Why White Feminists Need To Shut Up and Listen When It Comes To Race
Briana Ureña-Ravelo | On 09, Jan 2014
Ya’ll, we’ve gotta talk.
We’ve got a privilege problem within “anti-racism” and white feminism.
We’ve got too many people like Tim Wise who make a profit positing themselves as authorities on people of color’s issues, our lives, and who are very quick to speak over, dismiss, and belittle voices of color and even go so far as to state themselves as “victimized” by our criticisms of their benefiting off of our marginalization. We’ve got too many racist white people ignoring people of color in discussions about race for the sake of prioritizing other white people who will coddle them and make anti-racism more consumable and about them and their guilt. We’ve got too many white women like Lily Allen who will be more than OK to appropriate Black female culture so as to posit herself as “above” and more “intelligent” and “ladylike” than it and be heralded on this front by majority culture.
I’ve read too many pieces by white “allies” or feminists on the topic of race that make me tilt my head and grimace at the paternalism and ignorance still blatant in their voices. I often think “Yeah, you think you’re doing the right thing, but you’re so wrong.” Could it be because they’re not actually speaking from a place of personal knowledge and experience on these issues, or that despite their knowledge on certain issues still have a lot of racism to unpack? At best, they’re merely abusing their privilege and speaking over us, regurgitating what feminist bloggers, academics, activists, and writers of color have been saying for ages, except in their whiteness they’re the one with the position and visibility to be heard for it and build a career off of it, and they don’t give us any credit or direct people to us to hear our narratives ourselves. At worst, they’re saying wholly misguided, dangerous, racist and ignorant things on our behalf, and having a hand in perpetuating our marginalization.
Why do I click on the links to the authors of so many (elementary, mediocre, racist pandering, guilt-heavy, white-centric) articles about race from major online news sources and see that said authors are white folk, all while the few good parts of said pieces themselves sound vaguely familiar to things I’ve already heard being discussed before by folks like me, but to less acclaim and attention? Why aren’t these new sources using people of color writers who will just do a proper job of it from the get-go? Why do none of these white people say, in their pieces “It is about time we listen to people of color’s voices and narratives”, posting links and quotes to our works, and instead speak as if they are self-realized activists who came to these great conclusions themselves, and are commendable or valiant in their position? Why don’t white people just not write these pieces at all, realizing it isn’t exactly their place and many people of color have already talked about these subjects? Why do white people get so bothered at the thought of us not thinking they’re qualified to know or talk about our existences, hate the idea of people of color wanting to center and prioritize ourselves, our voices, our narratives, and build communities around that? Why do “seasoned” white leftists, liberals, feminists and anti-racists get so mad when you point out their blatant racism and bias they’ve still got to check and work on?
What about us folks of color isn’t good or knowledgeable enough that it requires white grandstanding and paternalism?
Even when I’ve read decent and commendable anti-racist pieces or thoughts by a white person put on a larger platform, I always wish that visibility could have been given to a person of color instead. We are socialized to always center and prioritize whiteness. The very idea of saying “I look within my own community for voices, authorities, and talent” is preposterous, and seen as “divisive”, even “reverse racist”.
There isn’t enough “This isn’t my place to talk about these issues” in the feminist and anti-racist blogosphere, and a glut of profiting off “Social Issues Awareness” by people with privilege in individual points of marginalization. They are too often heralded as heroes for talking about these struggles and given more credit than marginalized peoples are. They are too often seen as level-headed, unbiased, and eloquent while we’re emotional, radical, biased, and angry. While white feminists or anti-racists get accolades, we risk our livelihoods for speaking out truths. In the business of calling out racist dynamics and hierarchies, there are racist dynamics and hierarchies. While calling out objectification, people of color are being objectified.
Thing is, white people can’t just say “Oh, I realize my privilege! I realize it is super hard to be of color!” and end it there. “Privilege” means there are certain spaces, discussions, and narratives you are not entitled to and can’t speak on based on said privilege and that has to be respected. Knowing you have “privilege” or being a progressive doesn’t mean you’ve magically deconstructed learned racism and racial dynamics in your life and now exist, racism unlearned and gone from your mind, in a privilege-less, dynamic-less, context-less vacuum. So long as these structures exist, you live in them, are privileged by them, benefit from them, and you learn from them. That’s a lifetime effort, to want to dismantle them, which means it is a lifetime of letting marginalized people take control of their own lives and identities and speak upon them and listening to us.
It’s about time that we stopped centering white people’s authority and narratives and that white people started listening to and centering and trusting us instead, letting us call the shots for our own means and community building, and give this system of commodification of marginalization a huge overhaul. Just ask me about my favorite authors, bloggers, new sources, articles, books, feelings, convictions, thoughts. I promise you, I know what I’m talking about.
Written by Briana Ureña-Ravelo
You can follow her blog here!
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