White fragility and toxic white feminism, a demonstration

Photo of a protest with a woman holding a sign that reads "If your feminism isn't intersectional it aint [poop emoji]"

Photo by Flickr user Pasa47 Photo of a protest with a woman holding a sign that reads “If your feminism isn’t intersectional it aint [poop emoji]”

I’m not sure why the conversation about feminism between Roxane Gay and Erica Jong, which took place in September 2015 at the Decatur Book Festival, is getting publicity on social media right now. I’ve seen several links to it in the past few days. Perhaps because it’s a perfect demonstration of why understanding intersectional feminism is so important to our practice of feminism. Especially if we’re white women.

This short segment from the discussion demonstrates in a nutshell the toxicity of white feminism. In response to an audience member’s question about intersectional feminism Jong replied:

“I also want to say that anybody who says that feminism is only a white thing is ignorant of the history of feminism,” she began. She mentioned blues singers, black abolitionists, and black female civil rights leaders, “who were all passionate feminists beyond any white women you could name”.

Jong said she thought anyone who claimed otherwise was speaking from “historical ignorance. “We have a long tradition of people of colour, of women of colour, being feminists,” Jong insisted. “A long tradition.”

When Gay agreed but reminded Jong that mainstream feminism has historically excluded women of colour, the audience clapped. Jong, apparently taken aback, demanded: “And I don’t know – are you talking about me?”

Gay answered simply, and almost consolingly, “No.”

[Emphasis mine]

In short:

  1. Black woman says white feminism excludes Black women.
  2. White woman takes statement personally.
  3. Black woman tends to white woman’s feelings.

White fragility—white people centering their feelings, plus the time that black woman spend tending to white women’s feelings—thereby short-circuits any possibility of critical thinking about how feminism, especially White Feminism (or mainstream feminism, if you prefer) is practiced.

Why do Black women feel the need to tend to white women’s feelings, instead of just telling us to grow up and stop being so self-centered in our practice of feminism?

Because white people are dangerous to Black people.

Because white women are dangerous to Black women. You can read about it:

Teen Vogue offers just one example of this: “White Women Are Less Likely to Protect Black Women From Sexual Assault, Study Finds. White women are more likely to protect other white women.

Or consider the number of white women who voted for Donald Trump. What can we conclude from this?

The strong support for Trump among white women suggests that many of them, if not “overtly racist”, simply “don’t think racism is a big deal”, said Mikki Kendall, a feminist cultural critic.

Everyday Feminism urges us to Stop Your White Fragility – It’s Racial Violence and Here’s Why.

Let’s think harder and do better.