Image Map

Why "Solidarity" is Bullshit

An African-American woman holding a sign that says "solidarity is for white women who don't realize that the marginalization they face as women doesn't cancel their white privilege"

Photo: One Tumblr user's contribution to the #Solidarityisforwhitewomen discussion. 

When I spoke to Mikki Kendall on August 14, just two days after she started the nationally trending Twitter hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, she was tired. The discussion started on Twitter had spurred much-needed and long-ignored conversations about the treatment of women of color by Big Name Feminism. Kendall wasn't tired from the media blitz or the requests for her to write about the topic or discuss the hashtag—she was tired in the way she always was after working her full-time job, tending to family responsibilities, and settling in to write before doing it all again the next day. Despite years of writing, some of it controversial, Kendall has never before been given this level of attention or this type of platform by the feminist community. Ironically, she's finally made her way into the spotlight for pointing out the shortcomings of white feminists, perhaps proving that solidarity is indeed for white women.

Fuck Hugo Schwyzer—this isn't about him. The real story behind the hashtag is Kendall's experiences, the issues that affect her community, and the years of mistreatment she and her friends Sydette Harry and bloggers like brownfemipower and Flavia Dzodan experienced at the hands of mainstream feminism. For those who think this is all about Hugo—including the feminists who supported him despite his abusive, violent past and the outrage expressed by women of color feminists for years now—you're missing the point. This conversation was started long ago, it just hasn't broken into the consciousness of white feminists until now. 

"I'm not going to lie and say that I'm shocked by the fact that the hashtag resonated because these were conversations that me and my friends had been having for years," Kendall says. "So yes, I knew it would resonate, but I really had no idea it would explode the way it did. I'm a Southside Chicago girl and I was popping off at the mouth as I'm apt to do, but I've been wrongly accused of stirring the pot. The pot has been boiling over for years."

In the days since Kendall's hashtag and Schwyzer's Twitter meltdown in which he admitted to targeting women of color, we've heard very little from the women who helped give Schwyzer a platform to spew his hateful bullshit, including Amanda Marcotte, Jessica Coen of Jezebel, Jessica Valenti of Feminising, and Jill Filopovic of Feministe. I too had a Schwzyer interaction that still leaves me furious, two years later. In May of 2011, while irresponsibly unaware of is past, I reached out to the organizers of SlutWalk Los Angeles to address concerns voiced by women of color regarding the event, especially the concerns outlined by Crunk Feminist Collective. Schwyzer, whose image accompanies my article, was the first to respond, so we did a phone interview in which I asked him why he was involved. He told me, "Men have to make it clear that their involvement isn't some weird strategy to meet people or a creative way to get laid." In his case, it was. And in this way, I was another woman who gave him the space to do this.

Only Filopovic has publicly admitted to being complicit for publishing an interview with him in 2011 after his abusive history was made public and for being a part of the system that enabled Schwyzer's career to blossom. Coen, on the other hand, copped out, painting herself as the victim by detailing her stages of grief surrounding Schwyzer's admissions, though never mentioning him by name. To add insult to injury, Jezebel wrote about #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, though never crediting Kendall for starting the movement. When outraged commentators pointed out the oversight, an apology was issued. 

When addressing the hashtag on Feministe, Filopovic wrote, "There is a pattern to who Hugo targeted for abuse—who he knew it would be safe to target for abuse. That speaks to major power imbalances in feminist communities. It reveals whose voices matter, whose pain is considered important enough. I do want to find a way to discuss the systematic problems within feminist spaces that allowed an abuser to thrive in our ranks." This falsely speaks to the idea that Schwyzer is the root cause for Kendall's hashtag, when really he was just another example of something that has been going on, well, forever.

Writer Mandy Van Deven expertly addressed the issue, drawing a straight line from the way suffragette and abolitionist Frances Dana Barker Gage silenced Sojourner Truth to the relationship that women of color have with white feminists today, writing, "More than 150-years after the delivery of Truth's speech, many white feminists have yet to internalize the seminal theories contained in works like The Combahee River Collective Statement, This Bridge Called My Back, and the INCITE! anthologies. Our refusal to accept the perspectives of women of color regarding our shared history means white women continue to resist, dismiss, and ignore the same critiques when they are made today." Van Deven goes on to say that Kendall is not the first woman of color to point out that some white feminists claim to speak for all women while excluding the concerns of a great number of them.

"In the brains of those who allowed Schwyzer to do what he did, he is the root of the problem, but these very women have a history of dismissing issues that affect the lives of women of color and dismissing us when we point out problematic shit. I mean, do you remember the racist images in Amanda Marcotte's book and the way she lashed out at anyone who pointed it out? These feminists have benefited heavily from this feminist culture that cuts out women of color and Hugo was just tapping into that because it was so easy. I don't know about you, but I'm tired of being asked how issues that we want to write about that affect our lives and our communities– like the closure of schools or what undocumented women are up against – are 'feminist'. How was it feminist when Hugo wanted to write about jizzing on women's faces? Did anyone ask him, 'How is this feminist?' Is that more of a feminist issue than whether or not my child's school will get closed down?"

Mikki Kendall

Photo: Mikki Kendall

#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen has been accused of being divisive, but it's very much about race and the divide has been there all along – and it wasn't created by women of color. Kendall says the feeling she got from the response to her hashtag and how strongly it resonated with so many women, was that it had been pent up for so long and many women needed a green light to speak truth to the many ways they'd been slighted, but most of all to express their hurt. Kendall inadvertently granted women of color permission to express the pain of being silenced and ignored and dismissed, of being relegated to a footnote in a movement that promised sisterhood. As Maya Angelou wrote, "The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them." Mainstream feminism has been showing women of color who they are for years and for many, the message was clear: sisterhood—as defined as "bonded in solidarity"—is bullshit.

How accurately can mainstream feminism reflect the voices and experiences of all women when the loudest voices with the largest reach are white, educated, cisgender, heterosexual women who rarely, if ever, lift women of color up with them? White feminists who've carved out nice careers and comfortable livings thanks to a movement that excludes women of color, failing, in almost every instance, to understand intersectionality, instead relying on women of color, as Kendall tweeted, to be used as "teaching tools & resources, not actual people."

The question isn't, "How did mainstream feminism allow an abuser to flourish in its ranks?" but, "How are mainstream feminists so blindly invested in white supremacy that they continue to perpetuate a cycle in which the voices of women of color aren't heard, especially not in the face of a white guy who will increase their page clicks?"

On her Tumblr page, brownfemipower, a woman whose writing and ideas have been stolen in the past, discusses being told to stop complaining about how "easy" white women have it and "do it yourself. Write your own books, publish your own books, create your own speaking circuit. Hustle. Show a little backbone. Stop Whining. Do it yourself." As she says, it's not about hustling harder, it's about not having access to the same resources. This is something echoed by Kendall, who like so many of women of color writers, cannot afford to write fulltime, cannot afford to go to expensive conferences, cannot hobnob at literary events in New York and Los Angeles, who is not granted access to the editors that can provide more exposure and a more reliable paycheck.

"When we bring up the professional aspect, when we bring up the money that's being made – though not made by us, we're made to feel badly about it, but if our work is good enough to steal, why isn't it good enough to pay for? With Big Name Feminism, economic solidarity is, 'I make money, you get exposure.' It's, 'We work hard to support all women, just not you,'" Kendall says.

For Kendall, and myself, and so many of the women who participated in #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, our feminism is deeply rooted in our lived experiences and it's painful and endlessly frustrating to constantly encounter white feminists who want to talk for us, but not listen to us. Editors who receive our pitches about the issues impacting our lives and our communities and ask, "How is this feminist?" The feminists, who upon finding out Kendall joined the military in order to attend college, ask, "Why would you do that?" The feminists who wrote me about my immigration blog post to say, "But they ARE illegal."

"I honestly feel like sometimes we're not on the same planet or that these women don't understand that we're real people, not just sound bites or sources or someone they fight with on the internet," Kendall says. "For so many years gender has trumped race and women of color have been told, 'Maybe later we'll address your needs, maybe later we'll address your access, maybe later we'll discuss your resources…' It's 2013 and it's still 'maybe later.' Now we're hearing about 'leaning in' or the work-life balance stresses of married women who are making six figures – and these conversations still have nothing to do with us. I can't say what will result from #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, but I do know that Twitter is changing everything. Now, people are forced to hear us and women of color no longer need the platform of white feminism because they have their own microphones."

Related Reading: We Need to Talk About Hugo, Race, and Feminism

Tina Vasquez has previously written for Bitch about why immigration is a feminist issue and artist Favianna Rodriguez. 


Want the best of Bitch in your inbox? Sign up for our free weekly reader!

Read and buy Bitch magazine's current print issue!

Guess what? Subscriptions to Bitch—our award-winning, 80+ page print quarterly—are 20% off to help us reach our $25,000 funding goal by September 30. Pitch in to support feminist media: Subscribe today

Subscribe to Bitch


Comments

21 comments have been made. Post a comment.

@ChesyaBurke tweeted:

@ChesyaBurke tweeted: #solidarityisforwhitewomen is why all comment sections in all articles about WOC devolve into blaming WOC for overreacting to their oppression.

The moment I saw the hashtag, the first thing I thought about was the whole Seal Press/Amanda Marcotte incident and how the unwarranted backlash to rightful criticism drove some bloggers of color out of blogging or entirely off the Internet. I only read about it after the worst had happened, but I remember reading out loud some of the comments to my husband, amazed that the same people who insisted that Marcotte be given a "safe space from which to respond" gave no such quarter to the people who had actually been hurt and marginalized by the pictures in Marcotte's book.

Sad to say, everything about the Schwyzer metldown has seemed like a long, slow-motion repeat of the same behavior and failings.

"@ChesyaBurke tweeted:

"@ChesyaBurke tweeted: #solidarityisforwhitewomen is why all comment sections in all articles about WOC devolve into blaming WOC for overreacting to their oppression."

Damn. Kinda makes me think of Godwin's Feminist Corollary, only with an added racial element.

I have enjoyed reading all of

I have enjoyed reading all of the responses in this discussion, enough that I wanted to contribute my own:

https://thisiswhatamilleniallookslike.wordpress.com/2013/08/16/lets-do-w...

Cheers!

Thank you for this article

Thank you for this article and the links. I applaud Kendall for bringing up an issue like this, even though I have mixed feelings about some of those tweets people are pouring out there. Not all WW are in that category.

I just wanted to point out that one of the most successful women blogger conferences out there, Blogalicious, is mainly for WOC, but not limited to that. If you're not aware of it, you should check it out. I participated in it one year and there was great solidarity, WW, WOC, etc;

Stop the hate!

(Let me say first that I am a white male who is entirely cognizant of the white male privilege that I live and who also supports both the feminist movement and anti-racism, so I get it if anyone reading my comment takes issue with me, but I urge you to keep an open mind in the spirit of peace.)

It's sad to read this article, where the premise is that it's somehow healthy for people within these movements to be criticizing each other so much instead of standing together. It's more than "divisive", it's blatant ostracizing. With all the problems we face these days, I wonder how much good an article centered around the failings of white feminists can really do. These are, after all, people who are fighting for the same causes. Sure, they may not entirely understand what a woman of color is going through, but does that warrant remarks of division? Is there, maybe, a better way to create change than ostracizing your peers?

White people, while privileged, may never understand in full context how it feels to not be white (and the same goes for men vs. women), but I think it's fair to say that they have *SOME* idea based on their own experiences with prejudice in some way or on what they see happening to women around them that, in the end, if they are fighting for your equality and rights then don't they deserve a more respectful discourse?

shutupandlisten

shutupandlisten

Loved every bit of this

Loved every bit of this article. Thank you so much!

This is exactly my point,

This is exactly my point, thanks for mistakenly making it so clear.

Indeed, stop it

Did you even read the article? I am a queer, white, male bodied person. When I read the title of this article I had the reaction that you just posted. But then I actually read the article, did you? The whole thing is about how divisive the white feminist movement has been. To the point that they embrace a misogynist over POC folks. Right now you are attempting to shoot the messenger for pointing out something you don't like. You can claim it shouldn't be done publicly but the article points out that in private POC people have been trying to change things and have been routinely ignored. You can claim that it hurts 'the movement' but the fact is that it's not an actual feminist movement if peoples voices are being marginalized. That's elitism, not a movement. Hopefully the mainstream feminist movement will take this criticism to heart. Unfortunately many of the 'professionals' seem like thin skinned opportunists.

Great article. Like I said, I initially had a negative reaction to the title and first sentence. Then after reading your well written and sourced article you easily justified your position. Keep stirring, otherwise that shite will burn.

@blarg, of course I read the

@blarg, of course I read the article, what kind of question is that? The last line in the first paragraph says straight up: "Ironically, [Mikka]’s finally made her way into the spotlight for pointing out the shortcomings of white feminists, perhaps proving that solidarity is indeed for white women." That is what this article is about, the supposed shortcomings of white feminists. It's even titled "Why Solidarity is Bullshit". It's offensive, to be honest, moreso on a racial level, but definitely from my perspective since it puts me in a space where I have to be so careful about how I go about my support for the movement or else I'll get labeled and ostracized when I already have to due to my gender in the first place. This type of article isn't helping the movement, it's helping one person in particular and is a detriment to the movement as a result. It's divisive any way I look at it, and that will never turn out well in the end.

If feminists want to make a real impact (or if *ANY* person in any movement wants to make an impact), they need to work on compassion and bridging the gaps, not creating new ones. You can bring up an issue without attaching blame and anger to it. I mean, jeez, there are people doing real harm who are outspokenly against feminism, how about going after them instead of spending time creating problems within your own movement? Makes no sense.

Let's not derail the conversation

Moving the focus from the marginalization of women of colour in feminist spaces to a discussion of how people should talk to each other is a great way to derail the discussion again. It's disrespectful and frustrating for people who want to discuss marginalization in feminist spaces. Let's not do that. Let's accept the criticism (which is fair and heavily documented) and work at being better.

Asking for more respectful

Asking for more respectful criticism is "derailing" but ostracizing white feminists isn't?

And for the record, I didn't say this wasn't well-documented, I just really don't like the tone and the anger.

the division is there, it's not now being created

I'm guessing that you consider yourself a feminist. When was the last time you found it productive for a non-feminist to point to your anger as the problem? You don't get ignore the problem in favor of problematizing people's reactions to it. That is textbook abusive behavior, and it is used by oppressive people of all agendas.

How is it productive to be divisive?

All I've said is that the problem should be brought up in a constructive way and not a divisive way. Yes, I agree the division is already there, so why perpetuate it? We should be bringing people together, not pushing them apart. How is it helpful to the feminist movement to draw a strict dividing line between black feminists and white feminists or poor feminists and rich feminists? Feminism is about equality, it's not an elite club that only certain people get to be a part of. Embracing the differences between feminists within the movement is how the movement can get stronger, I don't see how getting angry at each other is helping.

the division is there, it's not now being created

I'm guessing that you consider yourself a feminist. When was the last time you found it productive for a non-feminist to point to your anger as the problem? You don't get ignore the problem in favor of problematizing people's reactions to it. That is textbook abusive behavior, and it is used by oppressive people of all agendas.

who is ignoring the problem?

who is ignoring the problem? I'm saying the root of this whole issue is how people treat each other,

intersectionality betw race and class

I get it. Fox News keeps trying to pretend it's 1955, and Bitch is still wrestling with 1975. Of course there is no sisterhood here. I could have told you that when I was five. However, all of these examples you give pertain not specifically to race but to class, the other great bugaboo that privileged feminists and American culture generally would like to pretend does not exist:

"…like so many of women of color writers, cannot afford to write fulltime, cannot afford to go to expensive conferences, cannot hobnob at literary events in New York and Los Angeles, who is not granted access to the editors that can provide more exposure and a more reliable paycheck…"

If you want to talk about ethnicity, then talk about ethnicity. If you want to talk about class, then acknowledge that you are talking about class. With a black/white man in the White House, now seems like a good time to talk about the intersectionality between those two descriptors.

Could we hear from more poor women of color as well as perhaps poor white women concerning the intersection of class and race as pertains to feminist theory and/or practice? And please go read Ms. Kendall's post in Ebony, as she's got it all figured out that respectful dialogue is about hearing and being heard.

Regardless if you want to label yourself feminist, grand wizard, or insert-label-here, passive aggressive communication to rationalize abusive behavior is abuse, precisely the reason why the feminist label no longer works for me.

I am a young, white feminist

I am a young, white feminist from Australia. I certainly agree that mainstream feminism has a long history of silencing the voices of people who do not fall into the category of white, educated, middle class, cis-gendered and straight. I have recently come out as a lesbian and, seeking lgbt specific feminism, I've been introduced to the concept of privilege. I am confronted with male privilege and straight privilege in day to day life and so it is important that I begin unpacking my own privilege - white, ablebodied, cis, middle class and urban.

Coming from a country with a colonial and racist history, I wish to be an ally to the indigenous population, as well as do what ever I can to undo social inequality and privilege within that context. Anyway, I found this paper which looks into indigenous and white relations in Australia with reference to privilege and the inevitable problematic nature of indigenous activism from a white person. I think similar problems can occur within the feminist community.
This is the link to the article

http://mccaugheycentre.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/213467...

Slutwalk is BULLSHIT!

ummmm, no. You can't teach people not to rape. Plus rape is against the law and is not acceptable, But their will always be rapists, Just like their will always be thieves. You don't put a sign in front of your house saying "don't tell me to lock my doors, teach people not to steal." No, you lock your doors and protect your house. Same here, protect yourself and quit living in this fantasy where rape, murder, and thief are things that won't exist.

Commenting on a 5-month-old

words

Hey! woman Fight everyone!

Bear in mind, I build this comment and it had been not allowed to be printed on a Jezebel Thread or the Feministe Thread. that's terribly fascinating to ME, They co-sign a racial girl-fight. within the interest of going with the style of adult female bashing in feminist circles, white ladies being the supply of all evil and therefore the reason why all alternative ladies ar unbroken down. The glee of running white ladies down on this twitter campaign - they co-sign as editorial policy.

It feels like we have a tendency to ar currently putting in a crab bucket of feminism. There ar fashions. Right now, the style in core feminism is to attack white feminists with a free pass. I'd rather, honestly that folks UN agency have a criticism of "white feminists" mention names and argue points. however that too could be a feminist fashion: you're a pleasant woman UN agency ne'er directly debates (er...attack is that the word used too several times) another woman, as a result of feminist should consider something taking off from girl as a result of feminism. Instead, though it looks harmful, the attack is to an entire cluster. Vaguely. i suppose it's safer for disadvantaged teams to beat au fait one another than the important threat. Safer and additional chicken shit. Hey! woman Fight everyone!

Rah Edd,
Clipping Path
Clipping Path India