I don’t want to talk about the Hugo Schywzer meltdown. If you’d like the specifics of that incident you could go here or here. This is not to dismiss the impetus behind #solidarityisforwhitewomen, nor make light of the way women of color are routinely silenced by academia, mainstream feminism and even their friends and colleagues. The significance of #solidarityisforwhitewomen is that it created virtual space for everyone who is not a white feminist to air out their grievances about the movement, or rather lack of inclusion in the movement. As with anything that gets defined by what it isn’t, it became a free for all trigger happy exercise that I admit I had fun participating in.
But now that we’ve all come down from the high and hype that hashtags tend to create, we could begin the real work of self-examination and true movement building. To say that Hugo Schywzer is the focal point of this eruption, is akin to believing that Emmett Till’s murderers or the bus driver who sent Rosa Parks to the back his bus in order to make room for a white passenger began the Civil Rights movement. These tensions existed whether or not privilege blinded you to it or not. For whatever mental illness that Schywzer is claiming, his condition is endemic to the culture we exist in, and was allowed access to (different to the aforementioned perpetrators) partake and capitalize in the analysis and breakdown of as a self-identified male feminist. But again, it’s not about him.
What it’s really about is space. Space that women of color are repeatedly denied implicitly or explicitly from feminism. Space that Alice Walker acknowledged that justified the creation of a Womanist movement, separate from what she perceived as an all-white led feminism. #solidarityisforwhitewomen coalesced a space around the ways that feminism has failed us, even with good intentions. The ranges of issues tackled were from the deeply personal to the hard-lined political, but all had one commonality and echoed one theme: Feminism has missed the point. Your calls for solidarity lack sincerity when you not only fail to show up for our issues, but invalidate them when we bring them up. There was a sense of relief in this hashtag, a letting down of the hair, if you will (without someone asking to touch it) that has been long overdue.
So, what’s next now? The originator of the hashtag, Mikki Kendall did well to bring the conversation back to the larger issue at hand saying, “Admittedly, this isn’t a new problem: white feminism has argued that gender should trump race since its inception. That rhetoric not only erases the experiences of women of color, but also alienates many from a movement that claims to want equality for all.” This brings up two major issues, how do we fight for issues that don’t personally affect us, and when do we learn to step back from the forefront of these fights without completely disappearing from them?
The personal is the political, but when you don’t personally have an experience with political implications, the best you can do is learn to be a good ally. Melissa Harry Perry did a great segment that outlined this. In the segment Michael Skolnik noted “that the rights that you take for granted are not valid unless you fight for the same rights of others.” History has shown us that the most successful movements are diverse in make-up and end goals. This is not to say that campaigns can only be built by those who are most affected. But they should be more than tokenistic representations, but real stakeholders in their own liberation. A good ally supports, rather than leads. If you have the means and the privilege to assist in creating space, do so, and then gracefully step back. The good news is that the roles of an ally and leadership change depending on what we’re fighting for. As a black woman, yes I’ve experienced ways that feminism has missed me and my specific grievances, but I’m also guilty of blindness to the grievances of others that I see little or no connection with my life.
Take the fact that the Farm bill has a provision, the Vitter Amendment, that bans some formerly incarcerated from access to food stamps. I was part of a discussion at the Center For NuLeadership, a group that assists and is run by the formerly incarcerated. During the discussion, I had a moment when I looked around and realized I was surrounded by ex-convicts, and my own class bias triggered a fear that surprised me. I understand the inequality in the criminal justice system and how the prison industrial complex sends waves of destruction through the individual lives, families and communities of black and brown men and women, from the unconstitutional stop and frisk, the school to prison pipeline, to the incredibly lucrative prison labor system. These realities aren’t lost on me, but as I tried to imagine being imprisoned, coming out and starting a new life, the Executive Director said we, “outside” communities, don’t realize how a prison is being built around us. I thought about how normalized seeing police standing guard in my neighborhood became. I thought about my black and brown friends and families walking with the conscious fear that their presence in any neighborhood could be questioned at any moment, and they had better have an answer prepared. And finally, I thought I shouldn’t have to wait for my son to grow up and experience the lived reality of other black men, for this to be part of my own advocacy work.
In order to truly be for my cause, I have to be an ally to the causes of everyone who are similarly disenfranchised in different and similar ways. True solidarity is for everyone; once we recognize when to step up in causes that we could speak to and when to step back and support the causes that may affect us tangentially, but that others can more effectively speak to.
Photo Credit: UBC