I once was a proud white liberal feminist well-versed in all the talking points regarding civil and human rights and racism. I would share lines from a Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Speech on the day of his remembrance, quote famous activists and authors when talking about intolerance, and donated money to liberal movements.
Eventually my politics evolved, and I learned that, while maybe well-intended, I was centering my activism around myself, often talking over Black voices in my community that I could have simply elevated instead.
I never knew how to describe that type of feminism I was practicing until a couple of years later when Faux Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton was released. The book edited by Liza Featherstone is a collection of essays from socialist feminists, each contributing to a complete breakdown on how being a liberal Democrat does not necessarily equal being a true feminist.
They profiled then-presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, and tediously described a brand of feminism that was counterproductive to the feminist movement. Even though the book was written about Clinton, that brand of feminism is applied to a whole group of self-described feminists. The best and most consistent term I have found to ascribe to this specific brand is “white feminists.”
After the 2016 presidential election, the visibility of white feminists has increased. However, the history of feminist movements in the United States tells us that early feminist organizations dedicated to the liberation of women were dominated by white women, and historically many of those groups became the type of corporate and imperialistic feminism that Hillary Clinton embraced.
It was the consistent voices from the Black and Latinx feminist that kept the true meaning of global feminist movement in focus. Nonetheless, here we are again. The difference is today’s white feminists do not exclude the struggles of people of color in their rhetoric, instead they act as a spokesperson for those struggles, while also willing to sacrifice the means of progression for the benefit of pragmatic policies that harm disenfranchised communities.
Nowhere is the presence of the white feminist more prominent than on Twitter. Whether it is a celebrity like Alyssa Milano tweeting she “is Black” or a prominent Twitter profile of white liberal woman from Vermont named Lisa, we see these “feminists” speaking on the behalf people of color yet silencing their voices and diminishing their struggles at the same time.
Concerned only with optics, they want to prove with likes and retweets that they *know* Blackness or what policy positions best serve the Black, brown, and immigrant communities. However, no matter how many times they tweet at someone to “get a Black friend,” like Lisa from Vermont did to Black journalist Brie Gray, or how many times they try to show solidarity by claiming “I am Black,” they will always just be privileged, self-serving white ladies.
I have been this person, and unfortunately, I still make this mistake sometimes, but here’s what I have learned: White women should never to out-Black each other for Twitter points.
It is a game we will rightfully lose every time because it is not our game to win. No one benefits from a white lady explaining what is and is not racist. Real social justice is not going to come from the white feminism of Lisa Talmadge from Vermont, who believes she is a leading authority on Blackness.
It’s not going to come from a white actress, no matter how financially committed she is, and it will not come from me. It will come when we put our white savior complexes aside and start listening to those who are affected the most by oppression. No one in Black and brown communities is asking for white women to be their spokespersons, they want the platform they deserve.
It’s absurd to listen to Lisa or Alyssa Milano, when you can see, listen and share the voices of Vanessa Bee, Briahna Joy Gray, Bree Newsome, Anoa Changa, Wendi Muse, Rukia Lumumba, Sema Hernandez, Varshini Prakash and many, many more.