Why am I, a white person, standing against racism?

I had a plan for today’s post, but it will have to wait because I have some important listening to do, and then I have a question to ask myself.

In “White Women and Self-Obsession“, Allecto of Gorgon Poisons writes about white feminists “who have proposed self-flagellation as their method of combating racism”. She says “it shocks me silly to see these women who should bloody well know better all race to stomp other women into the mud to get points for working on their white privilege”. And then she says: “‘Working’ on white-privilege by promoting guilt, self-flagellation, self-obsession, misdirection (blaming other white women) etc is doing shit all for the rights of people of colour.”

First let me admit that the background to this post of Allecto’s is hazy to me. I cannot possibly and don’t even try to keep up with the whole of the feminist blogosphere, so I guess I missed the blame/shame game being played out (complete with self-flagellation scoreboard) in some unpleasant blog war: I certainly don’t think I’ve seen it, although I have noticed a few white feminist bloggers start to examine white privilege of late which on the whole I think is a good thing*. Anyway. I don’t want to get into that – because it isn’t the point. The point is to listen to what Allecto is saying about what (some) white women do that is not productive, not helpful. I hope that we at white noise will be able to learn from her insights.

(* See also – “The Difference Between Self-Examination and Beating Oneself Up” by justicewalks on her blog, My Perspective.)

Now let me say that I am not interested in self-flagellation or guilt or blame. I am at least as self-obsessed as anyone else, perhaps more than some, but I don’t get my kicks from looking about for ways to feel bad or to make others feel bad. That doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally go down that road, or seem to, by mistake: but with Allecto’s warning ringing in my ears perhaps I will make that mistake less often and cross out self-indulgence in favour of constructive consciousness-raising.

In light of Allecto’s anger, I have to ask myself what I am doing, and why. If not out of that very negative kind of self-obsession, why do I care about opposing racism and working towards the end of white privilege?

Racism hurts everyone. It does not hurt white people as directly or as severely as it hurts people of colour, nothing like. But it does hurt us. It hurts us in our souls, in our integrity, and by cutting us off from people who might otherwise have had something valuable and meaningful to contribute to our lives, understanding and happiness. So I want to help raise consciousness among white people (including myself) about our privilege, about racism. Consciousness is not action, but it is a precondition for action. There can be no action without consciousness.

And, I have about 3 billion sisters out there. The vast majority of them think (or more accurately would, if pressed to give an opinion) that they have nothing in common with me and that I cannot even begin to comprehend their lived experience. They are right. Having the same body parts isn’t much, when it comes to things we might have in common. But – even without more than femaleness to share – there can still be a bond, there can be solidarity, there can be love. But there cannot be any bond where there is not trust: and there cannot be trust where there is inequality and oppression.

And, on a more personal level – as someone who cares deeply about justice and equality for women in the face of male privilege, I could not have self-respect if I left my own white privilege unexamined, if I did not care also about justice and equality for women of colour in the face of white privilege. (Of course, I have other privileges too – straight(ish) / able-bodied / middle-class / well-educated, to name just the obvious ones. My own circumstances just happen to make race issues more urgent, more relevant, more personal for me.)

So I don’t see this as fighting someone else’s battle.

This is my battle. For me: my integrity, my self-respect, and my chance (perhaps) to connect with a whole bunch of women for whom my inadvertent privileged behaviours might otherwise have been too hurtful and offensive for friendship. Yes: I want to become a better human being not just in the hope that other human beings I may come across in life may benefit, but in the certain knowledge that I and my daughter will benefit. That isn’t self-obsession, it is self-love.

I’m giving the final word to justicewalks:

Setting oneself free, and finding women who are willing to help one set herself free, is not self punishment. If it is painful, it is only because we have grown used to our bonds, and the air feels sharp against raw, shackle-bruised flesh, newly exposed to light and air.

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2 Responses

  1. In the interests of background, I think most of the controversy is here:

    http://feminazi.wordpress.com/2008/01/10/white-privilege/

    No one should feel obligated to read it, but it’s there if anyone wants to come to her own conclusions. Personally I think there’s a fair bit of selective reading going on, but I trust women to decide for themselves.

  2. Aha – thanks. I had read that post but I see now that there is a huge comments thread which, I assume, is where most of the controversy happens. I am allergic to comment threads more than about 20 comments long… (unless we get some here that is – that might be OK lol)

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