On the Women’s March and “Those” White Feminists
Don’t take it personally.
This past weekend I attended the Women’s March in Washington DC. Let me first say, I support many of the criticisms that have been made towards the march — it’s initial oversight of the necessity of intersectionality and its co-optation of Black feminist movements. I also recognize the efforts many people made to attend. I applaud the organizing committee who began to address the hard, necessary questions. And I give the organizers much credit for doing their best to make sure they addressed a series of cross-cutting issues, and there will always be criticisms — we expect perfection in an imperfect world. But at the end of the day, most of the people in attendance were white women, wearing pink pussy hats. And I want to talk to you.
After sitting down to process this weekend, I feel both empowered and critical of what it all means, and what it all can mean.
As I flew into DC, on a plane with visible Trumpees, intentionally choosing the middle seat next to a young woman of color, and a white man who would eventually turn on Fox News, I asked myself, what is the purpose of this march? And if people criticize me for attending a white, liberal feminist event, are they right? Because I’ll be the first to admit, I 100% agree with criticisms people have made. It is white. It is composed of white liberal feminists. (The problem of white liberal feminism being its history of exclusion, its reproduction of white supremacy, and failure to acknowledge and include other identity markers of difference). It is viewed as a march, not a protest. In many ways, it became a spectacle. A march with entertainment value, a Coachella of sorts. Where people came to see Alicia Keys perform, rather than to hear her speak. Where Madonna was reveled, but Angela Davis was just another speaker. (Side note: Bitch please, when Angela Davis talks, you shut up and listen.)
So while I agree with many of the criticisms about the march and its cultural symbolism — the reproduction of white supremacy, and colonial erasure, the promises of democracy and liberation only for certain individuals, the reinforcement of settler colonialism, the inability to acknowledge difference — I also believe in agency and that change takes time. So while before I would have dismissed those white women and ignored them, here’s to calling them out in a stern, but tell-it-like-it-is kind of way.
But first! To all the folks who felt marginalized and lost in a sea of pink pussy hats, I see you. To the indigenous woman who carried a sign that read, “Indigenous women resisting colonialism and patriarchy since 1492,” I see you. To the women of color who received “looks” for chanting “Black Lives Matter,” or held signs that made white people uncomfortable, I see you. To the trans and gender nonconforming folks who felt excluded by signs that linked feminism to a vagina, I see you. I see you, I hear you, and I will continue to figure out ways to make your presence known. And I am sorry I didn’t go up to each and every one of you to let you know that.
To the white women who happily and proudly chanted, “My body, my rights,” but refused to yell, “Black Lives Matter,” I definitely see you. And if you were embarrassed or uncomfortable, you should be. I hope you use that moment to read and learn more because if your feminism doesn’t understand the necessity of intersectionality, then it’s just another arm of white supremacy.
So to all the people criticizing women of color and other marginalized folks for being divisive, for missing the message of unity, for making you feel guilty, for using this moment to talk about Black Lives Matter and hijack women’s rights, I do not support you, but I hope one day I can. I hope you use this opportunity to further complicate your politics, to think critically about what this weekend meant for you, but for others too. Because attending one march, does not relieve you of your responsibility to join the fight. Social justice takes many forms, but it also requires us to be active and intentional in our work towards social justice. Because it’s not just something on a to-do list you can check off. It requires your time, energy, and devotion. It is fucking hard, exhausting, and isolating. And no, you probably won’t get a thanks, recognition, or a pat on the back.
Let’s make one thing clear. I am not here for your white eyes. For your white feminism. For your diversity statics. For your comfort so you can convince yourself that the march was diverse and inclusive. I am here to make you feel uncomfortable, because you should feel that way. I am here to push you to do better, without holding your hand, because I know you can. I am here to tell you that it won’t be easy, you won’t get it right every time (no one does) but I believe you are resilient. I am here to tell you this will disrupt everything you know, your own world order of things, and it will require mental and intellectual energy. I am here to tell you that you won’t like it, because if I said otherwise, I’d be lying to you. I am here to be honest with you, to make you feel vulnerable, angry, and uncomfortable.
I am here to challenge you and call you out.
I am here for people of color, for indigenous folks you don’t take seriously, for gender nonconforming folks you’ve excluded by associating feminism with a vagina, for different-ability folks you rolled your eyes at because they wanted to get closer to the front. I am here for the protesters you dismiss because they don’t fall into your own politics of respectability. Because for how much you criticize them, at the end of the day, there’s a good chance they’ve been doing this longer than you. And while I don’t always agree with their methods, if we see their actions and immediately dismiss them without critically thinking about the politics of their actions, then aren’t we simply imposing our own individual beliefs of what our liberation looks like?
Because let’s remember, liberation looks different to every individual. And it’s that self-centeredness, where we become so quick to judge people because they don’t fall within our parameters of respectability or normativity, that falls back into the same trap that reproduces oppression. Sure, under this particular system of power, the law, maybe some of them did deserve to get arrested. But let’s not forget the history of this country and its state-sanctioned violence, its targeting of black and brown bodies, its colonial conquest and genocide of Native peoples, its anti-immigration laws and exclusionary legal practices. Because if you see police and think, we’re safe, take a moment to ask yourself why it is you feel safe, when millions of others have the opposite reaction.
So criticize the man who sucker-punched the Neo-Nazi. But when white supremacists start to use their newly found feelings of empowerment to enact violence on communities they have historically attacked, harassed, and burned, I wonder, will you still look down on the man who sucker-punched the Neo-Nazi?