By Katie Stanton
Social Media & Online Engagement Manager, YWCA USA
You may have heard, or contributed to, a hashtag that took over Twitter about one month ago: #solidarityisforwhitewomen. This tag, created in response to an exchange between writer Mikki Kendall and a former male feminist blogger, inspired Twitter users from all over the world to express their frustration, anger and sadness over the lack of intersectionality in feminism — that, within this social justice movement, the experiences, voices and needs of women of color have been often overlooked, forgotten or ignored.
The YWCA’s mission is to: eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. At the core of our work is the recognition that not all women, or all people, are treated equally, and that our work must reflect the needs of all of the women we serve. Our mission and history is a direct embodiment of a movement that is intersectional, that took a look at itself and asked, “Are we truly inclusive? Do we embrace diversity? What can we do better?” The YWCA’s first interracial conference was held in 1915; in 1946, we adopted the Interracial Charter, which stated that “wherever there is injustice on the basis of race, whether it is in the community, the nation, or the world, our protest must be clear and our labor for its removal vigorous and steady.” In 1965, the Office of Racial Justice, led by civil rights icon Dr. Dorothy I. Height, led a campaign against discrimination within the YWCA as well as without, ensuring that integration was a requirement of our associations and affiliates. In 1970, the national YWCA adopted the One Imperative, committing itself to “the elimination of racism wherever it exists and by any means necessary.” We continue to emphasize racial justice in all of our work, and to always ask what more we can do to fight racial inequity.
We asked two young YWCA leaders, Mana Tahaie, Director of Racial Justice at the YWCA Tulsa and Danielle Marse-Kapr, Manager, Gender Equity Programs at the YWCA Orange County NY, for their thoughts on this hashtag and on intersectionality.
1. What was your biggest takeaway from the #SolidaritywithWhiteWomen hashtag?
Mana: The debate highlighted that some view feminism as still a white women’s movement, and the issues that led women of color to self-identify as womanists are still very much present. Women of color in the blogosphere have been calling out mainstream online feminism for their privilege and marginalizing for years. It’s also evident that the fallout from the 2008 BrownFemiPower/Amanda Marcotte/Seal Press upset never resulted in any real change, that the very real hurt that that debacle unearthed have been simmering, unchecked. Mikki Kendall’s tag sparked well-deserved anger from women of color.
2.What does intersectionality mean to you?
Danielle: Intersectionality refers to the intersecting oppressions that people face. In the case of this hashtag, women who experience racism, as people of color, and sexism, as women, spoke out about a clueless white feminist narrative. They later critiqued men of color for perpetuating or not addressing sexism (#blackpowerisforblackmen). White feminists can lose touch with feminism that is anti-oppression and anti-racist when they lose sight of intersectionality. To effectively address sexism, we must adopt a broader focus that goes beyond issues affecting only white women.
Mana: I feel like “intersectionality” is a word that gets thrown around so that progressives can seem like they “get” the struggles of marginalized people. As @adefillo said, “#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen when white feminists get famous using ‘intersectional’ analysis to point out the lack of women of color in the movement.” In practice, it should be about “nothing about us, without us,” and the deep understanding that every movement has the obligation to examine its privilege, de-center the experiences of the dominant group, and listen to the voices of the oppressed. It should mean that none of us are ever just one part of our identity, and that single-issue movements are therefore missing the point, and are potentially oppressive. #SolidarityisforWhiteWomen and #blackpowerisforblackmen demonstrates that women of color, especially black women, bear the brunt of movements that are not intersectional.
3. How do you think the average person can better integrate “intersectionality” into their day-to-day life?
Mana: Decenter yourself. When you’re organizing on an issue, ask whose voices are missing and do something about it. Make an honest list of privileges you have (race, gender identity, ability, sexuality, education, class, and so on) and look at it, over and over. Remind yourself that one aspect of privilege is not being conscious of it, and that means that ways you enact privilege are likely to be invisible to you unless you’ve spent time thinking about and observing them. When marginalized people point out your privilege, believe them.
Danielle: I think a strong understanding of anti-oppression work makes it easier to adopt an intersectional perspective. For white women, I think it’s important to take an inventory of the traits that we have in common with a societal group that has historically been very powerful. I may experience oppression as a woman, but how does my whiteness set me up for success in this culture – and what does that mean about the way I pursue success? Acknowledging one’s own privilege and role in an unjust society is critical to having an intersectional or anti-oppressive worldview.
4. Does feminism have a “race problem?” Why or why not?
Mana: Absolutely. Like any U.S. institution, feminism was created in the context of white dominance, by people who benefit from white privilege, who therefore can perpetuate “race problems.” The good news is, as one of my mentors once said, feminism has the benefit of being like a Volkswagen: it comes with its own repair kit. Because feminism is ideally about dismantling oppression, it’s uniquely designed to eradicate the racism (and transphobia, and ablism, and other forms of oppression) that currently exist within the movement.
Danielle: When our feminism mirrors a culture steeped in sexism and racism, we run a greater risk of having “a race problem.” Feminism is a movement towards anti-oppression. Individuals and groups who identify as feminist can certainly act in racist ways, benefit from white privilege, or fail to understand racial justice. The “feminism” that is marketed for mass consumption is often so skewed that it’s unrecognizable. The Sheryl Sandberg-types in this world, who from their executive positions of power and privilege claim to hold the keys to achieving equality, do not and should not represent feminism today. Feminists and feminist sites committed to fighting oppression like Jessica Valenti, Feministing and Jezebel were critiqued by #solidarityisforwhitewomen for being poor allies and lacking diversity. It serves as an important reminder to white feminists we must maintain an understanding of oppression and work consistently to realize our own privilege and create diversity in all spaces.
There is a desire and a need to spread these vital messages about inequity and injustice to a wide audience. Tim Wise got an hour-long segment on CNN after the George Zimmerman trial. It’s likely he made some great points, but what does it mean when a white man gets a full hour to discuss race on a major news network? Can allies (men, white people, straight people, etc.) really learn the difference between “speaking out” against injustice and stealing the platform altogether? I try to abide by these 6 rules for allies but I feel they have been challenged by #solidarityisforwhitewomen.
5. What does “feminism” mean to you? What gains have been made? Setbacks?
Danielle: To me, feminism is the fight for equality for all marginalized groups. It identifies white supremacist patriarchy as the primary perpetrator of oppression. Advocates have been fighting this battle for centuries and despite modest gains, there is a long road still ahead.
Feminism and feminists have made gains not only in achieving a more equitable and safe society but also in contributing to a body of language and concepts that speaks to the experiences of marginalized people, and women, especially. We have made gains public policy, business, philosophy, social change, family dynamics, etc.
When feminism fails to be radical, it holds itself back. When we reduce feminism to only that which affects women with privilege, we hold the movement back. If what you espouse is racist, it ceases to be feminism.
Mana: Feminism was my entrée into social justice, and I’m deeply thankful for that. But I think I outgrew it somewhere along the way, probably as a result of my own racial identity development. And, later, I became aware of the transphobia, the ablism, and the host of other ways feminism was reinforcing kyriarchy, and it just makes it too hard to stick around. There have been vast gains over the past few decades – but the unprecedented war on women we’re currently experiencing demonstrates that it takes vigilance, and that equality can regress quickly if not defended.
6. What provocative tweets, articles or post have you seen surrounding the hashtag?
- @xSyedaMiah: When you want me to pray for ‘your soldiers’ whilst massacring mine #solidarityisforwhitewomen
- @StephHerold: #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen = fighting against fetal personhood bills and not saying one word about voter ID laws.
- @aurabogado: #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen when white women displace women of color by moving into edgy neighborhoods they know nothing about
- @SettlerColonial: #solidarityisforwhitewomen whose feminism requires high-speed and a live-in nanny. pic.twitter.com/9qJ1SEiVBw
- @RaniaKhalek: Praising the “economic recovery” when the unemployment rate for black women is higher than it was 4 years ago. #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen
- @mcbyrne: #solidarityisforwhitewomen who talk glass ceiling without making sure everyone is in the building first.
- @sanaa_cue: #solidarityisforwhitewomen when i’m expected to support slutwalk but y’all carry on celebrating the french ban on hijabs and niqabs.
- @mariamelba91: #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen deciding the issues for women in the postcolonial world, then “saving” them
- @ridingburritos: #solidarityisforwhitewomen is being told by a white woman that the book ‘Lean In’ speaks to all of us; she’s offended when I tell her not me
- @RaniaKhalek: #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen when convos about gender pay gap ignore that white women earn higher wages than black, Latino and Native men.
One tweet also referenced a movement I didn’t know about, the Combahee River Collective. I was grateful to learn about it!