Sunday, August 03, 2008

Why I Try To Talk To Radical Feminists About Their Bigotry

I've been engaging in this one thread for the past couple of days and it's been really interesting (and by "interesting" I mean "frustrating and simultaneously disappointing") to watch how things have progressed/regressed. I've been conversing with a few self-identified radical feminists about the disconnect between radical feminists and others, particularly those who identify as "sex-positive" (or are often referred to using that label). Anyway, in the conversation, I decided to point out the bigotry that was going on. Most of the time I wouldn't bother because most people don't even claim to adhere to a feminist, anti-racist, anti-ablist/body-affirming, sort of philosophy, but when there are people claiming that they are being attacked and they just can't understand why people see them in a negative light, it just seems appropriate to take them at their word and take a chance by explaining to them just why they are getting the reaction they've received.

I know, I know! Other women that I greatly admire have talked to me about why it is almost always pointless to even engage in conversations with radical feminists (who are overwhelmingly white, Western, non-disabled women in number) because of the eurocentric, racist, ablist past that is associated with radical feminism. I feel like they are right in that we don't need to educate them or answer their questions because if they want answers all they have to do is go and read what other feminists have already written and spoken about this stuff.

I've been trying to understand why I feel so compelled to try and discuss the nature of bigotry with white people. I think part of it, okay A LOT of it, may have to do with my feelings about who I am. I mean, when I think about non-disabled people as a class, I don't feel like they are a group that I belong to so, when non-disabled people do something that is ablist, I don't feel like they are representing the group that I belong to so I don't have to disavow their actions or feel particularly responsible for them. However, when I think about white people as a class, I can never quite get it out of my mind that this is a group that I am inextricable from for several reasons.

Most of the black, NDN and latin@ people in my life can state with relative certainty that there's probably at least one or two white people in their ancestry. I mean, even if they don't know the ancestor's name, unless you are among the first or maybe second generation born in this country, a person of color is probably going to have some white ancestors. For most of people of color I know, this isn't really a big deal. I mean, we do have slavery and the systematic raping that went along with it to thank for some of those white ancestors of people of color.

Because of how they got there, lots of folks aren't exactly thrilled about the existence of their white ancestors. I know I've probably got some white ancestors that entered my family tree that way too and they are not even worth remembering so I'm glad that there isn't a record of who they are. My issues have to deal with my other white ancestors, the ones who are there because of consensual relationships between people of different ethnicities.

St. Patrick's Day comes along and I'm always feeling like "Yeah-hay! A toast to my clan, every woman and every man!" and it feels really good to think about the shared experiences of Irish immigrants and people of the Maafa. I like to think about how my French ancestor Lafayette was an active abolitionist and advocate for religious tolerance. I'm REALLY proud of that. I rarely talk about my heritage without name-dropping mentioning him. Down here in the south, lineage is serious business to a lot of folks.

Then there's my inter-racial relationship/immediate family. My partner has a German heritage and he's really proud of that and it's something we celebrate here. I've got my Oktober-fest shirts and I never pass up an opportunity to eat some wursts and drink some German lager. Hell, even our car is German. My daughter's bio-dad has an Sicilian Italian heritage. I'm not Italian but I sure do my best to teach her about the accomplishments of people of Italian-descent.

All this means that, beyond the ancestry that I had no control over, I have chosen to be a part of a very whitened world. I think that this makes it harder for me to just feel like white people's actions don't also reflect on me. When somebody who is white does something egregiously bigoted in front of me, I just start to feel like other people of color can look at me and say "You chose THESE people to share your life with?!"

I want so badly for white people to be like the ones in my family. I'm not looking for them to never engage in bigoted behavior but can they at least refrain from telling the rest of us that we are imagining things or exaggerating when we point out how their behavior affects us? My partner is great. My mother-in-law is the kind of woman that I'd be friends with even if I'd never have met her son. My sisters-in-law are sweet and caring and wonderful aunts who spoil VanGoghGirl with lots and lots of attention (and presents).

None of them specifically self-identify as feminists, even though I think their actions prove that they are. I think that is part of the reason why it bothers me to no end when other women who do call themselves feminists do things that I could never imagine my loved ones doing. When someone goes beyond that and decides to proclaim to the world that they are a radical feminist, it just seems to me that there's some responsibility that they are supposed to be willing to take for their actions.

I keep hoping for this to be something that radical feminists will do, but it just doesn't happen.


Lisa Harney said...

I wish I had your energy for engaging so often. As much as I do try to engage, I just can't keep up with you.

Lisa Harney said...

This is strange - my last two comments here haven't shown up.

Also, I was having trouble posting a comment at Womanist Musings earlier, also on blogspot.

I think blogspot hates me. :(

Ravenmn said...

Ah, bint, you're melting my heart here. You've really hit on something I relate to.

"I want so badly for white people to be like the ones in my family. "

Isn't that amazing? Given all the pressures to be a racist asshole, there are some people who refuse to take the pill? Bless them all!

Tera said...

On the Internet, even if you don't change the minds of the people you're directly engaging with, you can still influence the people who might be reading the conversation but not commenting. So there's that, too. ;-)

Daisy said...

Wonderful, thoughtful post.

I was told all my life that I had black slave-ancestors, and my grandmother even told me (whispering furtively!) "look on my father's side"... and by gum, one of the enterprising genealogists in my family found them. Their names were Dinkins and Sandidge.

I always mention them right along with my other ancestors, but I've learned this actually SHOCKS PEOPLE, too. And then I ask them, how long have your people been on this continent? If you can trace them further back than 4-5 generations, give it up, you ain't any more "pure" than the rest of us. What is surprising is how many whites will ARGUE about that; they'll say, nope, no black people in MY FAMILY. (Now, how can you possibly KNOW that?!?!?!) Dead giveaway about their own racism.

The non-racist whites will shrug and say, yup, I reckon there is! :)

I briefly mentioned my black ancestors in the comments here, which is a thread you might enjoy, Bintsie!

Again, great post.

bint alshamsa said...


You know, I've just been feeling a bit burned out on this lately. It's left me just so disgusted with these people.

I'm not sure what was going on with the comments. I wasn't getting them in the moderation queue until hours after they had been posted. I hope it's acting better now.

bint alshamsa said...


Yeah, my partner's family is just amazing! I'm really happy to have such amazing women in my life. I remember when we first started dating and The German did something that hurt my feelings a bit. His mother and I talked about it and I remember her telling me that I shouldn't put up with anyone who didn't make me happy and that, if he continued to upset me, her recommendation was for me to dump him. She never did the "my son would never do that" routine. She talked to me like how I'd want my own mom to talk to me about a potential partner.

bint alshamsa said...


you are a rare flower! I could count on one hand, with fingers to spare, how many white people I've ever encountered who freely admitted that they had black ancestors. You rock!

bint alshamsa said...


Thank you for reminding me of that fact. It's easy to start to feel as if there's no point in speaking out at all.

Lisa Harney said...

I don't blame you - I don't find talking to them very productive, although it's often very cathartic.

But there's only so much impervious privilege one can deal with. :(

I know I have black people and Native Americans in my family tree, but none of them are in the family tree my great grandmother commissioned a couple of decades ago. It's just a big blank spot.

Funny how that works?

Ravenmn said...

Yeah, my partner's family is just amazing!

Well give that woman a hug from me, then. There are awesome women in this world. I love hearing about them!

Lisa Harney said...

Tulip, I thought this post might interest you in context with your post here.

I mean, none of it's news, but I was surprised to find scholarly discussion of the transphobia, racism, classism, and ableism in feminism all in one place.

Also, the idea (again not new) of feminists using trans women as a way to sweep aside issues of racism, classism, and ableism and pretend they don't exist.

Beej said...

I don't explicitly have any black ancestry, but I have an orphan very recently in the family tree, so I've always told people "who knows; I might be black!"

Great post!

Anonymous said...

I identify as a radical feminist, but I definitely DON'T identify with any of the hateful things some "radical feminists" have been posting on blogs. I just want to say to them: stop. Racism and transphobia have nothing to do with feminisim. Just the opposite actually. Bint, I want you to know that we're not all like that. Lots of radical feminists want equality for EVERYONE (I thought that was the point of feminism) and manage to avoid being spiteful bigots. I'm sorry for those others, they don't represent the views of feminism at all.

belledame222 said...

-nod- yeah.

in general i find it helps with burnout to take it on a case by case basis. also, -where- you talk to any given person sometimes makes a difference. and when, too.

but yeah, a number of people are just not worth engaging with; and again, this has less to do with their demographic or ideology as such, necessarily (although sure, those things contribute as signifiers) than, well, are they capable of/willing to engage at any level, or are they just an Asshole.

some people are not as it turns out -complete- Assholes, but do a really good job of playing one on TV/the Internets. at times, it is true, this is most of us.

some people are Assholes in certain contexts or on certain subjects, but not so much with others.

some people may not be Assholes to other people, but for you will forever be an Asshole.

and then there are the Chosen Few who are Assholes pretty much through and through, and with whom you can't really engage so much as either be with 'em or agin' em.

those people, ideally, and i admit i don't practice what i preach wrt complete disengagement, nonetheless:


which tends to free one up a -bit- from throwing -all- of one's energy down the sucking drain.

the problem is of course, some of us are also addicted to the adrenaline of wrangling with Assholes...

belledame222 said...

...and yeah, too, tera has a good point. sometimes it's worth even stating the obvious; you might think you're only preaching to the choir, but online you never know who else might be reading.