Prioritising our selves

[This is a joint post by Secondwaver and Maia.]

We have been talking.

We’ve been finding it pretty hard, trying to fight white male supremacy within the ranks of feminism. We’re not surprised it’s hard, but DAMN! it is hard, for us both.

We started this blog as a way to confront white privilege, our own white privilege, and yet we’ve been finding it very easy to focus instead on other people’s white privilege, on other people’s racism. We have been feeling more comfortable as liberals, as nice white women (thanks, Amy, and thanks, Dark Daughta), so-called feminists whose first instinct is to say that racial injustice and institutional racism are problems over there, somewhere else, somewhere far away from us. We’ve been glossing over the fact that it is also a problem over here, right inside us, even as we claim to be doing radical feminist ant-iracist work. Both are important, yet we’ve very much been struggling with how to find and become conscious of our own location within all this.

We’re drawing inspiration from feminist bloggers we respect, radical feminists with a solid race analysis such as Justice Walks, Feminist Reprise, Dark Daughta, and Fire Witch Rising, who take no prisoners, who speak right out.

Why is this so hard?

Is it a matter of not honouring our feelings and emotions, as Dark Daughta observes?

Wimmin’s primary “work” even in feminist circles is still to stifle, to remain silent, to deny emotion and to live with the effects of this gruelling contructed role […]

My experience is one of observing how distanced the majority of wimmin are still from our own emotions, not just from our rage, but also from a host of whole other feelings that have the potential to ground us, to make us clear, to crystalize not just our analysis, but to revolutionize our interior as well as our exterior lives…holistically, organically making full revolution manifest.

The understanding that emotion is an uncontrollable beast a woman can’t let loose, that she should be disturbed to experience, that she should try to put back in a box, is a hallmark of our domination under a patriarchal system of dominance that counts on us not feeling anything too extreme about the oppression in our own lives and in the lives of the people around us. That we won’t wake up to a realization of our place in the Matrix and start resisting on all possible personal and political fronts, in every fucking aspect of our lives.

Maia has been digging inside herself, to find some reasons for her personal struggle to honor, to even recognise and express her emotions. Maia, you’ve named what so many of us have inside. Fear.

Does it come down to a fear of dying? Are we afraid that if we become conscious, we’ll die? Is that absurd? But no, it’s not absurd at all, because it’s what we were taught, effectively: and whether the death in question is physical or metaphorical it is still real. And now, even decades later, it’s so hard to throw off.

From reading the bloggers mentioned above, we learn that once we do it, we find out we didn’t die, and we continue–if we only will.

What does it take to break through the fear?

It takes women together, knowing that we all were inculcated with the same expectations of niceness, i. e. prioritising others, not our selves. It’s hard for us all–and most especially when we are new at it.

Making our selves a priority means we must stop bowing and scraping to power. Prioritising our selves means giving legitimacy to our own perceptions. It means breaking new ground by allowing our selves the right to feel, to recognise the feelings for what they are, to speak up. It means not having to “be nice.” Realising that self-respect and “being nice” cannot always co-exist.

Making our selves a priority also means that we must stop locating the problem as somewhere else. It means exploring our own indoctrination, our own journey from where we were to where we are. It means letting those newly acknowledged feelings come up and out, not just as something we recognise but as something we analyse. It means loving our selves enough that we don’t have to “be nice,” even when we talk about who we are, and how we came to be that way. Realising that self-love and self-approval are not the same thing.

So this is where we’ve got to, our renewed commitment to prioritising our selves.

We want to engage openly and honestly, to work on abandoning the “nice white lady” so-called safety net, which instead offers only a furtherance of our privilege on the backs of, on the necks and heads of, women of colour.

We would love any interested feminists to join us.

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Malcolm X: “Whites who are sincere … “

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“Whites who are sincere don’t accomplish anything by joining Negro organizations and making them integrated. Whites who are sincere should organize among themselves and figure out some strategy to break down the prejudice that exists in white communities. This is where they can function more intelligently and more effectively, in the white community itself, and this has never been done.”

From an interview printed in Malcolm X Talks to Young People. The interview was given to Jack Barnes and Barry Sheppard, leaders of the Young Socialist Alliance, on Jan. 18, 1965. Malcolm X read and approved the final text, which appeared in the March-April 1965 issue of the Young Socialist. Copyright 1965 by Betty Shabazz and Pathfinder Press.

Fannie Lou Hamer

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Fannie Lou Hamer was born in Mississippi in 1917, one of twenty children of a sharecropper family. She began to pick cotton at the age of six and worked in the fields as a plantation timekeeper until 1962, when she lost her job after registering to vote. Hamer, who was the mother of two children, was jailed in 1963 and severely beaten for attempting to integrate a restaurant. She was under constant attack for her civil rights leadership and narrowly escaped being shot. Her home was bombed in 1971.

Hamer worked to organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and was one of three Black candidates running for Congress from her state and garnered 33,009 votes.

She also lectured extensively, and was known for a signature line she often used: “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” She was a powerful speaker, and her singing voice lent another power to civil rights meetings.

Hamer helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971, speaking for inclusion of racial issues in the feminist agenda.

Fannie Lou Hamer died in Mississippi in 1977. She had published To Praise Our Bridges: An Autobiography in 1967. June Jordan published a biography, Fannie Lou Hamer, in 1972, and Kay Mills published This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer in 1993.

The special plight and the role of black women is not something that just happened three years ago. We’ve had a special plight for 350 years. My grandmother had it. My grandmother was a slave. She died in 1960. She was 136 years old. She died in Mount Bayou, Mississippi.

It’s been a special plight for the black woman. I remember my uncles and some of my aunts–and that’s why it really tickled me when you talked about integration. Because I’m very black, but I remember some of my uncles and some of my aunts was as white as anybody in here, and blue-eyed, and some kind of green-eyed–and my grandfather didn’t do it, you know. So what the folks is fighting at this point is what they started. They started unloading the slave ships of Africa, that’s when they started. And right now, sometimes, you know I work for the liberation of all people, because when I liberate myself, I’m liberating other people. But you know, sometimes I really feel more sorrier for the white woman than I feel for ourselves because she been caught up in this thing, caught up feeling very special, and folks, I’m going to put it on the line, because my job is not to make people feel comfortable–(drowned out by applause). You’ve been caught up in this thing because, you know, you worked my grandmother, and after that you worked my mother, and then finally you got hold of me. And you really thought, people–you might try and cool it now, but I been watching you, baby. You thought that you was more because you was a woman, and especially a white woman, you had this kind of angel feeling that you were untouchable. You know what? There’s nothing under the sun that made you believe that you was just like me, that under this white pigment of skin is red blood, just like under this black skin of mine. So we was used as black women over and over and over. You know I remember a time when I was working around white people’s house, and one thing that would make me mad as hell, after I would be done slaved all day long, this white woman would get on the phone, calling some of her friends, and said, “You know, I’m tired, because we have been working,” and I said, “That’s a damn lie.” You’re not used to that kind of language, honey, but I’m gone tell you where it’s at. So all of these things was happening because you had more. You had been put on a pedestal, and then got only put on a pedestal, but you had been put in something like a ivory castle. So what happened to you, we have busted the castle open and whacking like hell for the pedestal. And when you hit the ground, you’re gone have to fight like hell, like we’ve been fighting all this time.

Excerpted from “The Special Plight and the Role of Black Woman,” Speech given by Fannie Lou Hamer at NAACP Legal Defense Fund Institute, New York City, May 7, 1971.

Source: Black Women in White America: A Documentary History, ed. by Gerda Lerner, pp. 609-610. Random House: 1972.

Fannie Lou Hamer, by Jane Johnson Lewis.

“On Being White,” by Marilyn Frye

[B]eing white-skinned means that everything I do will be wrong–at the least an exercise of unwarranted privilege–and I will encounter the reasonable anger of women of color at every turn … as a white person one must never claim not to be racist, but only to be anti-racist. The reasoning is that racism is so systematic and white privilege so impossible to escape, that one is, simply, trapped … I have enjoined males of my acquaintance to set themselves against masculinity … Likewise I can set myself against Whiteness.

Frye, Marilyn. “On Being White.” The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory. 1983. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, pp. 126-7. Via Amy.

On our “declaring” that we’re white allies

Justice Walks has a new post up that speaks to some of what we’re trying to do here at this blog. 

I’ve declared myself “ally,” precisely in this patriarchal context. Thanks, Justice Walks, for pointing that out.  It should have been a no-brainer! But, as I’m learning here, our white privilege has served to blind us to the obvious, effectively and repeatedly. 

Justice for the New Jersey 4

nj42.jpgThere’s a new website dedicated to the New Jersey 4 where you’ll find ways we can help the four imprisoned young women. There’s also a moderated discussion board, so you can share your opinions, ideas, experiences, announcements, and any actions you plan to take on behalf of the NJ4.

They’ll be adding more to the site soon, including:

* additional ways to help the 4 and their families
* upcoming events in support of the 4
* more information about the case, including the media coverage
* updates about the young women and their legal appeal
* personal messages from members of the 4 and family members

Please check in from time to time, and also, please help spread the word about our sisters! (Thanks, Amy, for pointing there.)

White privilege, satirically drawn by Ruben Bolling

Ruben Bolling’s cartoon

Saw this over at Alas, a blog.