Personal is Political: Dismantling Racism and White Supremacy Must Come from Within – The Feminist Wire

Personal is Political: Dismantling Racism and White Supremacy Must Come from Within

Word libation in the name of Bambara and Lorde:

  1. The revolution begins with the self and in the self. ~ Toni Cade Bambara
  2. Are you doing your work? ~ Audre Lorde

Was there really only ONE John Brown? (If you don’t know who he was, please research. Thank you.)



I am a Black cisgender feminist lesbian cultural worker and activist who is sick and tired of self-identified anti-racist white people/white allies/white comrades/white feminists/white parents of children of color/white partners of people of color/best friends of people of color talking, writing, processing, and analyzing the talk of eradicating white supremacy and racism but not embodying and living that talk every single day of their lives.

Too often when the rubber hits the road with anti-racist white people being held accountable by Black/Latin@/Asian/Indigenous/Arab peoples for their OWN acts of covert and overt racism and white supremacy they retreat, run for cover, opt out of doing the intense-relentless-laborious self work, are in pain, are victims of the mean “Colored” folks who don’t appreciate all that they’ve done (and continue to do) for “Colored” people.

We equate criticism with assault. ~ Toni Cade Bambara

source: Challenging White Supremacy

source: Challenging White Supremacy

For many, it’s easy to see and call out George Zimmerman and Darren Wilson for their heinous white supremacist murders of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. And yet, they don’t see how their own expressed “fear” (which is often passive aggressive rage), sadness or other victimized response to when they’re being called out on their racist and white supremacist acts in progressive and radical anti-racist organizations/collectives/spaces leads to their being perpetrators of intellectual, emotional, psychological and spiritual violence against people of Color. Simultaneously and tragically, they, along with some people of color, will contextualize, defend, and/or condone “kinder and gentler” acts of racism and white supremacy perpetrated by white people that they know, like, and/or love.  In other words, they choose to support like a rope supports a hanging person.

To be clear, I am not advocating for another Harper’s Ferry. However, I am firm in my belief that being anti-racist starts at home every single minute of every single day literally and figuratively. This is a lifetime process and journey. If you, as a self-identified anti-racist white person, are unaware of your own racism and white supremacy and are not consistently working to dismantle it from within, then you cannot dismantle racism and white supremacy. Period.

Postscript: The same relentless and non-negotiable work is also required to eradicate sexism, misogyny, transphobia, heteropatriarchy, heterocentrism, ableism and all forms of oppression and marginalization.

Aishah Shahidah Simmons Photograph: ©Julie Yarbrough

Aishah Shahidah Simmons
Photograph: ©Julie Yarbrough

Aishah Shahidah Simmons is an award-winning Black feminist lesbian documentary filmmaker, cultural worker, and international lecturer who is also an Associate Editor of The Feminist Wire.  An incest and rape survivor, she is the Creator of the Ford Foundation-funded internationally acclaimed and award-winning feature length film NO! The Rape Documentary.  She has screened her work, guest lectured, and facilitated workshops and dialogues about ending all forms of sexual violence; queer identity from an AfroLez®femcentric perspective; the grassroots process of making social change documentaries; and non-Christocentric spirituality across the United States and Canada and in countries in Africa, Europe, Asia, Central America and the Caribbean. You can follow Aishah on twitter at @AfroLez and connect via her public Facebook page. For more information, please visit:


  1. Graeme Bowman

    February 7, 2015 at 7:28 pm

    Hi Aishah. Based on my own research, I’m convinced that it all gets down to patriarchy as being the root cause of the complex, divisive problems of both planet and people. So I just thought I’d share some of my own thinking here, in case it’s of interest to your readers.

    To me, our biggest overall obstacle stems from the fact that patriarchy is invisible to vast numbers of folk raised according to that worldview, in the same way that male privilege can be invisible to men, and white privilege can be invisible to white people. Somehow, a ‘tipping point’ of people need to come to an understanding that patriarchy reflects an archaic worldview and primitive level of consciousness; an aberrant, unbalanced way of functioning that is now totally at odds with our current reality. I have a particular focus myself on using the visual and performing arts to make patriarchy more visible to those who can’t see it.

    The failure to adequately address global problems reflects, within many men in positions of immense power, the patriarchal suppression of nurturing human values such as empathy, humility and collaboration, coupled with the cultivation of beliefs and behaviours around competition, adversarial thinking, domination, entitlement, greed, command and control, divide and conquer, and win-at-all-costs. The suppression of the nurturing values also reinforces an anthropocentric – and within that, a male-centric – ‘operating system’ across humankind. Although these ‘men behaving badly’ may be genuinely smart and sophisticated in lots of ways, when it comes to a mental framework suited to continued human existence, they are running on Windows Vista without the good bits. And, as we are seeing, it’s terribly dangerous when combined with that ‘lizard brain’ part of our mind plus advanced technology that can exponentially amplify the resulting dysfunctionality.

    Central to my own purpose, and that of the emerging entity my wife, Jennifer, and I are establishing (Wise Women Will Save the World), is the notion of using artistic expression to help make sense of complex problems in a way that is fun, creative and a celebration of positive transformation. A major aim is to kickstart more of the serious conversations that global citizens need to have about extremely sensitive and divisive issues, including the ones mentioned in your article. My background is in comedy, creativity and communication, and Jennifer is a mixed media artist.

    As an example of the type of projects we wish to develop, Jennifer and I, along with our artist/performer son, Thomas, are presently creating a live satirical show called, ‘Patriarchy – Where Would We Be Without You?’ The idea is for the audience to laugh their way to an understanding that patriarchy really is the manifestation of a stone-age way of perceiving the world, and that perhaps we’re due for an upgrade.

    For anyone interested in knowing what a few folk down in Melbourne, Australia are doing, here are audio excerpts relating to scripts we’re working on:

    And here are some quirky Lego videos I’m making as discussion starters on patriarchy

    • Aishah Shahidah Simmons

      February 8, 2015 at 11:04 am

      Hello, Graeme,

      Thank you for your response. You will not get an argument from me about the unspeakable horrors of patriarchy. I am concerned, however, that you don’t address white supremacy at all. This is a bit disconcerting considering the fact that you’re based in Australia where the horrors of white supremacy resulted in the genocide of the Aboriginal people.

      With that shared, I definitely believe that patriarchy is older than white supremacy. We can look to the ancient monotheistic and many polytheistic sacred texts for documented evidence.

      However, I believe that for over 500 years (at least since Columbus’ 1492 invasion of what is now known as the Americas), white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and capitalism have formed and sustained a ruthless, vicious, brutally inhumane and deadly trinity not only in the Americas but throughout the world. Despite this, I agree with the self-defined Black Feminist Lesbian Mother Warrior Poet Audre Lorde. There Is No Hierarchy of Oppressions.”

      Native American feminist scholar, activist and co-founder of INCITE! Women and Trans People of Color Against Violence Dr. Andrea Smith also brilliantly addresses this in her essay “Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy: Rethinking Women of Color Organizing

      You will (hopefully) make note that my “peace” signaled out white supremacy but in my post script I was (and I am) explicitly clear that there are many forms of oppressions that must be eradicated simultaneously. They are all interlocked and they require that everyone work on dismantling each one of them them (and more) first from within and then, by extension, externally.


  2. Victoria

    February 8, 2015 at 4:44 pm

    Hello Aishah,

    Maybe, one day when you are ready, we can sit together reflect and speak about how we often project our own pain onto others and the forgiveness process which must occur before any inner transformation can possibility ever take place. Takes courage!

    Much Love,

    Victoria Robertson

  3. Graeme Bowman

    February 8, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    Hi Aisha,

    Thanks for pointing out the Andrea Smith article, which brilliantly untangles complexity. I see a huge need for deep analysis and insights like this – only when people understand the extent and root cause of a problem can they start to work towards a solution.

    However, a huge obstacle is that, for whatever reason, many people don’t even want to understand the problem in the first place – they turn away and busy themselves with something else. How do we grab their attention? That’s where I see creativity and the arts playing a key role. Clearly, through your own work, and that of initiatives like Mother Tongue Monologues, you are getting a vital message across to more and more people, shifting thinking and inspiring action. The power of the arts here is that it can seamlessly move from gaining a person’s attention to eliciting an empathic response. The capacity to take a person from ‘I don’t give a damn’ to ‘What can I do to change things?’ is, in my view, the most valuable commodity on the planet, in terms of catalysing social change.

    As an example, I can imagine how each of those three scenarios in Andrea’s article could be dramatised via an artistic approach, in order to kick-start crucial conversations. One approach may see humour being used as a way of exposing the divisive elements common to all scenarios, leading to further exploration of the serious issues lying beneath the disagreements, and the even more serious consequences of each group not developing a more unified approach towards their activism.

    By the way, as I’m still writing the script for the ‘Patriarchy’ show, I’m going to study Andrea’s article very closely, as I can see there are extra examples of ‘men behaving badly’ that need to be mercilessly ridiculed.



    • Aishah Shahidah Simmons

      February 9, 2015 at 10:18 am

      Hello, Graeme,

      I believe this is multi-layered, multi-effort, generational, and never-ending work. At the end of the day, it ultimately has to come from within. I firmly believe creativity is a powerful way to ignite the fire. It’s not the only way but it’s important. This is why I’m a cultural worker who creates and uses my work to break loud silences around some of the most unspeakable horrors that humans endure. I watched this happen last night when my sister-survivor-comrade-friend, The Feminist Wire Contributing Editor, Founder of SHE: Survivor, Healing and Empowerment Brooke Axtell spoke courageously and boldly about domestic violence before an estimated audience of 25-million viewers at the Grammy’s last night. I firmly believe her words touched many who were tuning in and she probably saved lives last night. So, yes, to creativity.

      I’m glad Andrea Smith’s article resonated with you deeply. I sincerely hope you will consider incorporating an intersectional approach to your examination of how “men behave badly.” These atrocities are “gendered” but they are also “raced.” I believe without an understanding and an incorporation of an intersectional approach, you will inadvertently reinforce the marginalization of the most oppressed and they tend to be cisgender women, LGBTQIA AND of Color (Black/African, Indigenous/Aboriginal, Asian, Latin@, Arab, and Roma).

      Best Wishes,
      Aishah (with an “h” on the end)

  4. Victoria

    February 15, 2015 at 7:46 am


    What is it that you want from others? Did you want me, countless others and the world to continuously pay for what your paternal grandfather did to you? You will have to do the work to heal from within. Otherwise, whatever any one says that triggers you, you proceed to attack that person and destroy them by any means necessary. This is called projection.

    Peace to you,

    Victoria Robertson