren’t items that are a part of my culture, I can relate to the immense frustration of seeing random popstars wearing them like it is just a chic / edgy thing to do.

      The fashion industry really is stripping everything from it’s meaning. :\
      Plus, more and more clothing lines are using occult symbolism lately (all-seeing eye logos, devil/Satan prints, inverted pentagrams, etc.) and this is another thing that I could rant about for hours.

      Yeah. We need to become better/more educated consumers.

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        Hey! The parallel is there, for sure, but it might not be the time and place, especially on an article about true exercise of solidarity, to compare appropriation of Catholic jewelry and appropriation of dreadlocks. Unlike the former, the latter item was born of a bloody history of genocide and oppression by the same group of people who are seeking to sport it today.

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          Hey there, thanks for bringing this to my attention! I guess that my comment didn’t exactly go where I wanted it to go, so I apologise. What I wanted to do was really not to directly compare Christian-themed jewellery (I wouldn’t even use the term “cultural appropriation” to describe the bracelet, as I really don’t see the christian religion as culture specific) to the situations Emily mentions, but to outline that the fashion industry is currently desacralising everything in a very insidious, dangerous way, and creating a huge melting pot. The industry is putting all of these cultural items out there in the same place, you can buy them for cheap at Ardenes or Marshalls, so aligned next to each other on crop tops and anklets, they are all loosing their meaning. You are right in saying that the level of appropriation isn’t the same at all for the bracelet or the bindi, though.

          I picked the item I was most familiar with for my comment, but I really should have used a better example than the christian-themed bracelet, like say, the Hand of Fatima that is getting printed all over summer tops and cutesy bracelets lately. It is a variation of the all-seeing eye, but it has roots in many cultures and religions, and to see it mass printed and sold to people who can’t even name the “design” on their clothing but think it’s “edgy” is perplexing to me.

          Basically, I wasn’t meaning to compare specifically the two situations, as I do realise how different they are, but just to outline that the fashion industry has been desacralising so many things that we should become more aware consumers now.

          Sorry it came accross the wrong way! I’ll be mindful of my chosen examples, next time, and you are right for calling me out.

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    I have so many feelings about this article and I co-sign everything. Alot of what you talk about is why I hesitate to have any continued involvement in so-called feminist circles. The majority of the time they are all white and the majority of the time they don’t want to listen to a damn thing the few POCs that are there have to say or they dismiss our concerns in the same way their own issues get dismissed by men.

    I also may have gotten a little sidetracked by that Iggy Azalea link. Good Lord, I had no she was that trifling! I want to delete that Fancy song from my memory now.

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    This was a very good read. Thank you for posting it. I recently read “Ain’t I a Woman?”, and I could only get through 5-10 pages at a time before I had to stop and digest. There is so much to the experiences of women of color that I am still unaware of, and much that I will never fully understand as a white woman. Feminism to me has always meant being aware of everyone’s struggles and experiences and how we can work together to make change.

    What can we as white feminists do better? I’m certainly the type of person that would want to be called out if I ever said/did anything contrary to inclusive feminism or …generally being a decent human. Being aware of things like this are always helpful to me. Thank you, again, for opening this discussion.

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      what we can do:
      from the comment by Chris right below yours, “A suggestion I have found very useful: seek out writing, art, music, journalism by POC. Shift your media consumption to focus on their voices.”

      listen. learn. call people out on their shit.

      I’ve gotten a lot out of the stuff I’ve read on http://www.blackgirldangerous.org so that’s a thing.

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      Elixher is a good one too, http://elixher.com/

      Was talking to a friend a while back about racism. She doesn’t usually discuss it with non-poc people because so many people just don’t listen so I don’t know how we got on the topic. But, she was telling me about some of her experiences. I know about racism. My father is racist. He’s been telling me since I was tiny that he’d disown me if I ever dated a black man, along with other comments, and I’ve been arguing with him almost since I could talk. So I know that’s out there. And we hear some scary stuff from the news, so I know that’s out there too. But when she told me some of her stories, such as despite being in a very diverse area, she’s had stuff happen like people refusing to shake her hand or sit near her in the subway, not to mention the nasty comments, I think a part of my brain imploded. I asked some questions for clarification but I mostly just tried to listen to what she was saying. That’s not always an easy thing for people. It’s similar to the backlash some men had with #YesAllWoman. They got so defensive they weren’t listening to what was being said and were actually contributing to the problem in their rush to separate themselves from it.

      Along those lines, if someone can explain to me the comment about the hair, I would appreciate it. That was the only part I didn’t really get.

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          I did, they helped, though I still feel like I’m missing something. But the articles had good points. I’ve had corn rows twice, for example. I liked how they looked but my hair was just ill suited for the style. Too straight and they went from looking nice to a rat’s nest too fast, so I was forced to refrain from getting them again. That and feeling like I was being scalped wasn’t really the most pleasant experience.

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    Thank you, thank you, a thousand times thank you for this piece! This kind of powerful writing is why I read Autostraddle.

    For folks who are interested, there are a number of (problematic? yup. insufficient? without a doubt. but still useful, some of them) articles white feminists have written to try to address our own racism. (I count myself among white feminists.) Sarah Milstein wrote one (which I won’t link to here for fear of a derail, but do recommend) that does present some good challenges to white feminists.

    From across what I’ve read, the most important messages I’ve gotten are a) that my intentions don’t mean shit and b) it’s often my job to shut up and LISTEN and while b is absolutely true, c) it is not someone else’s job to educate me. That expectation comes from ‘derailing for dummies.’ Just no.

    A suggestion I have found very useful: seek out writing, art, music, journalism by POC. Shift your media consumption to focus on their voices.

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    This article didn’t just speak to the mixed-race, queer, intersectional feminist in me, it spoke to the confused little girl; the struggling teen; the black woman fighting for her place in the world. Thank you so much for reminding me that although I may feel it at times, I’m not alone.

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    LOVE THIS. Awhile back I wrote a post on Autostraddle about celebrity cultural appropriation and while I got a lot of great feedback, some one commented telling me that describing a white person dressed as a native person as “redface” was racist in itself amongst other things. It was really disheartening. I often get thought of as a bitch and a loud mouth in my community for my outspoken thoughts on feminism and my unwillingness to compromise.

    Years ago when I started doing stand-up comedy, I made a comment to a group of comedians about how terrible sexism was in our comedy scene and that I might write an article about it. A fellow white female comedian told me not to and that she was tired of female comics complaining about sexism, being seen as whiners and that all we needed to do was work harder and get funnier. Years later she is locally famous for writing articles on prominent websites and in feminist magazines about misogyny in comedy. While it could be she just grew up, this still irks me to this day. Why was my opinion bitchy and too aggressive, but hers is more valid?

    I am so happy to see more articles like these. Thank you.

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    Thank you for deepening feminist dialogue. It was lovely in it’s kickassery.

    I have one question with this statement: “I recently wrote a Facebook status explaining how sick and tired I am of asking white people to stop wearing bindis and fashioning their hair into the mess that they have the audacity to call dreadlocks.” What does a mess of hair mean to you? Also, why do people have audacity if they call that “mess” dreadlocks (besides them being white)?

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      Hi Saraz! I’m interested in what the answers to those questions would mean to you — in what way is the language Kesiena uses to discuss white women wearing their hair in appropriative ways important to the dialogue?

      With a little bit of quick Googling, here are some sources for you that might help! There’s SO much more out there on this topic as well, if you want to look.

      http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2013/06/dreadlocks_should_white_people_have_them.html

      http://thoughtcatalog.com/tessah-schoenrock/2011/04/an-open-letter-to-white-people-with-dreadlocks/

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        As much as my limited perspective allows, I understand her thoughts on why white people commit appropriation when growing locks. There seemed to be something else in that statement that made my ears perk up. I was wondering if Keseina implies that the varying degrees of neglected locks carry the negative connotations that “mess” and “audacity” has. Is Keseina referring to white people growing all sorts of locks or a specific kind? If it’s aimed towards locks that are neglected, how does that translate to POC who grow neglected locks?

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          I think what is perhaps missing from the way you’re discussing these ideas is the double standard around what constitutes “neglected” dreadlocks. The way that mainstream (so, white) culture constructs dreadlocks on black people, they are ALWAYS considered neglected, dirty, unkempt, “unprofessional.” Even for children. Black people’s dreadlocks are never granted the privilege of being anything but neglected, which has very real-world consequences of costing jobs, education, and more.

          In light of this, I guess I’m not sure what the value is, within a community discourse, of creating a hierarchy for how “neat” we consider white dreads. Until black people have at least the option of anything but a monolithic perception of this hairstyle, is it important how we discuss white people’s? As white people, how does this help us uplift and protect black people? Especially for white people, where does a conversation about the audacity of white people when it comes to cultural appropriation help us go?

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          I think another important distinction that is being missed here, is that often times, black ‘locks are the result of letting black hair grow naturally. Not the result of purposely teasing, knotting and adding all sorts of “mess” to ones hair.

          I think the audacity of which the author speaks, is taking something that people of colour have been historically shamed for (i.e. calling their natural hair texture “dreadful”) and doing all sorts of shit to turn their hair into something it’s not, for the sake of being “alternative” or whatever the motivation may be.

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      thinking of it through the opposing perspective. Black people have been pressured (For years) to straighten their hair, as a means of looking “more professional”. Wearing locks, particularly in an office environment, might lead to a tense meeting about so-called professional attire. Others would attach a number of negative labels to an individual with dreads: drug dealer, dirty, etc. When white people wear them, they are taking an act of reclaiming and turning it into personal expression. They don’t have to reclaim anything. It’s the same as a white person wearing a Native American headdress and defending it by calling it a tribute. White people don’t get to decide if it’s a tribute, and it flat-out isn’t one if those is claims to salute are offended.

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      I’m no expert here, but my understanding was that the audacity behind calling them “dreadlocks” is tied to the etymology of the word — the term is heavy with racist implications, since the word describes, literally, locks of hair that you dread, implying an innate fear response to the hair style and the person wearing it would be normal.

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    Thank you for this true piece of writing. I’m a white feminist and something that makes me mad at myself is how I still have a defensive knee-jerk reaction to pieces like this. I have grown to a point where it is only a short initial thing before I smack myself and realize nothing about this should hurt me; it’s a call out and call to better myself and my feminism. But not too long ago I would have dismissed this in my defensiveness (which came from shame–because underneath I was aware of the truth). And so many white feminists I know are still in that place. I will work every day to keep recognizing my own privilege, to think carefully about what feminism I am reading and discussing and doing (because all too often it is so white and so privileged) and to call out white feminists around me who are tearing women of color down.

    When something written by a feminist of color makes white feminists uncomfortable, or we start to disagree, please let us pause and think “why?” (A: Usually racism. And it certainly will tinge our response, so just LISTEN instead)

    Thank you for your point about white women labeling themselves intersectional. I call myself that and do strongly feel like my feminism is intersectional–a big part of my connection with the term is my queerness–but you are so right that my actions are what counts and the term is BS if I don’t live up to it. I won’t introduce myself as intersectional looking for a cookie. I will just always strive to live that way.

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      Thank you for articulating this so beautifully! I still have that knee-jerk reaction too. Reading articles like this one is helping me to step back and check myself. Defensiveness comes so naturally. I have to work on just listening every single day.

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      A thing that has helped me listen more and understand more is following a lot of Black women on Twitter. I know it might sound cheesy to say who you follow on Twitter can help your own education on race but it can. I read every day about crappy shit white people do to Black women and it’s everything from a zillion microaggressions to ignorance to making BW explain themselves to physical objectification and violence.

      I rarely reply (they don’t need me adding to the shit they deal with, even if my intent is not to) but I favorite stuff and retweet stuff, especially to signal boost issues that are not mine but that I care about.

      I do call out other white people on racist stuff and who I follow has also helped me better explain to the white people I call out why I dislike what they say/do.

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    When I share insightful articles onto my Facebook, I try to quote the most relevant and engaging section but I ended up quoting your entire article so there’s that.

    In the past week, I’ve engaged in two serious arguments about racism: one with my MIL about why I was disgusted with the American soccer player Beckerman’s dreads, and secondly when I essentially lost a friend because I told her off for complaining about me “bitching about racism all the time”. It’s exhausting and exasperating to have these conversations with people who *just don’t get it*, but I recognize that my ability to take a step back from dialogues about race make me double-down in pushing to have those talks in the first place.

    I think what I’m trying to say is: I’m striving to not be someone who will fail WOC. And I have articles like this on Autostraddle and other amazing writers of colour to thank for teaching me these important lessons.

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    I’ve been thinking about this since the #YesAllWomen campaign, and the #YesAllWhiteWoman retort. Many white women responded to this with knee jerk reactions and claims of divisiveness…exactly like those who heard a feminist statement and immediately announced #NotAllMen. Most failed to note this irony.

    White people have been told they’re the experts on what’s best for everyone for so long, it can be very hard to admit that there are many times when shutting up and listening is a great place to start. I think this essay is important, and will prove enormously valuable to many folks who need to open their ears a bit.

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    I have had many reactions and responses as I read through this article; they ranged from “Hmm… very true”, to “No way!”, to “Well, that certainly makes me think”. I don’t think you could ask for more. The most interesting, the most telling phrase in the article was ‘They must understand that they are not the default’. I wonder if there IS a default? I wonder if there OUGHT to be a default at all?

    I don’t have the wherewithal to write a long and considered commentary, so I will just put down a few thoughts here.

    So many things in the article seemed to assume some kind of linear scale – black/white, violent/pacifist, privileged/underprivileged. Of those only one is fixed, and that is skin colour; whether that is something the importance of which will be set in stone forever is another matter.

    Violence/pacifism: No one has the right to dictate someone else’s reaction or action. When we are faced with something unacceptable we have choices of action – resist actively, resist passively, surrender – and having chosen, we have further choices how long we keep that action up, what will make us change direction, and in what direction will we change. We own what we do, we MUST own what we do, we must take responsibility. That’s irrespective of skin colour and any other consideration. Often our chosen action needs us to break through cultural constraints.

    Privileged/unprivileged. I’m unhappy with this split, glaringly obvious though it seems to be when you look at. I can’t put my finger exactly on why I’m unhappy, but I can’t help having the feeling that we’re looking at something through the wrong end of the telescope. I’ll get back to you if this gets clearer for me – I’m the first to admit I’m not all-wise, merely old.

    A platform is only a platform, it’s only what someone’s saying, a platform isn’t necessarily what’s happening ‘out there’, or rather ‘out here’ where we are. The last thing we can/should apply to what’s happening where we are is a ‘platform’.

    By the way, Julie Burchill is a person of straw and has been fooling no one since the time she was a minor rock journo. Just saying.

    Thank you. I’ll bear what you’ve been saying in mind.

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      I think that you are the right track. The default is white, and no there shouldn’t be a default, period. But, because of whiteness being the “default” (standard of beauty, normality, safety) then where does that leave other communities? Constantly the other, stereotyped and discriminated against, oppression that is institutionalized and built into our culture.

      The issues the author is addressing are multidimensional, and thinking about them in a linear way doesn’t address historical context and what racism actually is and how it plays out. I think what happens a lot in feminist groups when discussing race and racism, is the use of individual accounts of white folks experiencing prejudice, or pointing to people of color who are successful in an attempt to prove that structural racism isn’t really there and POC communities lived experiences are just misunderstandings.

      Racism, who is privileged, and who is oppressed, is NOT an issue to be understood on an individual or “micro” level. It is huge, structural, and built into every institution of our society. Simply existing in our culture makes it impossible to not be racist. Think about media representation, prison statistics, who is deemed inherently dangerous, and undeserving of access to food, education, housing, and citizenship.

      I acknowledge that it can be difficult hearing the breakdown of a system that privileged folks are complicit in and often times completely unaware of BECAUSE it has simply always worked for them. I encourage you to “lean into” the discomfort you feel around certain aspects of the article. I think sitting with the discomfort you are experiencing are the areas you should be thinking about the most. This is where the growing happens.

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        Thank you for this reply. I hear you. However, you appear to be assuming that Kesiena’s viewpoint is wholly ‘right’ and my own, by extension, somehow deficient, even though I haven’t devoted as much space to expounding it. Perhaps that is a judgment made on the basis of my assumed colour – I don’t know – but that is perhaps as useful as assuming me to be Irish because of the title of the painting from which my avatar comes. Perhaps, on the other hand, I’m doing you a disservice, as I did admit in my comment above that I am not all-wise.

        Her viewpoint is strong, has weight, because it is born of experience, appears fully formed, and is well expressed. That does not make it an absolute, it simply makes it strong, and therefore well worth considering. If I ‘lean into’ the ‘discomfort’ I feel about aspects of her article, I do allow myself to be challenged – and that is good – but I will not necessarily be persuaded.

        I often wonder whether we sail too dangerously close to regarding our own issues as the only important issues. Feminist issues if we are female, colour issues if we are ‘non-default’ within a particular culture/society, and so on. Maybe it would serve us to look at, say, the position of women in the EZLN, or in revolutionary Barcelona in 1936. Of course Kesiena an I do not live in Chiapas or Barcelona in 1936, but in the UK in 2014, and therefore in a different context. However, the insights gained from women outside our own cultural and historical context do lead me to ask whether the liberation of any one group has any true meaning outside general liberation. Many of the problems that plague the genders are problems of relative power (a kind of ‘default’ too sometimes); I suggest we all ‘lean in’ to our ‘discomfort’ about power and see what we learn.

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          My comment stands regardless of your identity, whether you are white, POC, or somewhere in between. Thinking about these issues in terms of right and wrong limits the exploration and understanding of these issues. It isn’t a matter of right or wrong. Someone’s lived experiences, though it differs from yours, isn’t a direct attack on your own experiences and isn’t an attempt at saying you’re “wrong.”

          And again, I think you are on the right track when exploring these ideas: all oppression IS connected, and we should be working together for liberation of ALL groups. That being said, lumping together different groups has historically marginalized and perpetuated oppression of different communities within movements because we all have different needs and struggles.

          The Zapatistas (ELZN) is a great example of this. They recognize that all oppression is connected and work to decentralize power by redistributing it. They launched a campaign specifically reaching out to the working class, sex workers, and LQBTQ communities in states outside of Chiapas, stating that indigenous rights are tied to queer rights, which are tied to sex workers rights, etc.

          I think its possible that all groups can come together, with all identities and histories and struggles recognized, and work together to make some real change. It’s just a messy process, because we are all learning, we are all healing and trying to survive, and being vulnerable is hella difficult!

          We need to learn from the experiences of groups other than ourselves so that we can strengthen the movement, not look at it as a threat or as divisive. I think what is getting overlooked here is how difficult it can be for POC in these spaces to share their experiences because it is automatically “up for debate,” and that the hurt and pain and lived experiences that have defined me and make up my identity (ok, now I’m speaking from my experience as a QWOC) are somehow not valid enough or don’t have enough evidence. Think about how exhausting that is, especially when I choose to make myself vulnerable for the love of this movement, for the love of feminism, so that we can move forward and make a better place for all of our black and brown and white babies of the future!

          I think these conversations need to continue, because they are difficult, and because we all have a lot to learn and a lot of work to do. I’m not trying to persuade you by sharing myself with you, and I’m not attacking your identity and experiences by sharing my own. I am speaking my truth and I am interested in hearing more about yours in hopes of meeting somewhere in the middle.

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    Amazing article, just the kind of wake-up call my queer feminist rage needs. Saving this to my favourites so that I make sure to stay angry and fighting for all the right reasons, not just the ones that directly affect me. Thank you for posting.

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    This article is full of great thoughts. Your point about pacifism being a luxury particularly resonated with me. Thanks for writing this.

    I hope that we can all shrug off the mainstream lies that feminism is a movement for kind, smiling, college-educated white women. I hope this article helps rekindle a fire under some asses!

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      Yes, the point about pacifism being a luxury also really spoke to me.

      I’ve always been someone who believes that people should listen to other’s lines of reasoning before arguing or proclaiming our own ideas, and that people should compromise rather than argue.

      I never before considered that I am incredibly privileged to be able to think like this, because I already have it pretty damn good. I don’t need to fight that hard.

      I think I need to do some reading and listening in order to fully realize how many things there are in this world that truly need to be fought for, without compromise.

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      I think this repression of angry voices happens on a variety of axes, although I can imagine that it’s much more powerful, oppressive, and pervasive when exercised by white people against people of color. However, I know this is a long-running discussion between my mother (white, cis, straight) and myself (white, cis, queer), where she often says that I’m too angry, that I should be looking to embrace pacifism and understand the other side. But the difference is that my day to day life is often full of little experiences of daily harassment and oppression that *make me angry* and that I seek to address with BOTH peaceful and open discussion and, sometimes, justified anger.

      Basically, the statement that pacifism is a luxury of the privileged really resonated with me, and I’m going to keep it in mind whenever I find myself wondering if someone’s reaction to a specific situation or life in general seems “too angry” to me — likely I just don’t understand their experience, and the justified and productive nature of their anger.

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    I feel as if I missed the day where Standard White Feminism 101 was taught. Everything written made sense. Why would someone *not* defend themselves against assault? Who doesn’t call others out on treating people badly? Why would anyone think letting others (or themselves) be harmed would be better for anyone, in any way?
    This is the world we live in, the world we have to deal with, and the world we can choose to make better. There’s nothing powerful or exhilarating in standing quietly by and letting life happen around you. That’s not feminism. That’s not even living.

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    This article is a fantastic articulation of something which has been niggling at me, as a white feminist, especially when I’m examining how I and others try to be intersectional. Oftentimes, the ‘good intentions’ of a white feminist trying to fight on behalf of PoC can be derailed/misguided and go into a place where the white person is a)patronising poc by telling them what is oppression and deciding for them what they must be offended by or b)becoming so sensitive about cultural appropriation that they circle back into a segregation mindset. Clearly, a conscientious white feminist has to take a step back from her attempts at righting the wrongs of centuries of ingrained racism and think ‘what am I myself perpetrating here?’ Because the amount of times I have seen white feminists going “wow intersectionality! I have to stop other people doing yoga and campaign for skin lightening creams to be banned in India!”(ignoring the fact that they themselves use skin darkening products and that Indian women have the right & intelligence to decide for themselves their own cosmetic use) whilst saying nothing about sexual harrassment of WoC, I’ve just facepalmed at their genuine yet misplaced conviction. This is not to say that I think I know better: I’ve certainly said and done things that are just as bad in the past, and now I’m trying to listen to poc’s voices and find out their experiences and opinions. Thats the only constructive way to assist in anyone else’s liberation, by stepping back and allowing poc to lead their own movement and listening to/ accepting their words. The white feminist cannot swoop in and ‘save’ poc by talking over them, because that kind of white supremacy is exactly what needs to end.

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      I know your reply doesn’t cater to me specifically as an audience, but even if it’s not your intended goal, your comment gives me a lot to think about, because I’ve never questionned wether or not I might belong within the womens rights movement. It is important today for me to realise that not every woman feels like she belongs within the feminist movement. I speak so highly of feminism most of the time… of course, I want feminism to be a good thing! But time has come to face the fact that despite its good aspects, a portion of the “mainstream feminism” doesn’t suit the needs of a lot of girls and women. How am I going to sell feminism and its necessity to the women around me, if it doesn’t speak to ALL of them?

      Thanks for your thoughts, have a great day!

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    So much of this article makes me want to jump out of my chair and shout “Yes! That! Exactly!” I have a couple of questions, some I’m still trying to form (on intersectionality in academic research) so I’ll just as this one for now:

    In part, you write as if there are no white feminists left behind by this mainstream discourse, as if there are no white feminists who have come to similar conclusions, as if they all have the privilege of living in a world where violence isn’t necessary. But then you identify, ‘White, rich, straight, cisgender women’ and I have to wonder, which group are you speaking towards in your article?

    Maybe being non-cis, non-hetero, and growing up without much money made my white experience of mainstream feminism different than that which shaped the mainstream feminists you’re referring to … that which continues to influence my long-held and still growing resentment towards this hypocritical, “be feminist, but only in this prescribed way” form of discourse that remains so alienating.

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    You decide you want to build your dream home. You hire a contractor. They immediately start making plans without talking to you. You try to stop them, tell them that you’d like this and that. The contractor tells you that he’s been doing this a long time, and he knows what you need. He promises that once he shows you the plan, you’ll love it. By the time he shows you the plan, he’s already laid the foundation, but the plan doesn’t meet your needs. You need four bedrooms, not three, and it has to be a one story, not two. You tell him this. He gets angry – I’m just trying to help you, why are you so upset? he says. You explain, again, that you have specific needs, and why, but he just grows more irritated that you are rejecting his plan. Finally, you have no choice but to fire him. He goes around telling everyone how irrational and angry you are. That you don’t want help.

    That’s how I see white feminists treating WOC. All of us are building our own safe place, creating a community, convincing others to join, and facing those trying to kick our structures down. Its frustrating, but that’s what we came to do – build. But it’s painful to have those interfering be people within our own community, the people that are supposed to understand.

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    As a white woman, this article made me very uncomfortable. That made me realize that while I might not be contributing to the problem, I still have a responsibility to contribute to the solution. Thank you. Keep calling us on our shit.

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    As a pretty naive, privileged white woman I feel like I don’ t even know where to begin in terms of understanding the experiences of POC’s(particularly when there are pretty much next to none where I live ). It’s very intimidating,but looking forward to checking out all the links in the comments.

    Note to self : shut up and listen and read,read,read.

    Great article .

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    I always have a knee jerk reaction to this type of article/discourse, and I think it’s really just how upset I am that this much racism is out there! When poc women talk about how mainstream culture views them as other, less beautiful, and most often elves them out entirely it is so saddening. I think that all women are beautiful, especially women of color and mixed race women. The confidence required to own a beauty labelled as “other” is so inspiring and beautiful (something I also notice to some degree in “plus-sized” women who are much more confident than I, although not quite the same, and sometimes that also intersects!). Anyways, I just wanted to say that I think you are all so beautiful (and I even have a little hair envy, I think the natural hair look on a woc is more beautiful than anything a white woman can pull off!)
    (PS I am really trying to correct some past ingrained racism in writing/thought, which I never noticed until reading things like these and realizing that the way I say things can be problematic. I really hope nothing comes across the wrong way, but if anything I said is offensive in any way, and I would love to be able to correct myself in the future if I make any mistakes! Just a white queer feminist from the white suburbs trying to figure out how to be the best ally I can be.)

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      Hey there! First things first : please hold my hand as we journey towards being better humans. :D I have found out that it can be okay to make mistakes as long as you are willing to be corrected, and to apologise consequently. It can be somewhat disheartening to find out that you accidentally said something offensive, it is an often necessary part of the learning / unlearning process, but if you can look way past your hurt feelings and work towards the greater goal of bettering yourself, you’ll be just fine. :)

      Like you, I think that all women have beauty in them, and more importantly, I believe that all women should SEE themselves as beautiful. Society (through publicity, medias, etc.) greatly shapes what we see as beautiful (or not) and this is where our problems begin.

      Society and medias have been failing in giving WOC proper representation, making a lot of them feel like their beauty is “other”, and therefore, not as valuable.

      Like you, I personally feel attracted to many WOC, as well as many white women. I believe this is a great thing, to be able to feel attracted to different kinds of beautiful. Sadly, I’ve run into a lot of men and women who are not afraid to say that they think black women are “not attractive.” When you confront these people, they will defend their statement as “purely personnal taste”, and they will stubbornly refuse to see how society and medias may have shaped their views of what “beauty” is.

      The social standards for beauty… It’s a challenge for all women, but even more so for WOC. As a woman attracted to other women, you and I must face another fun challenge that our straight counterparts usually do not deal with. We both feel body/hair/whatever other cosmetic preoccupation “envy”, like most of the other girls out there, plus, we feel actual desire towards other women.

      I am only speaking for myself right now, but for me, it took a while to distinguish between “Oh, I wanna look like that”, and “Oh, I wanna sexcuddle that”. Sometimes, both feelings are still somewhat blurred.

      So here’s where I’m going with that rambling… Very often in the past, I have felt attracted to women of color. As I would feel drawn to these great individuals, I would also find myself stuck with such feelings as “hair envy” or “skin envy”. It was tempting for me to celebrate these features so different from mines. But I have learned that we should however avoid celebrating WOC’s hair and skin as something “better” than what “us white girls” have, because these very features have been stigmatised and deemed “unpretty” for so long.

      A bit of reading around has taught me that it can be very damaging to put WOC on a pedestal just because they are rocking their natural hairstyle, or because their natural hair is deemed “more desirable than what us white girls have”. Again, we can’t just suddenly glorify the very things WOC have forever been told are not beautiful. These features are theirs to celebrate first. And we can’t also decide to only celebrate WOC’s hair if it is kept natural… You will notice that in most ads on TV that feature black women, the actresses have their natural hair. When this detail was pointed to me, I realised that it means that WOC and their beauty are not only much less portrayed in the medias that surround us… they are also always portrayed the very same way.

      Another problem lies in the fact that we often view WOC (or bigger women) as “courageous” for merely being/loving themselves. Loving yourself shouldn’t be seen as a courageous act, but as a normal thing to do. Telling these women they are “courageous” for looking the way they happen to look further reinforces the idea that they are SO different from us, and therefore, “other”. Which is exactly what we don’t want them to feel like!

      I am, however, not at all trying to speak for WOC with this comment.

      I am only trying to share the bits and pieces I’ve recently collected, as I’ve also learned that as a white person, one of the things you CAN do to be a better human is to “pass it on”. I still have a lot of self-education to do, so really, don’t take my word for cash, and instead, feel free to read some of the cool links other users have posted in their comments. :)

      I’m replying to you because you actively asked to be corrected, and that’s a great thing to ask for. I learn great stuff from other straddlers when I let them correct me, it’s a great experience. A part of your comment could be read as damaging or stereotyping, yes, and some people might point it out, but don’t stop your journey there.

      In the end, what really matters isn’t just your intentions, but how much you are willing to adjust your ideas and behavior when your intentions do fail. :D

      Also. Suburbs high-five!

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    First time commenter here (well, other than a response to another commenter on this article). I loved this article, but I have to ask: why does the call to stand against racism in feminism seem to be directed only at white *women*? I understand that the vast majority of feminists identify as women, but not all of us do.
    I know most guys (myself included) have a lot more to work on than just this issue, but it seems like all white people who are part of feminist movement would be well-served in getting called out on this.
    If I’m missing something obvious, my apologies.

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      Thanks for writing such a good article :) as a white person with aspirations to be a better ally to people of colour its great to see more articles being picked up and shared. (Found this through an everyday feminism post on fb) Keep writing and people will become more aware and engaged. Also nice to see your from Bighton! I currently live there too :) is there any good events and groups here? Have not come across any.

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    As a queer, Irish, feminist woman from a working class background, who is also white, I too feel like I fall between the cracks in much feminist discourse (in political and sociolinguistic discourse to be specific). You make some amazing, powerful points but I still feel this article puts me under an umbrella I want to rip to shreds. There are many facets to this monolith of the ‘white feminist’ which needs unpacking i.e. class, religion and the colonial experience. For real, powerful feminism to work, I agree we all need to create space to be angry and to be ‘an animal who eats, sleeps, fucks, and fights voraciously’ and oppress ANY deference to voices solely on the basis of colour. My ideal is a strong roaring, multifaceted feminist voice but I still can’t hear it.

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    This is a very powerful piece. I never really considered the idea that perhaps black women wanted their own movement separate from white females.
    To me, We are all females in this struggle for equality.
    I am a white, lesbian, atheist, female so I do not consider my life’ easy’ . I live in a low income neighborhood with my parents because of circumstances beyond my control. I lived on my own with my girlfriend when I was 18, struggling from paycheck to paycheck as a cashier at Kroger making minimum wage. I never asked my parents for assistance, never took money from the government, never took out a loan. I survived off of what little I did make. Unfortunately, that all changed when I was attacked in broad daylight by a black man at gun point. He forced me into my own car and drove me to a secluded location and raped me before letting me out on the side of the road to find my way home as he drove off in my car.
    I never saw color, only gender. I don’t think he targeted me because I was white, he targeted me because in was female. He grabbed me just as he would any other woman who would’ve come along that day. That is my experience and it is why I see all women’s struggle as equal. The white feminists that you’ve encountered don’t sound like feminists to me. They sound like women who like to be part of something they feel is a trend.
    My experiences have made me physical. If a man was to gab my boob I would’ve done no less than to punch, kick, or slap him away.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is sometimes the color of our skin should not define us, but our experiences. You never know what someone has been through until you know them.
    The feminist movement should not be taken lightly.
    I just want to make it clear I’m not belittling the struggles of African Americans in this country, only reminding that we, as women, all have our own hardships regardless of race.

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      (Disclaimer: random white person speaking)

      I am very sorry for what happened to you, and I sincerely hope that you are healing.

      (Just a sidenote: it might have been nice to put a trigger warning above your testimony; it isn’t easy for some people to unexpectedly read about kidnapping and rape.)

      However, I’d like to call your attention to two things: why did you feel the need to specify here that your rapist was black? Certainly if you feel that race is irrelevant to misogynistic abuse (and I beg to differ) you wouldn’t need to do so.

      And secondly, you might want to look into what’s called ‘the myth of shared gender oppression’, that is, the belief that because all women face misogynistic abuse, differences between women, their needs, their experiences, and the amount of abuse they receive is irrelevant. I hope a good rereading of the original article might convince you that this is not true.

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        I apologize for not putting a warning before my post about the rape comment. I’ve grown stronger because of what I’ve gone through that I forget how scary it sounds and how it might affect others.
        I did not mean to offend anyone by stating that my attacker was black. I was just trying to make it clear it wasn’t that he was black and I was white, and it wouldn’t have mattered if he was white or any other race. It was just that he saw me as weak because I was a female. I did not mean for my comment to sound hateful in ANY way.
        I am sorry Kesiena if you thought this may have been a negative comment to your piece. It was not intended to be. I couldn’t begin to understand the struggle of African American women in this county. You are beautiful both inside and out and it pains me to see that life is this hard for you, and other African American women. These feelings that you are expressing here shouldn’t exist and the fact that they do is all the more reason something needs to change.
        My views and opinions are changing each day with each person I meet. I am still young in the movement and that is why I am on this site and other sites to listen and learn from others.
        I have not read that article before Ryme but I will definitely check it out.
        I am sorry if you thought I was attacking Kesiena or belittling her struggle with my post. I wasn’t saying white females had it worse or even as bad as black females. I was just emphasising the struggle of all women, and the reason there is even a feminist movement.
        There is a lot of anger and resentment behind my words not towards women of color but towards the men who treat women the way Kesiena was describing.
        I love this piece and I love all of you out there raising your voice and fists for what you believe so passionately about.

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    after years of trying to be an agreeable little feminist, not wanting to alienate people in the places i work, this year, i started letting people know when what they said was bullshit.
    i don’t know why, exactly. but after years of mildly bowing my head and holding my tongue at jokes about sexual harassment or comments that the don’t seem to even understand are racist from the group of mostly white men that i work with, i started talking back. and sometimes i shout back. and sometimes more.
    and so i thank you for this, this call to arms as it might be. i feel encouraged by your words, and by the overwhelmingly positive comments on this article.

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    This article was awesome! Thanks Kesiena!

    I just wanted to add something, in the realm of ‘more talking than doing’, and ‘I have all the knowledge’, that is common in white feminists, including myself.
    We can become extremely preoccupied with cultural appropriation (probably because it’s a relatively easy thing to spot and act on, and only hints to deeper ‘scary’ racist undercurrents in us) and start to call it out in all directions to feel self-righteous.

    It can backfire: for example, a friend of mine from Jordan received a flurry of appropriation callouts from white people she’d never met after posting a picture of herself in traditional Palestinian clothing. (On top of that, on a blog where they could have found out she was Palestinian by clicking ‘about’). Understandably she felt insulted and hurt.

    I think it might be good to exercise caution in calling out cultural appropriation: for example, not calling out strangers: you can’t just know from sight whether you’re dealing with an appropriative (usually white) person, or a mixed-race or simply pale person from that very culture, or even someone who has been invited to take part in a cultural symbol, such as someone who is marrying into that culture. Or only call out strangers when the content is insulting regardless of who’s doing it (like blackface).

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      Your comment speaks to me for many reasons.

      The internet makes it so easy for people to “assume” who they are talking to by just looking at people’s avatars or very short bios in their “about me” pages… Long ago I assumed something about someone online (though not related to their origins) and it was a foot-in-mouth, never-again mistake! Truly a good lesson life gave me.

      I’ve seen flame wars online in which people who were accused of being “stupid white muricans” or other similiar insults turned out to be of mixed descent, or white skinned arabic descent. I can witness similiar things happening to my SO (white skinned, but of mixed algerian and cuban descent) when people speak to him assuming his whiteness. Even when they don’t directly say something racist, it’s fun to watch them speak to him in a certain way as long as he’s assumed white. My favourite is when people tell him : “But you don’t sound/act/look arab!”

      But back to what you were saying : cultural approprition is usually something I am not at ease calling people out on, because I am not even sure I am 100% exempt of doing it myself. I am very interested in the subject of the recent mass desacralisation of symbols, of which I slipped a word in my earlier comment, but cultural appropriation and how it works are different. Is my summer shirt with a “horse adorned with feathers in its mane” appropriating native culture? I have to ask myself these questions, and find my answers, before I am confident in calling out others.

      Thanks for the reminder.

      :)

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      THANK YOU.

      I see cultural appropriation being used as an easy point-scorer (by everyone, white or not) without really a lot of appreciation for nuance. It’s like, “look! I called out an X-wearer today! I AM TOTES INTERSECTIONAL” and then they don’t really give a damn about listening to people different than their own.

      I’ve been shouted down by people of other cultures trying to (not always white) knight South Asian appropriation when I, as a South Asian, try to add nuance to the situation. Specific example that comes up a lot: non-South Asian wearing a South Asian traditional outfit (like a sari or salwhar khameez) IN SOUTH ASIA. Everyone else is all “zomg appropriation!!”, I’m here going “dude, she’s in Mumbai/Dhaka/Karachi, that’s totally fine” and everyone else who is not South Asian goes “but noooooo”. -_-;;

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        I found this comment thread really irritating. The white people I deal with everyday have zero idea about cultural appropriation. The more ignorant white people that get called out on their bullshit by other white people, the better life would be for people like me who regularly get dirty looks for wearing shalwar kameez outside or called a paki(while white girls who stick a bindi on their forehead are the height of cool). Also even if you are dating someone of a different culture it doesn’t mean you get to appropriate aspects of their culture whenever you like. The white lady at my work is shagging an Algerian Muslim and therefore feels comfortable in acting as if she’s an expert on brown Muslims and Islam and lording it over me, a brown Muslim. The more white women that speak out on this the better especially as if WoC say anything we aren’t likely to be listened to. And in my experience white people in Pakistan (where my parents are from) have tons of white privilege so sorry if I don’t reach for the tissues in them being called out now and again.

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          It’s not the general calling-out ness I’m objecting to: it’s not listening to the people whose cultures are actually affected just because they disagree with your callout. It becomes the lording-over you talk about and further silences people who they think they’re helping.

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      As a WoC I totally disagree with your comments. You are basically saying cultural appropriation call outs should be totally avoided by white people towards other white people which is ridiculous. White women are always more willing to listen to other white women so really the onus should be on white feminists who consider themselves anti-racist to call out other white women. Rather than the ‘leave it to the WoC to deal with racist shit’ method you seem to want to utilise. As for your friend, yes that is totally wrong what happened to her but that doesn’t mean that each time a white person speaks out they will get it wrong. Also like I said to creatrixtiara, marrying or shagging a non-white person doesn’t mean you are instantly a part of that culture. You can still be an appropriative arse while dating a non white person (see Zayn Malik’s girlfriend Perrie Edwards for a good example of this)

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        I don’t know, I think marrying into a culture means that you can adopt certain aspects of it without being appropriative. My sister wore a traditional Nigerian wedding gown when she married a Nigerian, her children all have Nigerian first or second names: is that appropriative? Or is it blending two cultures to make a multi-cultural household?

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          Yeah you may want to read my comments before responding. Your examples are disingenuous. Mixed race children are a part of both their parent’s cultures, therefore your sister’s children having Nigerian names is not appropriative. What would be appropriative is if your sister suddenly became an expert on Nigerian culture or did ‘African’ dances like white Muslim convert women do with Islamic culture and treat it as a monolith. Or in the case of Perrie Edwards date a half Pakistani man and stick on bindis which are usually worn by Hindu women. Unsurprising that rhymeriver hasn’t bothered to respond but seeing as any time white ladies are called out on here you burst into tears or leg it its pointless having WoC writers on here. Kesiena your article was ace but it will be wasted on white women here – they will pay lip service in the comments but continue to be as ignorant as before.

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        Hi J.V.,

        I don’t usually go back to see comment threads when the article is off the first page. This time, I wanted to see the ‘Most Important Ugly’ series again, and I noticed that the comment count had gone up here. I’m sorry you believed I was ignoring you.

        I don’t believe that white people should stop calling out other white people, of course not, and I never meant or said so. I said that white people should concentrate on calling out their peers. People in their communities. People that they know, not gratuitously call out strangers to feel good about themselves – because that’s about white people feeling good about themselves, not about justice. I don’t care if a white appropriator feels bad about being called out by strangers, but the benefits of that happening by chance are far smaller in my opinion than the damage that can be done to a POC called out on false grounds.

        The last comment about a person ‘invited’ is peripheral to my point, it is the least important case. Sometimes, a person will let someone close to them share a small aspect of their culture and traditions, like in-laws insisting that the new Western spouse of their child should be in traditional dress, or even just being taught to make a dish. The thing is when these people are being called out, especially by other white people feeling smug about themselves, they are insulting the agency of the person who shared that tradition with them, like that person wasn’t even smart enough to see they were ‘insulting’ their own culture.

        This is no call for POC to do the job of policing white people. This is a reminder to white people to do that job responsibly and *not as an outlet for personal satisfaction*, particularly on the internet with people whose background you don’t know.

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    Great article! I salute you young brave smart woman! You gave me goose pimps!

    One thing I like to share which opened a few doors in my brain, even its so obvious I never realized before (because I am white). In a white feminist context we discuss the choices of colored artists (obvious example Beyonce or Foxy) while Kate Moss naked in Calvin Klein all over Times Square is ok.

    Its white models dominating beauty, worlds values, worlds money, worlds appreciation of how a woman should be since the beginning of media 100years ago.

    The main thing I see now is:

    Women of color are fighting for their space! Their beauty, their values, their diversity and respect!

    I am with you.

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    I can recommend watching this, global!

    Eve Ensler, best known for her play The Vagina Monologues, is leading a campaign to end violence against women. According to the UN, one third of all women experience rape or some kind of physical assault in their lifetime. Stephen Sackur asks this passionate New York feminist what she can do to change the experiences of women around the world.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03q0b0k

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    Great article! It really annoys me when I see feminists behaving as though “women” just means white, cis-gender, heterosexual, middle/upper class, christian/atheist women. We need to stop pretending that these issues exist in a vacuum and start dealing with oppression as a whole. I don’t understand how some people can call someone out for dismissing their oppression in one breath and then dismiss the oppression of someone else in the next.

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    ” One of the greatest problems of history is that the concepts of love and power are usually contrasted as polar opposites. Love is identified with a resignation of power and power with a denial of love… What is needed is a realisation that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anaemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.” – Martin Luther King Jr. -

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    What does it mean for our great work when we rely on the fact we have been programmed to punish people for their mistakes?

    I’ll be the first person to say that anger is valid. Mistakes can definitely hurt, and often deepen the existing wounds we carry. I know that, for me, when these mistakes are committed by people who I am in community with, it hurts even more. But these are people I care deeply about and want to see on the other side of the hurt, pain, and trauma.

    In the social justice community, we have been trained to believe it’s normal to punish each other (and ourselves) without a way to reconcile hurt. We support this belief by shutting each other out, partly through justified anger and often because some parts of us believe that we can do this without people who fuck up.

    But, holy shit! We fuck up. All of us.

    I am willing to offer compassion and patience, both to others and myself, as a way to build the road we are taking together, as comrades, as allies, and as sisters.

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    I’m writing an outline for a blog on “horizontal hostility” – the name for aggressive and fallacious rhetoric used by one woman against another, in a way that reinforces patriarchal narratives and divisions. I’m all about unpacking the differences in social locations, privileges and coalition-building. Yet, while white women and women of color do have differences in experiences in this world, they’re not nearly as great as the differences between women as a gender and the primary beneficiaries of patriarchy–the tiny number of wealthy, entrenched white men who maintain the vast majority of power positions in commerce, government and media. #SolidarityIsForAllWomen

    Not everyone is gonna be down with this blog but….I’m writing it anyway. LOVE > fear.

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      Hi Mary Elizabeth. I’d like to think that you’re not suggesting that I’m using ‘fallacious rhetoric’ in my article. I’d also like to think that you’re not suggesting that ‘horizontal hostility’ is synonymous with ‘calling white feminists out on their ingrained racism’. I’m very much of the idea that we need to have compassion for those who fuck up, but that compassion comes AFTER you call them out and AFTER they respond in a decent way.

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