The Burden of White Feminism

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This is the outfit I was wearing yesterday that merited veiled racist comments in my neighborhood bagel shop. This is the outfit that warranted the policing of my body, language and culture. This is the outfit I was wearing when my mom’s fluent but accented English was questioned before me. This is the outfit I was wearing when I experienced the internal patrolling of my fat, overtly curvaceous body. A quick review of my green lipstick, shaved side/messy hair, decolonize shirt and proud weaving in and out of Spanish and English was a clear threat. This was what I was wearing when a white feminist decided to not only make unsolicited remarks about my bilingualism, but also make ignorant, flat out ill-informed commentary on what happened in Chile in 1973.

This is the outfit I was wearing when I decided to educate said fake egalitarian in a clear and calm tone that Allende was not, in fact a militant, and was actually uprooted by the US CIA in order to place a militant dictatorship to oversee the country. This is the outfit I was wearing when a fake ally decided to throw “we have laws that protect us, we’re all treated equally” at me when I spoke of the brown, indigenous, and black plight in this country and others. Because although we are, in fact, all equal- we are not all treated as such. Those who make such claims come from places of privilege. The laws do protect SOME. The law protects those of privilege, whatever form or shape that may take. When I said all this, a refutation seemed to be forming that I had no time or patience to entertain.

(I want to come up with some kind of term equivalent to mansplaining that captures the level of patronization, condescension and faux wokeness that comes from fake privileged “allies” in the egalitarian community. Perhaps privilegesplaining. But that just sounds too precious.)

This is what I was wearing when I faced the anger that has built up within me for years as an activist, feminist, human. Culturally and historically, we as women are not allowed to be angry without the term hysterical, crazy or dramatic being attributed to it. As a person who doesn’t experience anger nearly as much as most, I was raised to squash, swallow and/or disregard the feelings the few times I experienced anger growing up. It has made uncomfortable feelings quite a challenge for me in my adult years. As an activist, I confront perpetual feelings of disillusion and irritation- but I always transform those feelings into a positive force because of who I am. At my core, I am a happy and pretty bubbly person. Just because my social media represents the harsh realities of the world we live in and my feelings towards them, it doesn’t mean I don’t have a general cheery disposition. Often, people who meet me are surprised by the disconnect between my “irl” persona vs. my online one because of how different they sometimes appear. We all contain multitudes, and I have chosen my online persona to represent the part of me that is always advocating for a better world. Because the world is a very broken place.

But anger is something I’ve had to unpack as I strive to evolve as a human. Anger is not my go-to emotion and so when I feel it brewing, I usually tend to squash it or use the fuel for a creative endeavor. Those that know me intimately know I intellectualize and overthink pretty much everything until I can come up with solutions. I try to understand and look at myself with radical honesty and try to see if I come from a place of ego or reality. I’ve learned: it’s okay to be upset. There’s nothing wrong with being angry, to assert oneself. Anger is an emotion like so many others, and it’s what we do with it that counts. And as someone who is not prone to outbursts or shouting, I recognize that even in my anger, I tend to be calm and assertive when I voice myself. I have learned to express my anger in healthy ways, mainly through my writing.

So when I felt anger of the magnitude I felt yesterday, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. It’s not as though I wanted to scream, curse, throw a tantrum. It was more like a quiet fury that had been building up within me for years. The fury had me shaking; a deep, kind of shaking that felt more like a quake within my soul. It was an anger that nauseated me and left me facing my disillusion head on. I’ve experienced various levels of racism before, but certainly way less than so many others.

I walked out of that shop and into the movie theater with my gears processing the experience. I could barely speak at first, and wished I’d said or done more to defend my mother, myself, the marginalized people of this world. And even though I had done a pretty good job to present valid, formulated and even-keeled arguments and thoughts, I felt deeply disheartened, disillusioned. Disgusted at seeing, yet again, an instance where white feminism was spat at me. White feminism, at its core is deeply rooted in racism. For it to be packed and branded under the umbrella term of egalitarianism…well it truly astounds me beyond belief.

It is white feminism that has made intersectional feminists struggle worldwide under the burden and weight of erasure. White feminism is why icons of first wave American feminism are revered without ever addressing the deeply problematic belief systems some of them carried. Yes, these women fought for the female right to vote- but which females? White feminism erases the fact that although females were legally granted the right to vote in 1920, people of color were allowed to vote at an incredibly staggered rate. Four years after, the Snyder Act of 1924 granted the native peoples of this country American citizenship- however, it took more than nearly sixty years for our indigenous peoples to be granted access across the country. The McCarran-Walter Act of 1952, three decades later, ended exclusionary immigration tactics for those of Asian heredity, granting all peoples of Asian ancestry the right to citizenship. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, more than four decades after the ratification of the 19th amendment, was passed in order to curtail the deeply discriminatory practices that prevented African Americans from voting.

White feminism is why as a Latinx womxn, I could not, in good conscience vote for Hillary Clinton. As an intersectional feminist, the abhorrent history she carries against our communities of color goes completely against what I stand for as a human. Voting for her, as many non-intersectional feminists did, would be to support the various acts of violence against the marginalized people in our country. Voting for her would be in support of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, that not only created longer mandatory sentences, but reclassified less serious crimes as felonies. This Act placed a widely disproportionate number of minority groups, mainly Latinos and African Americans, through the criminal justice system. This act has had direct, enduring and ongoing effects on the policing of brown/black bodies in our country. These mandatory minimum sentences particularly for nonviolent drug offenses (offenses which many non-POC offenders are also privy to) have been historically doled out to an overwhelming number of POC. This has created a systemic level of oppression wherein street to prison (and recidivism) living is cyclical and potentially intergenerational. I dare say such a level of oppression of certain people in light of legalized cannabis use in certain states is beyond words.

When I see/hear the argument that it is our civic duty to vote for our country, I wonder what country we’re talking about. The country that was founded on the blood and enslavement of African peoples? The country that was stolen from the indigenous people who had been living here years uncounted? The country that has spread its imperialism across the globe? The country that locks up children in cages because of their undocumented status? The country that created mass genocide and has intervened in governments across the world, creating the need for those very people to migrate to it? My argument against the grave injustices doesn’t come from a place of hate. It comes from a place of hope for what we could be, from a place of love for the people our country has wronged. We have the capacity to truly be a sovereign state if we completely deconstruct and rebuild- but that would take many lifetimes to enforce. How can many of us vote when we see zero representation in the people that are running? Is my choice in this “democracy” reduced to the oligarchical choice of the lesser evil?

This is why, as an intersectional feminist, I can no longer buy into diet culture. Diet culture is a colonized concept deeply rooted in racist, white-washed European standards. I refuse to erase, shrink, starve and hate my body for existing as it is. To do so would be to erase the very structure of my ancestral roots. To buy into the idea that I have to be less than to be more desirable or lovable is buying into the idea that I must change the very nature of the body that carries the stories of each woman in my lineage. It would mean to expunge the existence and struggles of those who gave birth to these curvy hips, this fupa, this rotund form, this face. To hate my body is to hate them. And I refuse to hate the tenacity and perseverance of the beautiful spirits of all the women before me, who fought to exist and fought for their children. Colonization has taken so much from us. But colonization will not take away my history from me.

This is why, as an intersectional feminist, watching Just Mercy just furthered my fury. As I unpacked my emotions, I witnessed the blatant disregard for human life based solely on race. It brought my sentiments to a new level of rage and heartbreak. I cried for most of the movie- a poor relief for the buildup within me. The injustice of how this nation was founded and has been subsequently led is absolutely revolting. My anger boiled over and spread to all of my extremities. It was an anger that was drawn from the stories my parents have recounted of the racism they have experienced in this country. It was an anger that was drawn from the lack of diversity in educational institutions that I’ve seen firsthand. It was an anger drawn from the feelings of inadequacy for existing as I am. It was an anger drawn from the historical lack of power women have had for millennia uncounted. It was anger in the lack of articulation I felt in something so heavily nuanced that there are no words to describe…the deep sadness I feel for the way humanity is stripped of so many. The anger left me flailing and struggling.

I will never understand the plight of the black individual in this world and will never claim to. It is not my place to speak to anyone’s experience but my own. But I can speak in defense and in favor of those who are marginalized. As a middle-class, lightish skinned Latina who grew up in diversified NYC, I have privilege over my darker skinned peers who have experienced racism in a way I can never claim to ever know or understand. I was raised in the NYC school system of “melting pot” culture of the 80’s and 90’s. My parents, Chilean immigrants, raised me on the concept that we should love everyone equally regardless of color.

But we are not a melting pot. We are all diversified, multilayered peoples with different heritages, abilities, sexualities, ethnicities, colors, identities, and histories. We cannot be blind to our differences as we were before because we now realize blanketing everything under the statement of “we are all one race” erases the multitudinous experiences of so many. To express that you don’t see someone’s, say, race is to discredit their lived adversities, challenges, obstacles. Erasure culture silences the oppressed and clumps everyone up in one shared experience. My proximity to whiteness (and the advantages that come with it) is different than someone shades darker than me in a different socioeconomic bracket.

Woke culture is inverting the pyramids of liberal “non-racism” by dismantling the melting pot mentality that was supposed to unify us. We now know this isn’t the way. We can all exist in the pot and melt within it, yes. However, in acknowledging our colorful differences while still vehemently advocating for the equality for all, we are celebrating each other without erasing the various ways in which we may all experience life.

Those of you in places of privilege: Check your privilege. If you are committed to destabilizing the institutional racism, colorism, sexism, classicism, disability inequity, homophobia and transphobia in our country: Deconstruct and rebuild. Check the antiquated notions you were raised on. Listen to the marginalized individuals around you who share their experiences. Hold space for them. Believe them. ALLOW THEM TO BE ANGRY. Don’t put the burden of emotional labor of explanation on the oppressed and educate yourself on how to support them. If you are committed, educate yourself on how to dismantle the system of oppression around us. Educate yourself on the things that weren’t taught to you in school. Challenge your peers when you see “egalitarians” say we’re all treated equally in this country.

BECAUSE WE ARE NOT.

We are ALL EQUAL. 

But NOT ALL ARE TREATED EQUALLY in this country and in most around countries around the world. Colonization has pervaded in such a way that most corners of the globe have been touched in one way or another by the concepts that bind ignorance to race and class.

White feminism is so deeply ingrained in our culture, those who oppose it come across as being divisive. The argument advocating for all lives is often at the forefront of white feminism. Yes, all lives matter. But when certain lives are deemed better than others, then all lives are not treated with equitability. Therefore, we must advocate and fight for the lives that are marginalized and face constant oppression. When certain lives are at the forefront of the variety of -isms, we must fight for their right to equality.

Until my last breath, I will fight for marginalized peoples. If I have done something or do something in the future that erases your experiences, check me on it. If you want others to be straight up with how you may be promoting erasure, ask to be called out. The only way to dismantle this system is to hold up to our own intersectional and egalitarian checks and balances. The only way to evolve is to learn, recondition, educate others. Worthiness, justice, equitability, equality is an ethical and human right. The only way through is taking a radical look at yourself and what you stand for. If you are, in fact, an egalitarian, then the only way to be true to that is to decolonize your thinking, your politics, your existence. We can do this together, collectively.

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