Racism within white feminist spaces

By Mia

When we talk about ‘white feminist spaces’ what we mean is the default mainstream feminism of the UK, (Europe and USA). A feminism that considers itself superior to women’s movement’s throughout the world, using it’s white privilege to cherry pick which women (of colour) and oppressions are worthy of attention or rescue, viewed through a myopic authoritative white lens.

White feminism must evolve and integrate with multi cultural societies if it is genuinely concerned with the liberation of all women. Barr a few switched on individuals, many white feminists (WFs) I have encountered in the UK, view ‘woman hate’ as the only form of oppression requiring eradication, for women to be free. I wish that was true.

What many WFs still forget or fail to notice is that, women of colour making up the global majority of the women’s population, they face and challenge multiple oppressions i.e. racism, classism and sexism, via organised structures supporting capitalism such as colonialism, neo-liberalism and patriarchy amongst others.

What disturbs me more than these systems of corruption destroying women’s lives worldwide; are the WFs, who profess to be fighting and overthrowing the patriarchy, when in fact they are capitulating with the patriarchy, by choosing to ignore, silence and even deny racism.

Yes that’s right – there are WFs out there who believe racism no longer exists!
Racism towards people of colour is not even close to extinction. To deny or silence racism is racist.

In 2012 I was asked by two WFs, what feminist women of colour ‘want us to do to make feminist spaces more inclusive of women of colour?’ It prompted me to review my observations and experiences of WFs in feminist spaces in 2012.

For a WF to deny a woman of colour’s experience of racism, by stating her experience of oppression ‘…was likely to be sexism based and not racism based..’ and ‘…how would she really know the difference.?…’ is racist.

For a WF to roll her eyes and display defensive body language, when a woman of colour brings up racism as part of feminist discourse, is racist.

To invite women of colour to feminist events to teach majority WF audiences, about global women’s struggles and not invite them to discuss job cuts, abortions, body image, rape, sexuality etc, is racist.

To involve women of colour as entertainment or free catering service at feminist events whilst failing to involve women of colour in visible lead speaker or panel roles is racist.

Labelling a woman of colour ‘aggressive’ and ‘angry’ when she challenges a white woman’s view point, in a non aggressive way, is racist.

Bursting into tears and or running away, when a woman of colour challenges your racist attitude and behaviour, is racist.

Ganging up with other WFs and psychologically bullying a woman of colour because she called out your feminist sisters’ racism, is racist.

Ignoring the view point of a woman of colour, then collectively celebrating the same view point copycatted by a WF, moments later, is racist.

WFs minimising their activism or suddenly becoming inert when asked to support campaigns and movements predominantly aimed at women of colour, is racist.

WFs saying:  ‘… we have plenty of problems of our own in this country like abortion rights to deal with! …’ when asked to support campaigns for women of colour, is racist.

WFs dismissing racism by suggesting ‘racist remarks delivered as flippant comments are not really racist’… is racist.

Demanding to enter black women only safe spaces because you … ‘want to watch… ’ only to sulk and attempt to justify your rights to enter a black women only space by stating ‘how else are we supposed to understand if you won’t let us watch?!’ When the purpose of a black women’s space is explained to you, is racist.

Telling women of colour they are only othering themselves by self organising as black women groups, is racist.

Playing the white privilege card to justify un- intentional displays of racism is transparently racist.

Simply throwing around terms such as ‘intersectionality’, ‘white privilege’, and book titles written by black feminists does not eradicate racism or prove your feminism will be intersectional. 

A racist cannot be a true feminist. Racists who claim to be feminists are nothing more than handmaidens of the Patriarchy.

Addressing ALL oppressions faced by women of colour solely within a ‘global women’s struggles’ framework, is the othering of women of colour.

Firstly it seems to have escaped some WF’s attention that all women live ‘on the globe’ including WFs.Secondly such framing is symptomatic of colonial mindsets. Framing women of colour as one entity outside of whiteness, creates invisible boundaries between us. It objectifies women of colour. ‘Global women’s struggles’ tend to focus on Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East and are usually viewed through a white lens. The focus then shifts to a default, dominant, white, feminist perspective of women’s issues in the UK, omitting and dismissing the experiences of women of colour in the UK, Europe and USA.

Although the attempt at inclusion and diversity is recognised, we must remember, the practise of ticking ‘diversity’ boxes only perpetuates othering mentalities, it is a neo liberal method designed to reinforce racism and other isms.

Woman hate does not exist in a vacuum; it is part of and influenced by connected oppressions. To challenge woman hate whilst ignoring or supporting racism and other oppressions of equal importance is foolish. Understanding the purpose of black women spaces and realistic representations of women of colour in feminist spaces is key.

Creating mainstream feminist spaces and campaigns organised and led jointly by women of colour and white women, whilst supporting feminist campaigns of all races is essential.

Racism amongst WFs has been rife for decades. It is prevalent amongst all classes. This piece is not the first to address racist WFs and until such women actively listen to women of colour and choose to support the women’s movement, rather than corrupt it, this won’t be the last.
Audre Lourde stated:  ‘What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow perimeters of change are possible and allowable.’

Women of colour will never accept racism, especially from WFs.

There will never be liberation of white women without the liberation of women of colour; actively listening to feminist women of colour is a must for WFs. It will create a sisterhood that works more effectively for collective/collaborative radical change.

Women of colour, who understand multiple oppressions firsthand, are organised and challenging oppressive systems head on, every day. The only ‘feminist’ option for our white sisters is to stand side by side with black feminist sisters in solidarity and activism, not contempt.

About Black Feminists Manchester

This is a group for women who are ‘black’ in the political sense. I.e: women who self- identify, originate or have ancestry from global majority populations (i.e. Africa, Asia, Middle East and Latin America) multi heritage and indigenous backgrounds.
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36 Responses to Racism within white feminist spaces

  1. Olivia says:

    Helpful tips on not being an arse there. The author does suggest that WF “support” black feminists and their spaces, and although I understand supporting them in the sense that I need to shut my mouth and listen instead of denying their experiences, I wondered if there is anything pro-active I can do to support WoC within a feminist network?

  2. There is no ‘one fix all’ method (in my view anyway). The author shares personal and observed experiences of racism, within those examples we can see ways to change behaviours and actions.
    I also don’t think anyone should shut their mouths, but for sisters of all races, backgrounds… to respect each others experiences, listen and talk openly to each other. Feminist women have unlearned or rejected patriarchy, the same can be done with racism and other oppressions.(SA)

    • Olivia says:

      The “shut up and listen” was mostly me phrasing things flippantly. Privilege is sneaky and I hope that I can recognise my own when its doing the thinking for me. Thank you for your response.

      • Bobbie says:

        Olivia, did you miss this one? “WFs dismissing racism by suggesting ‘racist remarks delivered as flippant comments are not really racist’… is racist.”

      • Olivia says:

        Hi Bobbie,not sure if there has been a crossed wire. I suggested in my first response that as a WF I understand that BF face many problems in feminist spaces, one of the problems being that they’re talked over which can be countered by WF listening. My phrasing was flippant as I suggested WF need to shut up, I really don’t understand what I’ve said that is racist there.

  3. Jo Regan says:

    Thanks for this post. I am preaching on racism on Sunday. Standing together we change the world one small step at a time.

  4. Stafford_Lady says:

    Any feminist who fails to acknowledge inequality is not a feminist. QED.

  5. Jessica Burde says:

    Thank you for some great information.

  6. rudy2shoes says:

    reckon we can all be racists (of course not the stone island wearing stereotype or the faceless world bank policy fixers) – the difference is an ability of being aware enough to challenge yourself first… a characteristic of a ‘good’ feminist (something else we all have the capability to be) in the sense that we should be recognising diversity, acknowledging difference, and seeking to strengthen each other from challenges…

    handmaidens of empire do exist…. and some of them are not non-white people who believe that racism is no more… as such, an attack on ‘whitey on the moon’ should simultaneously bring force to bear on the ‘non-whitey on the moon’…

    i find it hard to be an anti-racist using dichotomising stereotypes…

  7. Wendy Lyon says:

    Reblogged this on Feminist Ire and commented:
    This piece comes from Britain, but Irish feminists must not see it as irrelevant to feminism in Ireland. One example that jumped out at me immediately was this one: “To involve women of colour as entertainment or free catering service at feminist events whilst failing to involve women of colour in visible lead speaker or panel roles is racist.” I can think of a couple recent examples where events were organised to discuss migrant women’s experiences, and migrant women did not feature on the panel at all (at least initially, presumably until the exclusion was pointed out to the organisers). I also attended an event not too long ago where a migrant woman spoke powerfully about her negative experiences in Ireland, and when it came to Q&A time a white Irish woman in the audience stood up to express her sympathies…and then addressed a question about this woman’s experience to the white Irish NGO worker sitting beside her on the panel.

    I’d note also the negative reaction among some Irish feminists to a woman of colour’s post on this blog, in which she objected to Islam being used as a bogeyman in the Irish abortion debate (as if Catholicism hasn’t been oppressive enough). Among other things, she was told that she should go to a Muslim country and see what things were like there. The assumption by the people who made those comments that they know more about life in her native country than she does – that’s also racist.

    Any women of colour in Ireland who are reading this – what other examples of racism have you seen within Irish feminism? And what do white Irish feminists need to do better/differently/at all to address this?

  8. aoifesmckenna says:

    Great post! Especially liked the critique of ‘global women’s struggles’.

  9. Thanks, and great detail.

  10. Crys says:

    eek, have you encountered any of those examples yourself? If so, I count myself extremely lucky to not have met any feminists in my life to behave like that :s

    There’s just one that confuses me though: “Addressing ALL oppressions faced by women of colour solely within a ‘global women’s struggles’ framework, is the othering of women of colour.”

    I don’t entirely understand that one. Isn’t addressing all oppressions that affect women all over the world the very definition of inclusiveness? Or has “global women’s struggles” become a codeword that I am unfamiliar with? Aren’t “global women’s struggles” everything from unequal pay to abortion rights to child marriage to female infanticide to forcing women to wear burquas to rape culture to sexual harrassment to breast ironing to internet mysogyny? Methinks something is going over my head here….

  11. Finisterre says:

    Thank you for this, it was useful and informative. The personal interaction stuff I already try to bear in mind, but the global women’s stuff was enlightening. That colonialist mindset is quite pervasive and not always obvious (to this WF) at first sight, so thanks for the helping hand in identifying it and (hopefully) recognising such tendencies in my own perspective.

  12. ladypartsdoc says:

    Reblogged this on Lady Parts and commented:
    In a city like Memphis, we have a beautifully rich and diverse culture as a city. I love Memphis and I love Memphians. It might be one of the most dangerous places for women to live, but there is a strong sisterhood and brotherhood here unlike many other cities I’ve lived in despite our ugly reputation and caricatured representations by outsiders. In light of this, I have had to recognize my place as a woman with white privilege speaking out and advocating for all women — not just white women. I’m not sure how any Memphian could deny that racism exists, which is one issue mentioned in this erudite piece that got my attention. Enjoy!


    Here is an article written by Mia on Black Feminists Manchester. I hope that you all enjoy it as much as I did, and I would like it to serve as a guideline for the kind of climate we are working to create in the Lady Parts Blog.

  13. Indi Blu says:

    We must organize and we must work together. What are we doing as there are cuts in legal aid and many women will have issues with contact issues and such.

  14. As a Feminist, who is white, I sincerely appreciate the thoughts expressed here. I am actively trying to do more listening in my life, and less talking. I have experienced WF spaces, where WF chose to ignore the experiences of women of color. Being there to witness it taught me quite a bit about the kind of feminist that I want to be. I believe that it is healthy for WF to be reminded that we are not the majority and that intersectionality isn’t just a word.

  15. Rosie says:

    Reblogged this on FEMBORG.

  16. Christine says:

    I actually have my own example of watching how white privilege and class operate…I was once part of an art org that would make a list of “people of color” to choose from when we need to “diversify”. After several years, (in the time I went from intern to board member) I made a suggestion… to figure out why people of color weren’t naturally populating roles within the organization. I never really got to see how this went because I was shunned for making the *gasp* suggestion that *perhaps* it was weird/wrong for a a group of white people to make a list of people of color they know when their “diverse” board found itself to be all white! (AGAIN and AGAIN) I’ll never forget the donor (the owner of a “progressive indie” product in San Fran) who started screaming “I WON’T APOLOGIZE FOR MY SUCCESS….I WORKED HARD FOR IT!!” at the very suggestion that we look at the cause of all white boards. I’ve paid for my transgression …my years of service have been whittled down to SERVER, and otherwise erased from 8 years of history. But I have my shit in PRINT people, so they can remove me digitally, but I have the proof!! That’s the class intersection where rich girls of privilege strike back by belittling the working class as their servants. I’ve learned over the years that educated progressives (especially in the arts) have adopted just as many racist practices as the mainstream, but WE are so convinced that because WE are artists or academics, WE couldn’t possibly be racist. It’s ridiculous because the art world and academia are major carriers of sexist, racist, elitist….IMPERIALIST frameworks of the old order. It’s still hanging on, but it is the old order. I say women who feel left out of any group because they are still consciously or unconsciously hanging onto imperialist frameworks should go forth and create the new worlds with like minded women. Part of the world refuses to participate because they are steeped in power and they afraid to let it go for the unknown. They will have to catch up while you are building the future. And what we desperately need to support the changes we see happening in the world are systems, frameworks, networks that allow small changes to gain traction. Right now we see change funneled through the old system because there’s nothing there BUT the remnants of the past regimes.

  17. Christine says:

    I emphasis the word “WE” because I know I am part of it…that decolonizing the imagination and exorcising it’s practices is a long process, and the closer you are to the center, the more likely it is deeply imbedded in your life. It took me several years before I thought, hey, this doesn’t feel right, let’s talk about it.

  18. Lexi says:

    I understand totally and see some of your points in the article but to me it sounds just as racist to be saying only women of colour go through racism. How many times you stated “white woman need to this and “white people need to that” I think is showing your racism to white people. I don’t hear of the racism I face living in predominantly “black area” and being white in an interracial relationship. I’ve gotten dirty looks and rude comments by people don’t even know us. I love everybody until they wrong me I don’t care what colour you are. But to most black women I’ve encountered and spoken to seem to have a big problem with me being with a black man. It’s ok to see a black woman with a white man but vice versa it’s a problem. I think you also need to open your eyes and see not only women of colour are going through this. It is sad all around that this is still happening, and of course I’m not blind and yes there obviously is racism against black people, my point is that it is not the only racism around so before you continuously blame “white people”could you consider that some black people can be just as “racist” too.

    • Fa says:

      It’s so sad that you missed the author’s point completely, but it’s also great that illustrated many of her points.

    • Björg says:

      The tricky thing here is that there’s a difference between bias/prejudice that all individuals can and do show against each other and racism, which is the systematic oppression of people of color that has been maintained over centuries. Being a white woman myself in an interracial relationship, I would argue that white folks may experience rudeness, biases, and stereotyping, but NOT racism. The comments and looks may of course feel uncomfortable, but they do not add to a larger picture of white people being historically and currently oppressed by people of color.

    • vwcruns says:

      Aaand you’ve minimized the issue at hand by making it ALL about you. Even living where you live and being in the relationship you’ve chosen you still have the privilege of A. Being seen as an individual with individual thoughts and not a representative of a mass/race and B. the author isn’t suggesting that all people aren’t capable of being racist, what she OS saying is that Feminism is about creating equality for all people and recognizing/ working to abolish oppressions of all populations. Again, this IS NOT personal to you…unless you are one of the WF referenced in this article and being called out is making you defensive. Consider this and invitation to explore where your response came from.

  19. veronica says:

    what I object to is being told by anyone what is an acceptable way to define any part of myself whether it behow to be a feminist, how to be a black woman or my sexuality

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  22. Christine says:

    I love this interview between Bill Moyer and Angela Glover Blackwell on racism in AmericaI believe it is worth a watch. This is about America, but I believe the principals of Blackwell’s arguments transcend country.

  23. I’m so happy to read your blog, and I want to say also that so many narratives on the first wave of feminism center on white female suffragists. Women of color did EXIST at this time, facing slavery, colonization, and genocide. All females had to fight for their rights as humans, and I am appalled that are we ignored as first wave.

  24. Inda Lauryn says:

    Reblogged this on Corner Store Press and commented:
    “A racist cannot be a true feminist. Racists who claim to be feminists are nothing more than handmaidens of the Patriarchy.”

  25. I am glad that there is some focus on UK and the European experience because I think the American one is a different context, a very broad different experience. That said, I am a women of colour and a feminist but still not comfortable with the label of “black feminist” . It’s too easy, it has been handed to us.

  26. danielleparadis says:

    Reblogged this on Danielle Paradis and commented:
    Well worth a read!

  27. smclemensi50@gmail.com says:

    Thanks for this! Grieved at the mass of exemplary racist situations here. Definitely sharing in future.

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