What can mothers do?

Throughout patriarchy, men have petted and patronised wives and mothers, claiming that our power as queens of the hearth and heart gave us all the say we needed over the doings of men… We’ve heard that so many times, haven’t we?

Not only did this totally hide the reality for women who were not married, it was clearly false (even married women often had very little say over anything of important) and in any event it completely missed the point because it offered the wrong kind of power. The dignity of being treated as full human beings in our own right cannot be compared with the derivative “power” that comes with docile and submissive loyalty as an adjunct of Man. However, like many powerful myths, there is a grain of truth.

If not as wives, then certainly as mothers – especially as feminist mothers living the examined life – we really do have a kind of power. We really can influence our children either towards or away from repeating the harmful patterns of their fathers.

What can mothers do?

I’d like to throw this post open now, and hear what mothers and daughters have got to say about it. Let’s think about ways that we or our own parents have subtly (or not so subtly) perpetuated divisions, prejudices and stereotypes. Let’s think about ways that we can do better, ways that we can move on and help our children to break free of those mistakes. Let’s help each other to do right by the next generation.

I’ll start. Then it’s your turn.

[Dark Daughta, I’m going to stay on this.]


23 Responses

  1. One thing I do well – censorship!

    I don’t just keep racist stereotypes out though. I actively seek out books, TV, films, toys that celebrate and normalise difference. This can be as simple as making sure that stories we read together do not feature exclusively white faces (I love You Choose for this very reason, among others). Or looking at books which tell stories from other cultures. Making thoughtful choices about what colour doll to buy or make, or to choose from the box at nursery when we are playing there together.

    Also, my daughter goes to a nursery that is racially very diverse – both the children and staff are a mix of ethnicities. I think that’s so important. What’s the point of telling your kids that nonwhite people are perfectly ordinary human beings if they don’t have real experience of playing with and getting to know a fair number of people of colour, adults and children, so that they can find it out for themselves?

  2. A challenge for me is how to be compassionate toward my mother who is racist, was raised by racists, and probably always will be racist. She and I can hardly speak on the phone, every couple of months or so, without me getting impatient or angry with something she says. She has lately started trying to stick to so-called safe subjects with me, but it never works, because she is racist (and misogynist, too) down to her bone marrow.

    She is an oppressed woman, and did not invent the racism and misogyny that she was taught, and is perpetuating (not to my own children, but to my sister’s children). So I try to have compassion for her, rather than to cut her out of my life, as I have nearly done for years now. What helps is that we live 2,000 miles apart.

  3. I generally try to keep my nose out of motherhood-related discussions–because I’m not a mother, and I don’t want to be one. But reading this post and comments made me think about hearing Paula Rothenberg speak about the “tacos and eggrolls” theory of diversity–where multicultural experiences and education are now considered “perks” for white children. Not-white people, their cultures, traditions, etc. are now to be consumed by white people, so that white kids will be considered properly educated and able to get into the right college. NOT with any kind of agenda of creating real connections or understanding power, domination, racism, imperialism, colonialism, etc. How can this false sense of the beauty of multiculti not recreate the status quo?

    I left a similar comment over at dark daughta’s, where she’s written a pointed critique of white liberal motherhood, and I suggest interested parties go over there and read it, since she knows more about both motherhood in general and educating kids about racism than I do.

  4. I live in a mostly white city. Its quite poor as English cities go, partly because we have a larger than average percentage of elderly people, partly because Naval dockyards are based here, (lots of people were raised in families supported by workers on the dockyards, but the business and the work has gone, and the past two decades have been horrendous for the skilled dockworkers down here who were made unemployed). We also have a way below average pass rate for national school exams, probably linked to poverty. We have fairly high unemployment and are off the beaten track without direct transport connections to London, so that makes a difference too, we’re not a site people want to move to if they want to work or commute out. We are on the border of Devon and Cornwall, and both are relatively poor and getting poorer regions of England, mostly because wealthy people in other regions buy properties here as second homes and then disappear for the best part of the year, leaving inflated housing prices that locals cant meet, and no customers for local businesses. Some of the towns down here, particularly on the coast, are like ghost towns for much of the year. Much small business down here relies on tourism and over the years, as more and more English people have chosen to go abroad instead of taking local holidays, that too has led to troubles in the local economy. Cornwall is one of the Celtic nations, with its own language, and there is a movement there (i’m on the Devon side of the border) to declare independance from England, rather than be considered one of Englands counties. Our biggest minority group (in my town, Plymouth) are Chinese. We do have a rapidly expanding number of recent Eastern European immigrants. I’ve been here about six years, I came from Bristol which is a much more ethnically diverse city. I provide this sum up of my town because i think it is relevant.

    It is unlikely that most white kids down here will get to mix much with kids of other colours because there really isnt that many. Poor or rich, the whole town (and in fact the region) is mostly white. That doesnt mean they cant learn about other cultures, but their lack of mixing with people of colour is not in itself racist. When different generations move to the UK they tend to head where theres hustle and bustle, where there is work, where there is money, where there is housing – in short, to the bigger, more prosperous cities. That means they dont tend to come down here much, and neither do their kids. I have very few friends here who are not white – as you probably know I rarely go out and know few people here at all – I am friendly with a grand total of four families who are not white British, and one of them is white Greek. I actually feel horrible about counting them, like I’ve just reduced my friends to numbers, but it seemed necessary for this discussion. Everyone else I know is white Brit, and down here its quite common for them to have several generations – usually as many as they can remember – who are local.

    I dont think that my lack of people of colour friends and acquaintances is indicative of my racism. Its all very well expecting people in bigger and more prosperous and mixed race cities to mingle more, but what about when you live in an area where there really are very few people of colour? Do we go out specifically looking for people of colour to befriend? That to me would seem like tokenism and kinda wrong, like if people wanted to be mates with me because I’m low class. I’ve been there, the token mate, the ‘colour’ at the table in the pub to amuse the wealthier kids with my accent and earthiness (i mean my lack of tact, and manners, and my expected connection with all things sexual and illegal). I dont want to be doing that to anyone else, looking for colour for my table, if you see what I mean. I like the friends I do have and maybe there is colour blindness going on there (although to be fair some of us do talk about race issues as well as feminism etc). For the most part we’re just mates and mostly we just do matey stuff like eat pizza or watch movies or chat or go to the park or whatever. I dont think of them as my people of colour friends, theyre just my mates. I don’t want to analyse the skin colour and ethnic backgrounds of my friends so I can be more politically correct. Maybe i’m doing wrong, this could be the friendship equivalent of moaning about affirmative action at work. Maybe thats the case. But like i said – ive been the token mate and i dont want to put anyone else in that position. Am I doing wrong?

    Another thing I wanted to bring up – I think its wrong to assume that people of colour necessarily have a different culture, or that white people all share a culture in common. As an example – There are vast cultural differences between Indian people who moved to Britain and their children who grew up here. Some families pass down cultural traditions and some do not. My parents both have Catholic and Spanish backgrounds but I was raised (if you could call it that) as Atheist, and they never taught us Spanish, only talked to us in English.

    A better example I think – My partner has Polish background (refugees here during WW2) – he went to Polish church every week as a kid where the whole sermon was in Polish, but he never learned to speak it. The Polish community is very close (because they were mostly refugees) and others of our own generation that he grew up around, in this same country, because of differences in how their parents chose to raise them – they speak Polish, some even speak English in Polish accents. The Polish people that arrive here now speak a different version of Polish because they lived in the new Poland as defined after the war, when borders had moved and all sorts of stuff went on. So here we have what would seem to the outsider to all be Polish Brits and they do not share a culture, even a language. Even their physical looks are different – my partners family have a sort of Nordic/Russian look, tall, big, blonde, the new Polish people have darker skin and are smaller.

    Anyway the point im trying to make is its good to respect other cultures but wrong I think to assume that a people all share a culture simply because they have a similar skin colour or come from a similar part of the world, or even share relatives. Its wrong to imagine a person belongs to a culture just by their colour, isnt it? I know this is what Maia talked about, “colour blindness”, but i have real difficulty understanding whats wrong with that. I think we should recognise, respect and remember our different cultural heritages and histories, but at the same time i dont see why we cant share a culture now? Can we not be multi-cultural and still recognise our white supremacy and racism? Can we work on getting rid of the latter and encouraging our culture to grow and change shape as it should, as new people come in, as anything should change and adapt as it experiences new information. I dont understand what is wrong with that?

    Sorry for the really long comment, I hope ive not been an ignorant arsehole, but youre free to tell me if I have.

  5. Three trains of thought WRT what you have to say there, v.

    1) Keep taking the analysis back to power. How would it be if some middle-class Brit was sitting across the table from you saying, “God, v, why the hell do you have to keep bringing up this chav thing? Why can’t you just see yourself as part of the great diversity of British culture?” They’d be totally ignoring the fact that your experience isn’t just about being different, it’s about being disadvantaged BECAUSE of that difference. Thing is, you KNOW the consequences of your position in the hierarchy; it’s easy for someone who hasn’t suffered like you have to minimize what that means. I think some of what you say here functions to obscure the way power works WRT race. I’m suspicious when conversations about racism turn into discussions of the diversity among white people–because, for the most part, those differences don’t make a difference when it comes to skin color and power. I always feel clearer if I bring it back to, who has power, who doesn’t?

    2) I don’t think it’s PERSONALLY WRONG to live in an all- or mostly white area. I grew up in such an area. I also grew up working class–my great-grandparents on all sides were subsistence farmers and domestic workers, and they raised sons who went to work in the shipyards during the wars. When I was younger I was ashamed of that; now I see how much of what they taught me was really valuable, and disdain for them is what I learned from mainstream capitalism. But anyway, here in the US, I have to acknowledge that every single achievement of my family, no matter how noteworthy, no matter how valuable, is based on theft and genocide. I don’t know how that translates across the pond, where, if my ancestors had stayed, they wouldn’t have been direct colonizers, only indirect ones. I’d have had a history and ties to the land and culture that I don’t have here. But anyway, what I’m getting at is that living in an all-white area DOES make it hard to learn–and especially to learn the things dark daughta was talking about in her post this morning. The downside of white supremacy becomes invisible–we hear plenty about the oh-so-fabulous achievements and gains of white people and the “success” of western civ, and the beautiful cultural traditions of everyone else (white or otherwise)–but we never hear that white people are exposed to those traditions as a direct result of colonialism and imperialism around the world. Our parents don’t talk to us about that. No one in my family ever suggested to me that perhaps it wasn’t such a great thing that the farms they were so proud of, and on which their survival depended before the economic booms around WWI and WWII, were stolen through violence and murder. It happened right where I stood every day, and no one ever talked about it! The Indigo Girls have a great song about that:

    “I used to search for reservations and native lands/
    Before I realized that everywhere I stand/
    There have been tribal feet running wild as fire/
    Some past life sister of my desire”

    Now, that’s problematic in many ways (a little objectification and romanticization of native people going on, the sticky reference to white people claiming past lives as native people, etc.) but I hope you see the point I’m making, that it’s so easy to think of “that stuff” happening somewhere else–Iraq, Wounded Knee, India, wherever. But no. Right here. That omission is made so much easier when we live in areas where we don’t have direct contact with people who aren’t white, and was probably one of the motivating factors BEHIND the genocide and removal of native people across the US.

    3) I DO live in a very racially “diverse” area, and there’s still a whole lot of segregating going on. I think that segregating serves a purpose–somewhere on his blog, Rich talks about the fact that men’s relationships cross race lines more often than women’s. I don’t know if that’s true, but I don’t have very many friends who aren’t white. Just at its most basic, that serves (white) male supremacy, because OMG what if the wimmins got together and started talking and actually began to CARE about each other, instead of believing that we’re fundamentally different and unalterably hostile to each other’s interests? If that happened, all hell might break loose! So even though it’s not our fault, necessarily, that we don’t have more friends who are WOC–and even though I agree with you that to set out to make friends on that basis is icky and nasty and wrong–I do think we have to find ways to figure out why we’re all in our separate little groups. White women’s loyalty to white supremacy has to be a big part of it, so that’s why I think unlearning that loyalty is so important.

  6. 1 – “I think some of what you say here functions to obscure the way power works WRT race.”

    Yes – I think so too, but I struggle to see when im doing that or understand how what im saying is obscuring rather than filling in other parts of the picture. I keep all the time thinking, where is the context? And then I try and fill in the context and then its like Ive spilled ink all over the picture and everything is a mess and I cant see anything anymore.

    “I always feel clearer if I bring it back to, who has power, who doesn’t?”

    I’ll keep doing that. I think thats good advice – I do do that a lot in other ways but clearly I do have a blind spot with race, plus Im still floundering about going, but isnt that a class issue?? And of course I hate it when male leftists do that to feminists so I do see that I’m doing it too. But I keep catching myself doing it again. Partly this is defensiveness and feeling ignored, and i need to get a handle on that.

    2/ “But anyway, here in the US, I have to acknowledge that every single achievement of my family, no matter how noteworthy, no matter how valuable, is based on theft and genocide. I don’t know how that translates across the pond, where, if my ancestors had stayed, they wouldn’t have been direct colonizers, only indirect ones.”

    I dont know either. I dont know much about our history at all as a country. Bits and pieces, but not much. I think maybe our history of imperialism and colonising is harder to see because its not so much under our feet, its abroad where the boats went. Whereas you and DarkDaughta are where the boats arrived, so you have a different perspective.

    Saying that though theres an independence movement in Cornwall right next to me, like I said, and my parents are from Gibraltar, so there is another, and a fight with Spain over the territory. And i know very little about the history of either so theres another example of my ignorance, really.

    3/ What the problem is for me is that I cant seem to find the in between – between multi culturalism that swallows everyone into a big mass, and total segregation into different areas in order to keep hold of older cultures. Is there an in between, and would that be desirable? I’ve read stuff when woc have said other woc were too white because they enjoy too much white culture, and have white friends, or white family. I dont really understand how we are supposed to mix and yet be seperate. Or if im getting that wrong and thats not whats being suggested at all.

    Unlearning loyalty to white supremacy and finding ways to resist it and break it is what I want to do. But theres so many different ideas about the right and wrong way to do that and some of them are in direct conflict, and I dont know how to navigate.

    Thanks for responding. I dont want to make this about me and i feel like I am. I came back this evening because I thought I wrote too much about where I live, but I just wanted to supply context because I think a lot of the time it is missing and that makes these discussions too simplistic and then they dont really make much sense off the computer screen. But I write too much and go overboard, so im sorry about that. I would like to see more context in these conversations though – personal context that helps me get where people are coming from and where theyre at, and where they hope to go to.

  7. I’m still doing a lot of processing, but here come some thoughts…

    I too struggle with the “go out and make friends with POC” part, both because of the concern about tokenism / using and generally because I just don’t make IRL friends easily, irrespective of race. I don’t know how to get out of the cycle where we have only white friends, or mainly white friends, or we have POC friends but they aren’t our *close* friends – and we recognise the divisions and white loyalty that this perpetuates, but we feel stuck. How do we get out?

    I suspect that Amy is right when she says that being in a place where there are few or no POC (I grew up in the English countryside, and there were no non-white people anywhere, unlike the city where I now live, which is much more diverse, especially the bit I live in) makes it harder to address the issues we are talking about, to bring up antiracist children, because our children will have no experience against which to judge the racist stereotypes and white-privileged thinking etc to which they are going to be exposed. It’s not personally wrong to live in a place like that, it just makes it harder to achieve the objectives that we are talking about in this discussion. You can teach children the things that Dark Daughta was talking about (white supremacy, power, domination, oppression) wherever you live, but it will seem less real to them if there is no experience that they can relate it too.

    V – I hear what you are saying about culture/race. Culture is just one part of the story – it’s not the same as race, but it is part of the picture. People do or say or think negatively about other people based on cultural ignorance, and given that many POC do in fact come from or identify with a culture that is different from our own, there is a massive intersection between culture disconnect and race issues. I wouldn’t want to suggest that teaching / exposing our children to other cultures will eliminate white supremacy. It won’t. But it does seem to me that this kind of education can help in the process of leading children to accept and prize difference in a world where they might otherwise be trained to prize only conformity and sameness. And this has to be in addition to – not instead of – teaching a consciousness of white supremacy, of power and domination and oppression.

  8. V – we cross posted!

    “I’ve read stuff when woc have said other woc were too white because they enjoy too much white culture, and have white friends, or white family. I dont really understand how we are supposed to mix and yet be seperate.”

    Very tentatively, I suspect that what the WOC were saying by accusing someone of being “too white” is not that they shouldn’t have white friends etc but that the WOC who were getting immersed in white culture were absorbing and playing by white rules.

    An analogy might be where feminists complain that women are being too compliant – lipstick & heels, submissiveness, anti-choice, whatever it might be – with men’s rules. The person isn’t necessarily saying that women should not mix with men (although she might be if she is a separatist); but she may be saying that women should only mix with men on their own terms, not on terms dictated by men for men’s benefit and to women’s disadvantage.

    Clarification: I don’t mean that the “too feminine” women or the “too white” WOC necessarily deserve this kind of criticism – e.g. often what they do may be a survival tactic, not a conscientious choice. I only mean that this may be what the WOC you are talking about were getting at.

  9. Okay – i can see that. I can also see that its possible they were seperatists and I wouldnt have known if they were, having just stumbled across the discussion blog hopping and not knowing the people involved.

  10. Yeah, v, I hear you on two counts:

    1) It’s easy to discuss theory all heady and clear-cut and pure here in the blogosphere; much harder to see how things are playing out in the real world where you can’t always say, right now we are only talking about THIS. You do have to deal with everything at once. I think we have to be absolutely clear about that–that it’s one thing for me to write a blog treatise opposing femininity, and explaining the reasons why I do, and a completely other thing to go up to some woman I know and yell at her for wearing lipstick and heels. I think people conflate the two–they assume that, because I wrote my blog treatise, I’m also an asshole in person, when I’m actually the meekest most nonconfrontational person you can imagine IRL. And that’s just one example.

    2) Class and race are seriously conflated. That’s part of why it’s so confusing. I would suggest that class and sex are ALSO conflated, though in different ways–such as, women not having access to money even if their families have some, women being more likely to be poor, etc. So maybe thinking about class like that will help you to sort out how class, race, and sex have been intertwined in your own life. I would love to hear your thoughts about that.

    3) That sulky defensive “but what about me!” stuff–ain’t that a pisser! Damn, I’m so tired of feeling like that. 🙂 I think that’s an inevitable part of having been central for some reason–race, sex, whatever–and then trying not to be. I just have to keep reminding myself that I’m not going to lose anything by things becoming more just and equitable, but that there sure is plenty to gain. The only things that will be lost are the things we don’t want anyway, the discrimination and hate and poverty and abuse and exploitation and genocide. None of us want that, I know that for sure.

  11. Make that three. Obviously I can’t count. 🙂

  12. “That sulky defensive “but what about me!” stuff–ain’t that a pisser! Damn, I’m so tired of feeling like that. 🙂 I think that’s an inevitable part of having been central for some reason–race, sex, whatever–and then trying not to be.”

    Im hearing you on everything you said there but i wanted to pull that bit out especially. I think youre right that it is an inevitable part of having been central. Also though i think its inevitable because of not having been central, not even having been heard. And in that case, is it me saying, hey how come you all listen to women of colour but you dont listen to me?

    Which would most definitely be racist of course. Im going to go away and think about that – is that what im doing?

  13. v, do you think we don’t listen to you? Can you say what’s happened to make you think that? I value your perspective a lot.

    For me the having-been-central pissiness and the not-having-been-central pissiness feel VERY different. Yesterday I went to a gathering where there was a good dose of fat-hating–not just the usual diet chatter, but some sneery comments about a “fat belly” directed at a dog, but with the venom behind them of societal fat-hating. And my anger about that was very, very different to how I feel in the moments when I’m mired in reactionary defensiveness. Again, it’s about power–with the fat-hating and the dieting, everything about that kind of talk supports the status quo. You can go practically anywhere, read any newspaper or magazine, and hear talk like that. Where can you go to hear a fat-acceptance or (lard forbid) a fat-positive message? Almost nowhere. The dynamic with racism is similar–even though most “good” white people would never say anything overtly racist, we all know it’s there, we know it’s structural as well as interpersonal and psychological, and trying to deny that is VERY different from realizing, hey, everyone hates fat people, why are you jumping on the bandwagon?

    You said above, v, that about race you hear yourself saying things that men say to feminists. That’s such a big clue to me! When those arguments come out of me, I KNOW I’m being reactionary, and so I know to shut my mouth until it passes. I hope someday I won’t revert to that at times, but it might just be something I have to learn to cope with.

    I wrote, somewhere, maybe at Starfish’s place, that accusations and/or acknowledgement of our racism strike us in the places where we’re already damaged. (I’m talking about white women now, not white people in general.) Most of the white women I’ve known have been convinced of their badness and inferiority. So when someone says “racist” we think, OMG I can’t be bad that way too! I’m fighting so hard against the attribution of badness to me–for being female, for being fat, for being lesbian, for being not pretty or too pretty, for having had sex I didn’t want, for having had sex I DID want, for being old, for being poor, for being disabled–I simply CAN’T be bad in this other way too. Whiteness is one way we’re never wrong, no matter what other wrongness attends us, and it’s a rightness that we never notice until it’s challenged. And when it is, we often see the part of us that IS attached to the status quo, that has been trained to believe in dominance–because we think that if we listen to analyses of racism, what is happening is that POC are or will be dominating us. Right? If we’re not in control, someone else must be. Instead of seeing reality clearly and looking together for a way to level the playing field, at least among ourselves, which we might do automatically in any other circumstance.

    Anyway, I’m rambling. But v, you said:
    But theres so many different ideas about the right and wrong way to [undermine white supremacy] and some of them are in direct conflict, and I dont know how to navigate.

    It would be really useful to me if you could delineate some of the ways you’ve thought of or heard about, that you see to be in conflict, so that we could talk about them.

  14. Well, staying comfortably in a white circle of friends and acquaintances, as opposed to seeking out ways to make friends with WOC because they are WOC. They’re both wrong!

    The right way to think must be, get myself out of my lily-white world, and don’t be afraid to go into mixed places, and be open to whatever level of acquaintanceship or friendship that may develop.

    But … being friends with WOC isn’t going to dismantle system racism.

    What will help dismantle it is … (please help me make this list) …

    – teaching our children to recognize hate as hate
    – writing letters to editors challenging hateful reporting
    – attending our local school board meetings, whether we have children in the schools or not, to monitor, and if necessary, speak
    – organize political action when needed

  15. Actually I think women being friends, and lovers, across racial barriers, IS one step towards dismantling systemic racism. The segregation that we currently experience IS systemic–it’s maintained by the fact that we so often live, go to school, church, events, shop, date, marry within circles that only contain people of our race. Many, many white people very rarely have occasion to interact with people of color as peers, versus servants or tokens. To the degree that that’s a purposeful political decision on the part of people of color, that’s fine–it’s just that usually that’s not the case. The segregation is usually imposed by white people, white men. Remember back to justicewalks’ arguments about white men needing to keep “their” women “pure” to ensure the continued production of white babies? What better way to ensure that we’re “pure” than to ensure that we don’t “mix”? What better way to keep us loyal to their projects and their domination than to keep us white women away from, and hence unaware of the needs/desires/joys/concerns of, people who are not white?

    And when it comes to political actions/organizations, why would women of color want to belong to a group or go to an event that was conceived of and started by white women, without any attempt to consider what we might be missing? An analogy: I went to a party on Sunday where there was fairly rampant fat-hating and diet talk. I think I mentioned this elsewhere. The other women there were not TRYING to be mean to me. They were not TRYING to make the space unpleasant. It’s just that they didn’t consider that telling a dog that her fat belly was ugly was an indirect commentary on the ugliness of the fat bellies of the large women in the room. They didn’t think about how their “Oh my god I am so fat I can’t believe I ate that I have to lose 20 pounds!” would sound to someone who weighs 400 pounds and who has heard that crap directed at her every day of her entire life. That room, that space, was very unfriendly to me. It’s not somewhere I want to spend a lot of time. And that is a true thing regardless of the INTENTIONS of the women who were acting in those ways, who were dominating that space by demonstrating their allegiance to a beauty standard and a behavioral expectation imposed on women by white men.

    The problem with your list above, sw, is not that any of those things are bad in themselves–it’s that they don’t necessarily require any input from women of color. It still sounds like the white lady bountiful thing, where we–white women–are going to change things through our insight, benevolence, and agitation. Women of color keep saying, No. You aren’t going to change anything WITHOUT US. My experience has been that when I’ve started talking AND listening to women of color–and this includes reading blogs, books, and articles, not just face-to-face interactions, both are crucial–we find out that we have so many interests in common as well as a lot of differences. These interactions, of course, have usually entailed me being willing to give up my allegiance to white supremacy, in the various forms that takes–PARTICULARLY the “Out of Africa” model where the lovely white woman saves the poor unfortunate natives from their lot of misery. But once I relinquish the white supremacist mythology that I or someone like me has all the answers, a lot of things become possible, in the sense of political action, as well as in the sense of living differently to create a different world, that weren’t possible before. We can create organizations and events TOGETHER that are friendly to all of us–where women of color don’t have to listen to the subtle or not-so-subtle exclusion of their lives, perspectives and experiences that they get in the wider world all the time. And any action we do from that place of interaction, whether in concert with women of color or on our own, will be informed by the words and thoughts and concerns and solutions and insights and strategies of women of color, not just our own understanding of what’s wrong and how to fix it.

    And again, as my analogy above demonstrates, this is not simply limited to racial differences. Straight women need to listen to lesbians. Thin women need to listen to fat women. Young women need to listen to old women, and vice versa. Ablebodied women need to listen to disabled women. It’s a big project, that “hard traveling through a maze of barriers erected to divide us.”

  16. But black women have told us white women that we need to stop racism by working with white women and white men, and not to expect blacks to do our work, not to ask blacks what to do, not to rely on blacks. Just as we ask men to stop rape and violence by working with other men. Do men need our input in order to stop sexism? I would say men can’t stop sexism, it has to be women, we need to take our freedom. So following that analogy, perhaps it’s presumptuous to think we whites can stop racism.

    Yet, you say we do need them for the work! As Maia says, whichever way we turn, we have it worng!

    I know, I know, it must be “all of the above.”

  17. “we need to take our freedom”
    (so it’s our fault we aren’t free?)

    Seriously – yes women do need to step up and take our freedom, men cannot give it to us because freedom is not something that is in the oppressor’s gift.

    However. What men can do is (a) to recognise and stop supporting gender oppression and (b) to speak up against gender oppression and (c) to accept it if women tell them we don’t want them in our movement telling us how to fight our own oppression.

    They can’t do this without listening to women and believing what we say about gender oppression, because we are the people who know best what that oppression is, how it manifests itself, because we are the ones that experience it.

    Now re-read that with “women/us” “men/them” and “gender” replaced by “POC/them” “whites/us” and “race”…

  18. But black women have told us white women that we need to stop racism by working with white women and white men, and not to expect blacks to do our work, not to ask blacks what to do, not to rely on blacks. Just as we ask men to stop rape and violence by working with other men. Do men need our input in order to stop sexism? I would say men can’t stop sexism, it has to be women, we need to take our freedom. So following that analogy, perhaps it’s presumptuous to think we whites can stop racism.

    Yet, you say we do need them for the work! As Maia says, whichever way we turn, we have it worng!

    I know, I know, it must be “all of the above.”

    LOL, sw, I know, it’s confusing! Maybe this is what v was talking about a few threads ago, where the antiracism dictates seem to contradict each other. Like Maia, I’ve found thinking about it in analogy to sexism to be helpful (though there are some pitfalls we should watch out for there too): Would we expect men to work with other men to end sexism WITHOUT having first listened to feminist analysis of what’s wrong? We know just from internet experience that oh so many of them have a lot of trouble getting it on their own. Would we welcome their efforts if they came charging in like the cavalry, like Dudley Doright, to save us? Especially since we know that (white) men saving (white) women is a huge patriarchal trope? No, we wouldn’t. We’d deliver the smackdown. So I guess what I’m saying is, listen FIRST. Educate yourself. Spend time around people who aren’t like you, like you said before. Maybe even make a friend or two, based on shared interests. THEN go do the work among white folks. Then it’s not you acting the benevolent white savior ending racism all by your heroic authoritative lonesome; it’s you saying, “I have heard women of color say….”

  19. PS I know you are listening and educating yourself. I was speaking to the “general you” there.

  20. yup, goes without saying, but thanks …

  21. And let me edit myself: Listen, then act, then listen, then act….

  22. i am reading and listening, been having a catchup on reading posts today. just to let you all know ive not flitted off, just been really busy.

  23. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing. Different cultures don’t have to melt together and we don’t have to live divided to hang onto our heritage.

    When I was a kid I went to school alongside (and was friends with) kids from Zimbabwe (Living in London), Pakistan (London), Sri Lanka (London/Toronto), Vietnam (Living in Toronto), El Salvador (Toronto), India (London/Toronto), Somalia (Toronto), Jamaica (London/Toronto), Hong Kong (Toronto), Japan (Toronto), Malaysia (Toronto), Trinidad (Toronto) and many other countries. I had moved between (Germany/Spain/England/Canada) and didn’t quite fit into any London or Toronto culture as I grew older and had communication problems (APD). I had little in common with the white kids. Most of my friends were immigrants too. Most of my friends are still a mixed bag of backgrounds. My children have attended Seikh Temples, attend Budhist weddings, celebrated Ramadan, join in Carribana, visit my sister and her partner for Gay Pride Parade, skate with their Dad and travel (I work for an airline). I’ve seen from experience that we can be friends with people from many backgrounds. We don’t have to blend or live separately to hold onto our cultures. It just isn’t either/or.

    I think we (people in general) become defensive whenever we feel we are taking the “blame” for something. It’s human nature. Some people are more defensive than others. We get defensive if someone thinks our lifestyle isn’t eco-friendly, our attendance at the circus is perpetuating animal cruelty, we don’t sacrifice enough to buy fair trade guaranteed products or any number of choices or sometimes non-choices that make us part of a mainstream systemic injustice in the world. We can try to educate ourselves about these things and attempt to do our part to make things better. Sometimes, these things are out of our control. I can’t afford to always buy the eco-friendly products. But I can at the least be aware of the problem and make changes that are within in my control. I try to be aware of racism and try to do my part in combating it. Being defensive ultimately doesn’t change anything.

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