Monday, May 12, 2008

White Feminist Apologetics

One of the most difficult things for me, as a feminist and as a white person, is trying to figure out how to correctly address the criticisms of white feminism by women of color. Historically, women of color and their unique perspectives and issues have been marginalized within the greater feminist agenda, which has lead to many WOC feeling distanced from the greater feminist collective. If white feminists aren't talking about issues that are relevant to WOC, and are actively disregarding issues that specifically pertain to WOC, then I would argue that they are actively engaged in perpetuating culturally entrenched racism.

The problem for me is how to participate in a discussion about WOC and their issues without coming across as patronizing or disingenuous. I feel uncomfortable coming to this table, and I've felt it many many times. When working in sexual violence, I once attended a workshop about sexual/domestic violence against women of color. I was the only white person present and, although I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the discussion and learning about the cultural stratification that separates WOC from other victims of sexual/domestic violence, I did not feel as if I could participate- even to ask questions. It's not that I don't have anything to say, or that I don't have any questions, it's simply that I don't want to come off as that "white girl."

I really haven't found an answer for this conundrum. In all aspects of my personal and professional development, I try to consider viewpoints from women of color. I actively seek out different blogs by women of color and I try to follow legislative/local/societal issues that pertain specifically to different women of color groups. This, however, doesn't really help me know how to better approach women of color feminist issues as a participant. I am the great philosophical lurker- up to date on pertinent issues, yet with no voice or direction of my own.

Today, however, I read an article on Feministing and then several other articles about
Ramona Moore, a girl who was kidnapped, tortured, raped and murdered in a basement in Brooklyn. This story made me physically ill- literally nauseous. The police did nothing to find this woman while her mother and family members frantically tried everything they could think of to get her back. Her own mother discovered her brutally beaten body under an ice cream truck- the family was waiting by the body when the police arrived. The picture of her mother, Elle Carmichael, in the Village Voice was heartbreaking. Her eyes contained so much sadness. Her mother could have been my mother, in fact she reminds me of my mother. My mother would have done exactly what Ms. Carmichael did. She would have gone crazy with worry and hounded the police and put out fliers and conducted her own investigation. She would have fought tooth and nail to bring me home.

The difference is, my mother might have gotten results. She's white and so am I. The police pay attention to white women. When Elizabeth Smart went missing, the whole nation went into high alert. Thousands of people went looking for her and posted fliers and prayed. A black girl goes missing and it took her family contacting local politicians to pressure the police into action 4 days later. It makes me want to give up.

Her mother is bringing a case against the NYPD, accusing them of racial stereotyping. I am amazed by the strength and persistence of her love- the fury and the whirlwind type ferocity that drives this woman whose tragedy is unimaginable to keep fighting the system. I have looked for different ways to help, for different ways to lend a hand, and so far I haven't found a whole lot of direction from the blogs and news reports I've seen. But I can talk about it.

Women of color STILL face incredible discrimination and violation of their basic rights. I want to figure out how to participate in their struggle in a way that doesn't involve subscribing to typical brands of racism and patriarchy. Until I figure out how to do that effectively, I vow to at least TALK about it.

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