solidarity-is-for-white-women-400x300The Internet exploded in feminist calamity yesterday over the racist, sexist, patriarchal, abuse-laden behavior of Hugo Schwyzeran allegedly a self-described* mentally ill (former) professor of women’s studies at Pasadena City College. Schwyzer divulged information that is classically tucked away behind the buttressed walls of systemic white privilege. Anecdotally, it’s akin to the ENRON scandal, the ACORN scandal and the unprecedented shit show that was the financial collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. Thematically each of these exposed, in an exceptional way, the clandestine systemic privileges that sustain long-term oppression: economic, racial, civic or otherwise.

Schwyzer, a self-identified male feminist made his claim to Internet fame by reworking and packaging up modern male feminism and selling  it to online publications like The Atlantic and Jezebel, for whom he was a paid contributor, and Feministe, which featured an interview with him. Two of these three are notorious for their insensitivity and, on more than one occasion, outright disregard for the importance of intersectional feminism – that is the focal point where feminism and another powerful system meet, say for instance, race. These cyber tropes, which have staked claim as the premier source for all things feminist, prioritize clicks over everything else, as beautifully explained by blogger Flavia Dzodan. In matters of the heart, their feminist ideology dematerializes – often at the expense of women of color and other marginalized women.

The virtual cataclysm peaked when Feministe editor Jill Filipovic, who is white, was dismissive of one of Schwyzer’s victims, a woman of color named Mikki Kendall, and the hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen began to sprawl across the Twit-o-sphere. The hashtag, which in my opinion is not super succinct, called out the many reasons it is important for white women to stand in solidarity with women of color. There are light-years worth of socio-politico dialogue that resulted from this hashtag, including poignant arguments about inherent and realized privilege, but two things stood out for me: I was reminded that traditional feminism is not inherently intersectional – the liberation of women of color was an addendum to the narrowly constructed philosophy. And, that when there are “systems” involved, nobody is to blame for the continual abuse and oppression of people of color, specifically women of color. Therefore no action is necessary, no lessons are learned and we recycle this precarious vortex of shit over and over again.

Allyship (being an ally), a subjective concept that plays out differently for everyone, culminates with the act of “showing up.” Showing up means very different things in the contexts of various situations but the general idea is that if shit goes down you have my back. The devil’s is the details and in the feminist sphere we’ve long struggled with engaging privileged white feminists to show up for women of color – in policy, academia, leadership and often in the media. The operative word in yesterday’s hashtag was solidarity, which is the meat and potatoes of being an ally. While it isn’t my responsibility, nor the responsibility of women who look like me, to coach white feminists on how to show up for us, I’ll hint that negligently perpetuating the systems that oppress us and then opting to be silent about your complicities is the opposite of solidarity.

What makes this nebulous relationship even murkier is that women of color are inherently responsible for honoring the implicit sodality between women. In January of 2008, long-time feminist activist Gloria Steinem called for women of color to vote their gender and support Hillary’s bid for president because, according to her, “gender is probably the most restricting force in American life.” Melissa Harris-Perry consequently intellectually annihilated her on “Democracy Now,” but her assertion sets a piss poor example for feminists who admire her wisdom and replicate her behavior. Especially because time and again when it’s time for white women to return the love, women of color are left hanging. The insidious misunderstanding around feminist solidarity is perpetuated and sustained because of the tendency to rationalize decisions after the fact to convince ourselves that what we did was the best thing we could have done; this is otherwise known as self-justification bias. And then your justification is further confirmed by using a selective filter to see a reality that matches your interpretations – none of which forces you to own your shit.

Because traditional feminism is not inherently intersectional and its principles have been known to preserve implicit biases, it is the onus of white feminists to shrug the cloak of privilege and “lean into” discomfort. That is, speak the fuck up. Even if your platform doesn’t traditionally address issues of race (except perhaps in the instance that it incentivizes clicks or benefits you monetarily) you can name the issue, acknowledge it happened and make an editorialized statement that validates the dehumanizing experience that women of color are having – like Bitch Magazine did phenomenally here.

Tangentially what feels even more egregious than complicit silence is that ultimately, at the end of all of this, no one is accountable. Schwyzer’s mental illness will be the scapegoat and T.F. Charlton brilliantly discussed the precarious nature of this: “It’s perfectly possible to both acknowledge that someone is experiencing severe mental illness and also name their behavior as abusive if that is what it is. It is in fact imperative that we name abuse and not talk around it,” she said poignantly.

This particular tragedy is deeply tangled and the Internet, in all of it’s awesomeness, can be a spectacularly bad place to have a deep-seated conversation about solidarity – chiefly because it is sometimes difficult to discern emotion.  However, no matter how Tweeters stumbled upon the #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag it surfaced a nuanced conversation (trolls aside) that reminded us that we have to be honest about our willingness or unwillingness to lean into discomfort; we have to invest in thinking critically about how our silence is complicit in the oppression of others; and we have to stop self-justifying and looking for people to confirm our biases. We have to speak up. We have to use our voices and our platform to call out reckless privileged behavior. Even if you’re unsure how to address it, say that.  Say “I’m not 100 percent clear how to show up in this particular situation but I want to acknowledge that there is some fucked up shit happening.” That is 139 characters of solidarity.

For other ways to be a good ally and show solidarity I point you the always-on point, Melissa Harris-Perry.

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Elie Wiesel

* Hugo Schwyzer emailed and asked us to remove “allegedly” when referring to his having a mental illness, offering to send along hospitalization records. As we don’t feel comfortable unequivocally describing Schwyzer as mentally ill, we’ve opted to use “self-described.”

Read more from the author at ShanelleMatthews.com

Full disclosure: A few years ago, The Frisky had a cross-posting partnership with the Good Men Project, and some of Hugo Schwyzer’s work from that website was published on The Frisky. At one point during that time, he wrote a piece specifically for us, and was paid a small monetary sum for that piece. All of these pieces were published on The Frisky before Schwyzer’s egregious past and current behavior became widespread public knowledge. — Amelia

 

The FriskyThis post originally appeared on The Frisky. Republished with permission.

 

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  • Will

    Bear in mind, this comment was not allowed to be published on a Jezebel Thread or Feministe. That is very interesting to me, because it seems like we are now setting up a crab bucket of feminism. There are fashions. Right now, the fashion in core feminism is to attack white feminists vaguely with a free pass. Seriously. If we had a twitter campaign called, blackwomenarepainsbecause would it be treated with a gleeful response at the major feminist outlets? Nope. But criticizing this hashtag campaign, somehow, it’s okay to bash women.

    I’d rather, frankly that people who have a criticism of “white feminists” mention names and argue points. But that too is a feminist fashion: you are a nice girl who never directly debates (er…attack is the word used too many times) another girl, because feminist must agree with anything coming out from woman because feminism. Instead, although it seems counterproductive, the attack is to a whole group. Vaguely.

    It’s revealing that deep down grounded in hate of women that even women have to play pole position on that limited pole space. I don’t deny there are flakes and bitches out there, but call them out specifically. I don’t deny that pretty co-eds and little white girls get time on media outlets. But as an adult white woman, I can tell you, the only women that get special passes are very attractive women younger than 35, especially the co-ed types, and of the total number of white women getting special media or society passes, they are a fraction. The rest of us, especially as we get older, dare to get larger, dare to not spend thousands on beauty treatments and clothes, people look through us, men and women both. Our privilege is not even where women should be, but to start a campaign implying a fuck you to white women in a way, is like women in the middle east who are less privileged than any woman here saying “fuck western women” since in the zero sum game, they are taking up oxygen than is stealing from middle eastern women.

    Don’t paint a whole group of women with a brush of a shaming on a twitter tag campaign. I know people will argue it is to point out the patriarchy’s attention to white women, but it is a clumsy way to do it rhetorically by putting down white women. I’ve looked at the tag campaign and clearly, many are getting a joy at shaming white women…for privilege that is not even where all women should be at. The tag campaign should have clearly been against patriarchy.

    I deny the reasoning that because white women get any power or attention, it is a zero sum game where it takes from black women. And I think any campaign that makes it’s claim for more “intersectionality” by actually making the attention of one group a negative is chicken shit and hypocritical.

    I have to say that the hashtag campaign smacks of baiting a cat fight. It comes from a place of poverty, where there is only so much to go around and you have to take another woman down to get yours. I also think the altar of “intersectionality” is often an excuse for chicken shit sniping. It is so difficult to get anything done so if you see women of a certain race, class, etc getting a book deal or a series or media deal or asked to comment on a news show, if the work is about their experience or their expression, like Lean In or Girls, there is a hella lot of sniping about it not including this or that. Frankly, in all the years of philosophy and political writing by men, they can get a thing published and get a thing going with what they know first. Women get the additional criticism of not being all things to all women. and they better do it perfectly, because not only do they have to fight male domination of media and professions, woe to her if she is not perfect defending a group she has little experience – then she is declared inauthentic and grasping. There’s a reason why there are so many of us and we are so different. It’s so we do our own contribution to the voices.

    It’s like the crabs in the bucket syndrome or a cat fight. It’s like getting mad at the woman your man/woman is cheating with instead of your own lover. It’s degrading.

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    • https://www.facebook.com/kelley.johnson.75436 Kelley Johnson

      Oh, look. a white woman has arrived just in time to admonish us negressess for calling them out.

      Take your flat white ass back to Jezebel, Becky.

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    • regen

      Who knew that Jezebel or Feministe actually had sense for not approving your whiny dissertation of why it’s “so-hard-you-guys” on being a white women. Please.

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    • SayWhat

      You’re full of it, white women benefit from white privilege and it is obvious that your goal is to be equal to white men, with everyone else beneath the both of you.

      Huffingtonpost is considered one of the most liberal and popular blogs and it soon became apparent that their ‘women’ section was really a ‘white women’ section. Not only do they not portray women of color in their articles, even their stock photos are 99.999999% white.

      To show how little white women care for black women, one need not look any further than the calling of little Ms. Wallace (beast of the southern wild) as a ‘c*nt’, or the calling of the little black girl in the movie hunger games as a ‘n*gger b*tch’. You are never there for us, but expect us to go on your silly slut walks.

      Finally, let’s not forget the fact that a 12 year old girl was abducted, raped, sodomized, her humiliation and abuse was posted on facebook, and outside of this site, it did not make the news, you know like the rape in ohio did. Where were you then? Why weren’t you outraged for a 12 year old child who was gang-raped and sodomized at gun point?

      I could go on and on (really, I can), but for the sake of time, I’ll just end with ‘you can go kick rocks’.

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  • Eduardo

    “[…] as an adult white woman, I can tell you, the only women that get special passes are very attractive women younger than 35, especially the co-ed types, and of the total number of white women getting special media or society passes, they are a fraction. The rest of us, especially as we get older, dare to get larger, dare to not spend thousands on beauty treatments and clothes, people look through us, men and women both.”

    For a time I was in a relationship with a black woman (we have many here in Puerto Rico) and I got a closer look at the nonsense both subtle and direct that many of our negras* have to put up with EVERY DAY. In Europe I experienced some racism, but generally speaking not so much (I could pass for a Northern Italian the moment I started speaking German, and people in Vienna were really surprised that I was Puerto Rican and also that no, I didn’t care much for salsa but we can talk about Heavy Metal and Classical music all day -but I digress). If I hadn’t experienced a bit of what our negras go through, then I could’ve written some of the things in the quoted text above. I don’t want to minimize your bad experiences and current suffering (I have a few problems with the Fat Acceptance movement however, although that’s another topic) but there are things that you don’t seem to understand. May I suggest Ain’t I a Woman and Feminist Theory, From Margin to Center by bell hooks?

    Just like Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique revealed more about her than she realized (her classism and disdain for all the other women “beneath” her) and Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse revealed her messed up views on sexuality (I wish she had formal education on the subject) this paragraph also reveals a lot. To continue with the race angle, the experience of an African-American woman is markedly different than that of the rank and file in feminism: the white, middle-class and middle-aged (or older). E.g. many African-American women can’t dismiss marriage so easily because as you (should) know it wasn’t that long ago when it was forbidden for them to marry. Or to put it differently: some things are self-evident and patently obvious for a white woman, but not everyone shares the same reality.

    * In Puerto Rico the word “negro” -literally “black”- gets its racist connotation from the sentence’s context and/or the intonation used, but it can also be used as a term of endearment -my uncle used to call me that when I was little.

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  • black and red star

    Sorry, how does this relate to the ACORN scandal? The one set up by right-wing ideologues that was later proven in Congress that ACORN broke no laws?

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