Silence, White Guilt and Colonization

So another white feminist writer says stuff and fails to grasp why it is a problem to women of colour – really, twitter is ripe with it and if being on that particular social network has taught me anything, it has taught me just how much I needed to re-examine myself and my newly re-claimed feminism to see just where it was failing to be supportive of WoC/trans WoC.

As a result of these car-crash articles that do so much to illustrate just how codified white supremacy is in white western feminism, I have been having serious (and possibly seriously radical) thoughts on the subject of silence, specifically in the context of the intersection of gender and race. These thoughts, however, led me to confront the notion of ‘white guilt’ and brought me to the inescapable conclusion the white guilt is in itself an extension of white colonial attitudes and is.. well, racist.

White guilt is racist because it keeps thoughts, attitudes, feelings and discussion centred on the white person/people/society. Whilst I am sure that feeling bad about the shit we white people have done (and are doing) to people of colour is all very well, the shit is not being done to us. And beating one’s chest in public about it means that attention is not being focussed where it should – i.e., on the shit being done to people of colour.

It’s logical really, and it doesn’t take an Einstein-like brain to figure it out. (Believe me, if Einstein had had my IQ, goodness knows what E would have equalled).

Adele Wilde-Blavatsk’s article was self-centred – but Eve Ensler (again) took the prize for best example of white colonial supremacy in feminism with her ‘Congo Stigmata’ thing, which is too sickening and awful to link to. So I have to wonder – at the intersection of gender and race – if white women should consider sacrificing their voices in favour of WoC.

There are several reasons for this – and the attitude and entitlement of Wilde-Blavatsk and Ensler is merely an illustration of many of them. But also, frankly, whilst there are white women on the fringes of mainstream debate who have a decent grasp of intersectional feminism, it wasn’t white women who developed either it’s theory or it’s practice and there are too many examples out there of it being hijacked and colonized by white women. This damages women of colour, whose struggles and concerns so often differentiate from ours; a typical colonial thought process in feminism is that it assumes itself the pre-eminent theory in tackling patriarchal structures and continues to fail to do so because it does not recognise – historically or currently – where it carries white patriarchy’s own attitudes to women of colour.

In that context, silence could be valuable – having the grace to stand back and be silent so that the pre-dominant voice is that of women of colour is something that white women could perhaps consider.

Perhaps instead of white guilt driving a conversation that silences women of colour, we could put away white guilt and stand back, shed the need to speak for others whose concerns we probably have not grasped anyway, and listen.

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