By Marni Fritz
White women, so desperate for equality with men, often leave our sisters of color behind. We saw it in the women’s suffrage movement. We saw it in the 60’s feminist movement. We are seeing it now play out before our eyes. White women are constantly telling women of color to take a seat, erasing their criticisms and their experiences. This can be seen in both physical spaces and on social media.
In solidarity with the Women’s March in D.C., sister marches began popping up in cities across the country. Here in Pittsburgh we currently have two marches. One sprang up in reaction to the D.C. march, while the other sprang up in reaction to the problematic planning of the first. A simple question started it all: “Is this a white feminist thing?” White women were on the defensive, stressing that this march is a feminist issue and not a race issue, completely ignoring the fact that, for women of color, it is the same issue. Women of color were shut down, blocked from the page and their comments were deleted.
Concerns on the page regarding inclusion, silencing and intersectional feminism were met with both defensiveness and genuine engagement. However, valid criticisms were addressed on the event page and nothing was done to reconcile them. Leadership amongst the organizers shifted, the event page was deleted in its entirety (erasing evidence of criticism or wrongdoing), and a new event was created. During this time, the Our Feminism Should Be Intersectional Rally/March was organized, centering black women and raising awareness around issues women face using an intersectional approach.
Being inclusive shouldn’t be difficult and it should never be treated like a chore. The first step is education. There are a plenty of solid resources out there covering intersectional feminist organizing and centering women’s voices in an inclusive way. Heck, there is a whole syllabus with links to various readings I highly recommend checking out. Knowledge starts with you and your willingness to seek it out. It is not the job of women of color, trans women or women with disabilities to educate white women regarding their humanity, especially when there are so many resources right at our fingertips.
Don’t organize for people. If you are not directly affected by the issue you are organizing around, and you are the only point of leadership, there is a problem. It is our job as organizers and passionate people to center those most directly affected and follow their leadership. We need to build accountability within our movements. Otherwise who are we really doing this for?
Listen. When people are telling you about their experiences of oppression and marginalization, don’t get defensive. It isn’t about you. They are taking the opportunity to be emotionally vulnerable and it’s important to respect this moment and learn from one another whether you share similar experiences or not. Collectively we have so much knowledge and vital information stored in our experiences. We need to stop shutting these experiences out by talking over each other or refusing to hear what we can’t believe to be true.
If you are organizing and at your first meeting you realize that the majority, if not all, of the participants are cis white women, you did it wrong. Start over. That’s not feminism. If you don’t have accountable relationships with enough women of color to create an equitable table, then step back from your organizing position. Breathe. Start with forming those relationships. Work in solidarity. Too much is at stake to leave each other behind.
Marni Fritz the coordinator for the NewPeople Newspaper and focuses her personal energy on exploring issues of racism, systemic violence and intersectional feminism. While she definitely doesn’t have all the answers, she is super down to have the conversations.