The Solidarity Is For White Women hashtag started on Twitter sometime yesterday and is still going strong. I would go back and try to find who created it – in fact I did try – but the thing goes so deep and has had so many people contributing that I gave up. I’m sure someone on the internet has the answer, but the more important thing is precisely how popular this thing has become and what is pouring out of it.
I am a feminist. I am also a white woman (as well as being straight and middle class). I don’t think that the issues confronting me as a woman in a patriarchal society are unimportant or unworthy of attention, but I also am not idiotic enough to think that they don’t pale in comparison to those faced by millions of other people, especially women of color (WOC). There’s all sorts of privilege out there, but it all operates in basically the same way: it makes life more unfair than it has to be for reasons that don’t have to exist.
I get frustrated when people accuse feminism of being “for bored middle-class white women.” Feminism, as I see it, is for everyone. I am a feminist precisely because I see that the world places certain people at a disadvantage for no good reason. To me it is natural to extend this observation well beyond gender to race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic status, etc. So it drives me crazy me when people disparage feminism for being all about well-off white women. And the worst part? Sometimes, they’re kind of right.
There is nothing worse than having other people be right about problems with a movement you belong to and believe passionately in. But the truth? Sometimes feminism is mostly about white women. There are a lot of reasons for this that have nothing to do with the inherent value of feminism as a philosophy or its potential as a movement for all people, but like all things, the reality doesn’t live up to that ideal.
I might be naïve (or biased by my own privilege) to suggest that these reasons don’t have to be malicious or racist on the level of individuals: white women are (unfortunately) more likely to have gone to college and have had extensive exposure to feminism and feminist ideals; they are more likely to be confident in their own worth since they’ve received less societal programming to the contrary than WOC. As such, they are more likely to be part of feminist movements, and the problems they are naturally more likely to notice and feel qualified to solve are their own.
None of this really matters much, however. That’s a little like saying that straight, white men aren’t to blame for patriarchy because their privileged status makes them unlikely to notice the problems faced by… pretty much everyone else. It’s true, sure, but it doesn’t mean that this isn’t a HUGE problem that we should all try to fix immediately. Just because the people involved might not mean any harm, that doesn’t mean the system as a whole isn’t causing harm.
It’s a bit like when men say that “It’s not my fault women used to be oppressed; I didn’t live back then. I didn’t do anything wrong.” This also drives me insane. Tear my hair out, beat my head against a wall, cry until my eyeballs dissolve insane. Because who cares whose fault it is? Who cares who did what when? The point is that there are still PROBLEMS. And they are big, and they are hard, and if you aren’t willing to listen to the people affected by them, the people who are Telling You That These Are Problems Because They Know Because They Have To Deal With Them, then you are a problem, too.
It is in this spirit that I’ve been following #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen avidly for the past twenty-four hours. Because these are clearly problems. And the people affected by them are speaking. And the rest of us should just shut up, take a seat, and listen. Because that is step one.