In today’s world, it’s crazy to think that an issue such as white feminism is still prevalent.
However, this has been an issue that took root before women were even given rights and continues to be discussed today. Many White feminists such as Rose McGowan and Lena Dunham label themselves as “progressive” and “intersectional”, but then fail to realize that their form of feminism is exclusive and not entirely progressive. White feminism frequently does not recognize and speak about the multiple oppressions of women of color, therefore leaving women of color to feel forgotten and left out of the movement, which has happened on multiple occasions. Until all women of different shapes, sizes, color, orientation, cultural, and political beliefs come together, the glass ceiling blocking the advancement of females will always remain.
Let us explore this more closely.
Instances where women of color were pushed out of the conversation can be seen before, during, and after the Women's Rights Movement of the twentieth century. White women were given the decision to fight for abolition or women’s rights. They chose women’s rights, which led Sojourner Truth to give her controversial “Ain’t I a Woman?’ speech to speak against the exclusivity with which women’s rights and abolition were spoken with that often made the general dialogue one that felt these two societal issues were unrelated. A spearhead of the Women’s Rights Movement during the late eighteenth century and early twentieth century, Susan B. Anthony, was set on excluding women of color from this historic moment in history. She is quoted as having said, “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.”
So what happens to the Negro woman then?
To this day, Susan B. Anthony is praised for being a champion for women, but she was not a champion for all women. She was not looking out for women like me, whose skin is rich in tone. She was a champion solely for White women. If one fights for the rights of only one race, they are somehow magically never considered to be racist.
Fast forward to today and we are still living in a time when multiple rights are being violated based on race. You would expect by this time everyone would band together to fight for their basic human rights. I did, too. I came to realize, however, that there were women of color being left out of movements that made history. One can also take a look at some members of the LGBTQ+ community who felt intersectionality was a danger for their goals and completely disregarded people of color within their movement.
Looking at the statistics of the previous United States Presidential Election shows that 53% of White women voted for Donald Trump while 93% of Black women voted for Hillary Clinton. Those numbers should have made it clear that there is a problem, but we have continued to watch as White feminists show their true colors and, in the end, put a bad name to feminism because people start to question whether or not feminism is fighting for them.
Women of color are hesitant to work with White women because some White women may not understand the struggles that each woman of color has experienced. White feminists may not understand the walks of life for women of color which makes it difficult for them to find inclusion and acceptance. For example, some White women such as Dr. Sarah Wollaston have attacked the hijab saying that it was forced upon Muslim women by an oppressive religion. Muslim women were quick to shut this accusation down. Instead of attacking the way Muslim women dress, why not attack the forces that are actually oppressing them from getting the same respect as White women?
In most cases, when something does get done or a White woman does something helpful towards the colored community, praises are sung to their name, even though it should be common sense to realize that women of color deserve to have their rights fought for and respected. It is not that hard to recognize that women of color are paid less, respected less, and fought for less. Until White feminists understand that their doings are causing the movement to go backwards, the movement will only have limited mobility.
I have hope that we will see something great soon. We will see Black women and non-Black women of color work to end their oppression as they have in the past. They will continue to fight like hell.
Ariana Bakhsh is a rising sophomore at the College of Arts and Science in NYU. She is currently pursuing a degree in Public Policy and Childhood and Adolescent Mental Health. Ariana is passionate about politics and promoting rights for women of color.