"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

Friday, April 25, 2008

Why we can't "just get along". (And why we shouldn't.)

(I realize this post has a miserable lack of links when compared to all that has been said, but I honestly wouldn't even know where to begin. This post by Rebecca at Burning Words is the last one I read before writing this, though, and her links tells more of the story if you're in the dark.)

As a chronically non-confrontational person, I can understand the "Can't we all just get along?" feeling that a lot of white feminist bloggers/commenters are describing in response to all the recent controversy over racism within the feminist movement (which is really by no means a recent phenomenon, but you know what I mean). Amidst all the debate, there is the outcry from some that divisions like this are keeping feminists from fighting the "real enemies". Although I understand that argument, I find it difficult to agree with. "Feminist infighting" is NOT counterproductive when it comes to privilege and appropriation. It's necessary. It will probably always be necessary. In case you haven't noticed, racism within the feminist movement is not just a thing of the past — it's not something that only existed in the first two "waves", even though that's the impression we sometimes get from self-congratulatory white "third-wavers".

I know I've been quiet about the whole thing so far, but it's not because I don't think the issues are huge or that the conversations going on all over the blogosphere are incredibly important and needed. They are huge. They are important. And they are so needed. I've just been trying to read as much as I can and take it all in, and honestly, I've been completely dumbfounded and speechless ever since I read the ignorant, disgusting comments from the Seal Press representatives on BlackAmazon's blog. And no, their comments did not remind me of a clueless friend making a fool of herself at a club (a pretty dismissive and offensive analogy, if you ask me).

But going back to the whole, "Can't we all just get along?" sentiment. Can anyone honestly read about all that's going on and only take away from it a feeling that women of color have no right to be upset? Seriously? What an entirely unfair message to women of color -- to keep quiet rather than to call out racism when they see it. This silences them. Isolates them. By discouraging them from calling out the oppressive behavior of privileged white feminists, it relegates them to the margins of a movement that is supposed to be BASED on calling out and bringing an end to oppression. It keeps white feminists blind to our privilege, and it lets us off the hook for words and behavior that should be totally inexcusable.

If anyone should stop arguing right now, it's white feminists who should be standing in solidarity with women of color. I have hope that for every presumptuous, privilege-ignoring, weight-throwing white feminist who (loudly) puts her/his two cents in without "getting it", there are (at least) ten more of us who are listening, taking it all in, and learning how to be better allies. I don't even want to think about where feminism would be without the voices of women of color.


Anonymous said...

I read this last week and didn't comment, sorry. This is a great point, that asking for "us all" to get past this and just get along is simply another silencing tool.

I've added this to my links list at FF101:

Feminism Friday: When women who advocate for women's rights reject the label "feminist"

Tracey said...

Thanks, tigtog! That's a great 101 post. It's definitely a timely topic.