Feminism is the political theory and practice that struggles to free all women: women of color, working-class women, poor women, disabled women, Jewish women, lesbians, old women–as well as white, economically privileged heterosexual women. Anything less than this vision of total freedom is not feminism, but merely female self-aggrandizement. (Smith, “Racism and Women’s Studies,” 1979).
Recent critiques of “white feminist” silence surrounding the misogynist attack against nine-year old actress Quvenzhané Wallis, coupled with – what seems to be – a ubiquitous and ever-growing culture of indifference regarding violence against women of color in general, and “white feminist” taciturnity and/or insensitivity in light of the same, in particular, gives much pause. These realities and critiques call on us to revisit Smith’s vision for feminism as a critical site of total freedom—for everyone.
It is abundantly apparent that “feminism” unmodified has not shown itself to be accountable to the necessary anti-racist project that is required for the liberation of all people. That is, “feminism” unmodified has remained tangibly accountable to “white, economically privileged, heterosexual women” while people of color continue to struggle over whether to even use the word “feminist,” or modify it to reflect the racialized communities they are accountable to through their feminist work(s). Simultaneously, white anti-racist feminists must identify as white anti-racist feminists in order to distinguish their work as accountable to communities of color.
All of this begs the question(s): Does feminism unmodified actually signify white, racist, capitalist, careerist etc. etc. feminism, or in other words “female self-aggrandizement”? Does feminism unmodified work to free all women? If so, how? And if not, why? And finally, what might an unmodified feminist theory and practice, which honors Smith’s definition, look like?
None of these concerns are new, of course. Our present moment, marked by high racial tensions within feminism, violence against women in general and women of color in particular, and critiques of feminist silences, self-aggrandizement, and totalization, requires us to pause, take note, and create critical spaces for addressing the circulation of the term “feminism” (unmodified) and its relationship to race, racism, and anti-racism.
This forum, convened by The Feminist Wire asks us to re/think and re/work the functionality of race within feminist movements, communities, theories, and projects. What models do we have for a feminism that is accountable to what Barbara Smith calls a “vision for total freedom”? How can anti-racist feminists grow their allyship and support other feminists in becoming anti-racist? How might we both critique and move beyond the black/white feminist binary, and deconstruct and reimagine the nuances within each in the process? What is the role of feminists of color in educating white feminists on these issues? And what might feminists of color learn in the process?
If we can end racism within our feminists movements, we might just be able to use feminism to end racism in the wider world. All of us have plenty to learn. Will you join us at the table and have an open, honest, and necessarily risky dialogue? Please submit unpublished critical essays, stories, research briefs, creative works, or “love notes” to Submittable by March 31, 2013. Please also include a brief bio and photo. Finally, please mark your submission “race and feminisms” so that we can easily identify it.
You know what critical essays and stories are, but perhaps you’re wondering what a “love note” is? In these times of growing skepticism and mounting critique rightly aimed at the myriad forms of structural conditions that negatively impact women and children around the world, we recognize the need for self-care and acts of love-making within our communities. Thus, “Love Notes” is a space that exists on TFW where we can counteract the violence of oppressions through offerings of praise, support, solidarity, and love. It is a radical space where we, for once, seek to forego the use of the “master’s tools” (i.e. war; in-fighting; communal dissolution; hatred; separation; and prejudices) by employing a different and revolutionary tactic, namely, love.
We hope this forum will be a constructive intervention, not a reinvention of the same ole tired wheel. We’re interested in historicizing the tensions re: the race/gender/sexuality divide in feminism. However, we’re also interested in inclusivity and nuance; differences among, between, and within feminisms. We are particularly interested in trans-national works that cross multiple complex socio-political and geographic “borders,” to include but certainly not limited to works by Black, Mujerista, Chicana, African, White, Palestinian, Muslim, Asian, Womanist, and other feminists. We’re also interested in intersectional conversations that include class, sexuality, (dis)ability, and other identities alongside race and ethnicity.
In the words of sister Lorde…
[We] cannot afford the luxury of fighting one form of oppression only. [We] cannot believe that freedom from intolerance is the right of only one particular group. And [we] cannot afford to choose between the front upon which [we] must battle these forces of discrimination, wherever they appear to destroy [us]. And when they appear to destroy [us], it will not be long before they appear to destroy you… (Lorde, “There Is No Hierarchy of Oppressions,” 1983).
We look forward to receiving your submissions.
Sincerely, TFW Collective