The Decolonization of White Feminist Consciousness
In the heartbreaking aftermath of the election of Donald Trump, Black, Brown, and White feminists find themselves divided by unhealed historical wounds. In order to navigate beyond the seemingly untenable crevasse that currently divides the landscape of feminist consciousness, there are several key understandings that White feminists must grapple with. The following truths, while they are painful to accept, are the yellow brick road to greater understanding; acceptance of them is the prerequisite work we, as White women, must do to topple the starboys of heteropatriarchy — Donald Trump and his henchmen:
- Every political and economic gain made by White families, including White women and girls, in the history of the United States has come with political and economic losses, and with genocide, for Black and Native American women.
2. The above reality dates from the first steps made by Europeans on Caribbean soil in the 1490s to the current state of mass incarceration and police violence that disproportionately impacts Black and Brown people.
3. Claiming feminism, or desiring a different history and current political context that brings us close together as women, does not exempt White feminists from these horrible truths, or from the economic and political advantages that they resulted in for White women.
4. White women’s choice to divest from the patriarchal structure does not also divest us from political and economic gains related to Whiteness.
5. White women’s choice to protest against patriarchal domination, demand equal political rights to White men, and/or demand an end to misogyny in popular culture do not either translate to similar gains for Black, Brown, and Native women, or gain White women status as intersectional feminists; as none of these objectives contain the clear goal of total deconstruction of the racist structures that threaten Black lives and therefore Black women.
There is one remaining crucial action for White women to take in the current political moment: decolonizing ourselves. White women, for too long, have played a game of smoke and mirrors with Black women by claiming to wish to ally with them, only to attempt to take control of group operations, set up roadblocks and obstacles, and/or request explanation for every aspect of Black feminism, all while expecting a closeness and sisterhood that belies history. The work of White feminists is not to fawn over Black feminism, begging for the opportunity for allyship, while tacitly making “recommendations” regarding how things should be done. The work of White feminism is to sincerely support Black women by aiming our entire movement at toppling racist ideology; the only way to enter this arena is to first decolonize ourselves.
The decolonization of the White woman is an impossible paradox; this is the truth that Black feminists know; White women are so indoctrinated by whole lives of color caste privilege that we cannot live, as White women, without this protective layer. Still, the White woman who spends her time trying to understand the nature of her own White privilege, the history of that privilege, and begins rejecting the layers of institutional associations that accompany her Whiteness, on the basis of her own search for truth and not on the basis of a guilt-ridden attempt to ally with Black women, is better using her time than the White feminist who, through guilt-ridden forms of philanthropy and activism (wacktivism) actually do more to protect and uphold racist hetero-patriarchy than reject it.
A pathway for decolonization:
White women may begin the process of decolonization by examining the institutions that they participate in, both in the history of their family and currently, by examining their financial investments, by examining their socio-political investments, and by examining their attitudes toward Black and Brown women. The following questions may help White feminists to explore elements of ourselves, toward the lifetime goal of a decolonized self:
What religious institutions do I participate in?
What part do these institutions have in the history of colonization?
Do the institutions that I participate in portray a God-image that is distinctly White?
What part do these institutions have in the operation of oppressive constructs?
What role do women have in these institutions?
What role do these institutions have in upholding a culture of silence around Black genocide?
What role do I have in this institution?
If I know that the institution has a history of violence toward Black and Brown women, and currently helps to maintain silence, what are my reasons for associating myself with this institution?
Do I remain associated with this institution due to my relationship with a White patriarch? Does my participation in this institution help to uphold the structure of hetero-normative White patriarchy, ultimately harming Black women?
Am I married to white man?
Does my marriage provide me with the privilege of financial security?
What economic and social advantages came with my union?
Am I willing to divest from all economic and social advantages that came with my union, including all wages, time off, and healthcare benefits that come from the empowered White male who has the advantage of providing them, in full acknowledgement that Black men are inordinately incarcerated while White men gain continued career success?
If I am not willing to divest from my economic and social privileges, do I acknowledge that I am invested in the oppression of Black and Brown women by virtue of the role I play as a supporter and upholder of White power and patriarchy?
If my class status is such that my marriage came with no economic privileges (for example, you married a poor White guy), am I willing to reckon with the reality that I am still privileged by my participation in patriarchy based on both tax laws and the simple reality of the benefit of life partnership, a benefit that is harder to achieve for Black women based on Black genocide?
Law Enforcement & Police
What is my relationship with law enforcement and police?
What do I teach my children about police?
Do I ever question the role or nature of law enforcement in the jurisdiction where I live?
Am I willing to look at the way that my failure to call out injustice by questioning and challenging law enforcement leads to the undue incarceration of Black people, and the highest rate of incarceration in the world?
Am I willing to use my privilege to demand change in the nature of policing in my community?
What is my relationship to schools?
Did one or both of my parents attend college?
Do I use my voice to question the practice of exclusionary discipline (higher rates of removal from the classroom environment for Black and Brown children, nationwide, as reported by the U.S. Office of Civil Rights) in my children’s school?
Do I regularly ask questions at my children’s school regarding the inclusion of African American students in advanced coursework?
Do I ask to see graduation rates and grade data at my children’s schools, with racial and ethnic demographics broken down to see inequities?
Am I willing to accept that my failure to do so represents my failure to speak up for social and racial justice, thereby upholding a culture of silence around racism in education?
Do I own property?
Do my parents own property?
Do my parents still provide me with any form of financial support (or did they ever at any point in my life)?
Do I pay property taxes?
Do I invest in the stock market?
Do I have other investments?
Am I willing to accept that my family legacy (even if I am not from a wealthy background) and my investment in private property makes me a participant in a structure that systematically gives me advantages based on Whiteness, like economic head starts, prices being lower for Whites on large items like cars, appliances, and even homes, and long term economic security while excluding the majority of Black and Brown women?
Who are my friends and business associates?
Does my network include people in positions of political or social power?
Do I realize that the nature of my power in society is, in part, constructed through my relationships?
Does my political and social power in the town or city where I live create a structure that demonstrates and regenerates itself while systematically excluding most Black and Brown women, aside from perhaps few token Black or Brown women that are included to play pretend at inclusion?
Do I understand that my social network creates a dynamic of socio-political exclusion for Black and Brown women?
Are my aims at philanthropy pretenses of a White feminism that actually seeks its own glory and wishes to, at all costs, maintain its own class supremacy?
If I am not a wealthy or middle class White woman who walks in mostly White circles, do I see that I do not need to aim toward a version of success that promotes White supremacy…and can instead participate in circles of greater inclusion that aim at protesting White supremacist circles in my city or town?
An examination of the above questions will help to scratch the surface of the decolonization process. The deeper work, which will require years of self-inquiry, involves examination of family history, full uncovering of overt and latent forms of racism within one’s own family history and personal lived experience. Then, and only then, one must work toward having the courage to make different choices at both the institutional and personal levels.
In the meantime, we can also work toward not pissing off Black feminists. Here are some key attitudes that we must change in order to work toward more supportive relationships:
The glorious philanthropist — Assumes that racism is part of the inevitable fabric of society; throws money at the problem, all of the while congratulating herself and basking in personal or community glory.
The dumbstruck learner — Assumes that there are problems with a traditional White feminist perspective. Feels that her constant questions about Black feminism are compliments to the victim of her inquiries. Interacts with Black feminists by asking questions…and then follow-up questions that subtly critique clear answers provided by Black feminists.
The I’m not White — Refuses to accept phenotypical (racial caste) privilege by attempting to divest from the term “White”, while never actually divesting from the above institutional relationships that support her White power.
The Long-Term Feminist “Unity” Activist — Assumes that her long-term participation in the feminist movement gives her status as an expert on how activism or organizing should take place. Does not see the ways in which the feminist movement historically excluded Black, Brown, Native, and Asian women. Does not understand or value the right to self-determination in the movement for Black power.
Instead of engaging in approaches that further the agenda of White, hetero-normative patriarchy, we can work toward exploring ourselves. In doing so, we will find it very difficult to completely decolonize ourselves; our very wombs, as White women, are centers of colonization. We are also deeply invested in the economic and social fabric of White supremacy, a supremacy that is handed to us as a birthright. There is simply no way around the reality that the upending of the helmsmen of the capitalist patriarchy, Donald Trump & friends, will require radical upheaval of an unprecedented magnitude. We must divest our wombs, our minds, and our spirits from all elements that promote or protect the continuation of the ancient system that he now represents. If this same system blinded us from the damage that we did to Black and Brown women, now we know. Trying to feel the pain of Black, Latinx, and Native women is not enough — we never could. It’s time to accept responsibility for our complicity, feel the associated guilt, and take action against white supremacy. If we were intentionally complicit in white supremacy and now realize that the destruction of our society is upon us, we must still take the first steps out of the belly of the beast. And it is no longer time to walk; it’s time to run.