Mon 8 Dec, 2008
I want to point out a candid and revealing post on race and gender by Renee, who writes the blog Womanist Musings.
Renee writes from what she terms “a womanist perspective,” but she has also described herself from the outset as a “woman of color,” and her latest blog entry explores the implications of that perspective.
Renee’s thesis is that online, as in the outside world, the perspectives of women of color are marginalized, even within the feminist community:
It is like we are some sort of “special interest group” who have completely divergent needs. That’s right I’m saying it, white women are “the women” and we are just a side group looking for scraps.
Renee argues that white feminists, as good liberals, will acknowledge the voices of women of color in order to do justice to racial politics, but will not take seriously their views as women.
This is a variation on the perpetual interplay of race and gender, in which those who seek liberation and equality must constantly decide how to identify themselves and with whom to ally. Women of color, for instance, must choose whether to identify primarily as women, as people of color, or as a distinctive group unto themselves. This choice, of course, is not a free one, but, as Renee argues so powerfully, takes place in the context of their identification and treatment at the hands of white women and of men of color.
Race, gender, and Traces of the Trade
Regular readers of this blog will recall that gender became one of the most important issues as those of us in the DeWolf family discussed race during the film of Traces of the Trade. While none of us anticipated how heated the conversation would become around issues of gender, the parallels between race and gender made the dialogue a very productive one.
While it can be very difficult for many whites to fully appreciate the experience of being in a disadvantaged racial minority, white women are often able to tap into a parallel experience of power and privilege from the disadvantaged perspective. White men, meanwhile, are in some cases more attuned to gender inequality than to issues of race and ethnicity, and can learn from the former perspective. As we learned during the filming of the documentary, finally, even white men who are not already sensitive to feminist issues may respond more freely when pressed on their privileges as men than when confronted with their issues around race.
The challenges of privilege
Renee notes that for white women, however, the parallels between race and gender can also be quite uncomfortable:
Heaven forbid you might be called on any of your privilege. Why listen to women of colour, when it is a well known fact that we have very little power …. Whiteness feels comfortable in its own reflection, and why not, it is all it has ever known. Every social institution is controlled by whiteness; and therefore it is hardly surprising that feminism has the same trend, after all it is but a microcosm of the larger world.
Renee concludes on a challenging, but hopeful, note, as she argues that social justice simply cannot succeed on the basis of arbitrary exclusion:
What is most disturbing about this is for social justice movements to succeed it needs a cross section of representation. The emancipation of WOC cannot be achieved without white women, and white women cannot achieve equality without us.