On Prisons, Borders, Safety, and Privilege: An Open Letter to White Feminists

This open letter from Jessica Hoffman is phenomenal. And it makes me extremely uncomfortable — which I suppose is the point. It’s a powerful, cutting and thought-provoking piece. It’s a must-read.

I’m curious to hear all of your thoughts.

Author: has written 5276 posts for this blog.

Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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230 Responses

  1. Bitter Scribe
    Bitter Scribe April 5, 2008 at 7:50 pm |

    To me, it was a lot of piffle. The prison-abolition movement? What planet is this woman living on?

  2. Sarah J
    Sarah J April 5, 2008 at 8:25 pm |

    That was amazing. Thanks for the link.

    I’ve been having a lot of thoughts lately about middle-class feminisms and of course, my own role in them. and I absolutely agree that the law-and-order approach to safety does no one any good.

    prisons are not a positive thing. bean over at lawyers, guns and money has had some good posts on them of late.

    I wish I had slept longer so I could post a more coherent response.

  3. evil fizz
    evil fizz April 5, 2008 at 8:30 pm |

    who is made safe by strengthening a violent law-and-order system? And what does strengthening that system have to do with ending violence?

    I’m still untangling all these threads in my head, but this feels like a conflation of variables. The legal system is racist because the people within it are racists, not because that’s an inherent feature thereof.

  4. Torri
    Torri April 5, 2008 at 8:38 pm |

    I’d like to say that as an upper middle class white Australian girl this blog has been one of the main driving factors in making me more aware of class and race issues. Which is to say I was barely aware of them at all before I started becoming a blog reader. It’s amazing what access to the internet will give you that news media just fails to talk about at all.

  5. Alan
    Alan April 5, 2008 at 8:46 pm |

    I’m with Bitter Scribe. When you talk about the legal system being a problem, you really need to list what alternatives you think would be better than the legal system. I’m certainly willing to agree that the legal/police/prison system has lots of problems, but what does she suggest?

  6. zuzu
    zuzu April 5, 2008 at 9:00 pm | *

    The legal system is racist because the people within it are racists, not because that’s an inherent feature thereof.

    One of the things that really blew me away when I saw a documentary of Johnny Cash’s performance at San Quentin in the 60s was how many white prisoners there were, compared to what you see in prisons today.

  7. Amelia
    Amelia April 5, 2008 at 9:23 pm |

    Thanks so much for this post. I really got a lot out of it, and I hope that since I am a feminist who has only recently taken up the identifier, I will be able to keep this article in mind and learn to recognize connections, and the fact that because I appear to be white, I am privileged.

  8. Aman
    Aman April 5, 2008 at 9:25 pm |

    The legal system is racist because the people within it are racists, not because that’s an inherent feature thereof.

    This is precisely backwards, I think, and the sort of common framing of racism whereby it’s defined as individual actions with malicious inrtent that makes it hard for most white people to understand how particularly institutional racism is still such a large factor in this country.

  9. evil fizz
    evil fizz April 5, 2008 at 9:26 pm |

    One of the things that really blew me away when I saw a documentary of Johnny Cash’s performance at San Quentin in the 60s was how many white prisoners there were, compared to what you see in prisons today.

    I wonder how that’s correlated with the ever sensible war on drugs.

  10. evil fizz
    evil fizz April 5, 2008 at 9:34 pm |

    This is precisely backwards, I think, and the sort of common framing of racism whereby it’s defined as individual actions with malicious inrtent that makes it hard for most white people to understand how particularly institutional racism is still such a large factor in this country.

    I think I’d still argue that institutional racism is still organic: it comes from the actors within it. I don’t think that the issue is one of active malice, but rather that even when people participating in a system are not consciously being malicious, they’re still driving a racist system.

    Put another way, I’m not talking about the bad actors, but rather the overall complicity in perpetuating a racist system. But neither bad actors nor ignorant ones make (for example) a prison system inherently racist.

  11. Rebecca
    Rebecca April 5, 2008 at 9:53 pm |

    I’m sure I’m missing something, but about the only thing that really pinged for me, was the reluctance for people of color as well as lower-class whites to call the cops or authorities for help. The letter read as apologistic to me, which always strikes me as more a sop to the ego of the writer than a true attempt at understanding.

    I’m redneck white trash and believe me, the last thing I want is to call the attention of the good old boy network to me or my family. The authorities around here are misogynistic and racist, more interested in keep their perks than they are in helping someone who does not fit into their particular social class.

  12. Brooklynite
    Brooklynite April 5, 2008 at 9:56 pm |

    I was surprised that Hoffman didn’t circle back to talk in more detail about her critique of feminist legal reforms. Her dismissal of the Violence Against Women Act struck me as particularly weak, in light of a VAWA provision that I’ve become familiar with in recent months.

    Undocumented immigrant women are at particular risk for domestic violence because their partners and husbands often use their undocumented status as leverage — the abusers threaten that if the women leave or report the abuse, they will be deported.

    In recognition of this dynamic, VAWA created a path to legal status for immigrant women who are abused by their husbands or partners — if they can demonstrate that they have co-operated with the prosecution of their abusers, undocumented women can gain legal residency. My wife is the (white feminist) general counsel of a domestic violence organization, and in the last few months her agency has processed the residency applications of dozens of such survivors of domestic violence.

    I recognize that there are major fundamental problems with both the criminal justice system and immigration law, and I respect people who are doing work for radical change in those institutions. But to dismiss VAWA work as irrelevant to the lived concerns of women of color strikes me as facile.

  13. Roadrunner
    Roadrunner April 5, 2008 at 10:08 pm |

    I understand criticisms of our criminal justice system–it’s horrible, the war on (some people who use some kinds of) drugs is horrible, and it many cities, the police are horrible.

    But, I’m a 26 year old woman with no car who lives in an urban neighborhood where there have been random, stranger-attacks on women my age and description a few blocks from my apartment. 12 attacks, actually, in the last 14 months.

    A couple of months ago, a guy was following me as I walked home. I did the usual–walk to a busy street, walk up to someone’s house, get out my cell phone. At that point, he walked on his way, but if he hadn’t, what was I supposed to do–*not* call the cops? Um, no. When my safety is threatened, I *have to* call the cops. There is no other way in this society to keep myself safe.

    I absolutely agree that women and feminists should support prison reforms and criminal justice reforms and police conduct reforms. But you cannot expect me to give up my last resort for my personal safety.

  14. zuzu
    zuzu April 5, 2008 at 10:22 pm | *

    I wonder how that’s correlated with the ever sensible war on drugs.

    You know, it would be well worth it to take a look back through prison films and documentaries of the 70s (not to mention actual statistics) to see what the racial balance was before the war on drugs.

  15. violet
    violet April 5, 2008 at 10:40 pm |

    Roadrunner, the point is that your ability to ”call the cops”* so as to create a safer situation for you is a function of your position in society: your race, your class, your gender identity and presentation. It’s a function of your privilege.

    On a personal level, you do what you must to protect yourself; I don’t think there’s a lot of room for others to judge decisions made in that context**. I don’t think anybody is saying that if you feel like you’re in a dangerous situation you shouldn’t do what you need to do to get out of it, even if that involves leveraging an oppressive authority.

    But understand that many in your situation cannot call the cops with the expectation that they will improve the situation. And also understand that because you can call the cops, you are more likely to think that the police and legal system are viable tools that can be shaped to produce justice. You are more likely to work towards remedies that benefit only those who can turn to the legal system, and abandon all those who cannot. That’s the source of the very real anger, frustration, and pain that’s so often confusing to white feminists.

    * Quoted because actually phoning the police is just one form of leveraging authority.

    ** Examine, yes, but not judge.

  16. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth April 5, 2008 at 10:44 pm |

    I absolutely agree that women and feminists should support prison reforms and criminal justice reforms and police conduct reforms. But you cannot expect me to give up my last resort for my personal safety.

    I think the point was not that you shouldn’t call them, but that you should realize a woman of color might be reluctant to do so. If you are not afraid to call the cops, you have privilege.

  17. juju
    juju April 5, 2008 at 10:45 pm |

    I’m with Bitter Scribe. When you talk about the legal system being a problem, you really need to list what alternatives you think would be better than the legal system. I’m certainly willing to agree that the legal/police/prison system has lots of problems, but what does she suggest?

    You can check out Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Y. Davis, 2003. Davis has also given several interviews/lectures on the subject of prison abolition.

  18. MizDarwin
    MizDarwin April 5, 2008 at 11:03 pm |

    And also understand that because you can call the cops, you are more likely to think that the police and legal system are viable tools that can be shaped to produce justice. You are more likely to work towards remedies that benefit only those who can turn to the legal system, and abandon all those who cannot.

    What about trying to make the legal system more accessible to all? Because, seriously, what’s the alternative?

  19. Hugo
    Hugo April 5, 2008 at 11:04 pm |

    I think some of the meta-criticisms are right on; middle-class white feminists do often ignore the ways in which intersectionality really works. But in her specifics, Hoffman does us all a disservice — the attack on VAWA (particularly in light of comment 12 above) is frankly outrageous, as if domestic violence concerns were somehow unique to the privileged.

    A radical critique which sees the US justice system as fundamentally irreedemable has its place in the movement, but there are plenty of feminists of all backgrounds who have done much good work to make the “system” more equitable and accessible.

    I do think we send many people to prison whom we shouldn’t, and many we don’t send ought to go — but I do believe in the criminal justice system. Hoffman is throwing out a pretty fine baby with the bathwater.

    Hoffman asks:

    I wonder again: What is your feminism for?

    For me, feminism is a movement committed to the sexual, economic, educational, and poltiical equality of women. It is about autonomy, independence, choice, and opportunity. And that means that it is about creating choices both for those women who choose to work within the system and those who choose to work outside it.

  20. violet
    violet April 5, 2008 at 11:16 pm |

    And that means that it is about creating choices both for those women who choose to work within the system and those who choose to work outside it.

    That’s not a choice*. And I think framing it as such is, at best, extremely unhelpful, and at worst, extremely damaging.

    * Okay, for someone, somewhere, it’s a choice. But, someone, somewhere, actually has had a late term abortion to fit into their prom dress.

  21. marie
    marie April 5, 2008 at 11:30 pm |

    I was more bothered by Hoffman’s writing than enlightened since, I am guessing here, she is not a woman of color. I don’t think women have gotten through the glass ceiling yet to be criticizing one feminist group over another. In fact, this is the type of rhetoric that splits a group rather than unites it. Laying a guilt trip is not going to work. She does bring up some issues that have roots in early and later movements of feminism like the inclusion of transgender and sexual orientation, something some feminists still question as a part of women’s equality. The women’s history I have studied has shown that there the women’s movement was splintered based in color. I am just wondering what it will take to unite feminists? Abortion rights? What?

  22. violet
    violet April 5, 2008 at 11:37 pm |

    I do think we send many people to prison whom we shouldn’t, and many we don’t send ought to go — but I do believe in the criminal justice system. Hoffman is throwing out a pretty fine baby with the bathwater.

    But… Why? Why do you believe this? In abstract political theory land, yes, it seems like the government needs an enforced monopoly on the legal use of violence. And so in the abstract, some kind of organization which has the power to resort to violence might be necessary for a just society.*

    But we don’t live in imaginary social theory land.

    Sure, we can point to instances where the police and justice system are helpful, and where the reformative work Hoffman is talking about has helped people—some of them even people of color.

    But those are… small. Tiny. Taken as a whole, these are oppressive institutions, which have become the thing that polititheory tells us they are meant to prevent (oppressive violence).

    That take on the system is somewhat subjective in the sense that it isn’t based on some utilitarian accounting of the system’s value. But it does reflect the very real experiences of millions of women. As your take on the legal system—as someone it largely benefits, on a personal level—is reflects yours.

    The problem is that when you say, “I think this system is largely okay,” you’re also implicitly telling those women, “Because my experience is more valid than yours.”

    Which is something you have to say, sometimes, but it’s hardly shocking when the response is, “well, fuck you, too.”

    * Note that there are people who disagree even with this. I don’t totally agree yet, but only because none of the proposed alternatives are entirely compelling. The negative arguments, though—that any institution authorized to use violence will necessarily become oppressive—that seems, at least empirically, to be really, really compelling. Also, the argument that because we see violence as a tool [even a poor one], we are more likely to use it when non-violent solutions would work just as well or be superior—the case for that seems to be damn strong.

  23. Hugo
    Hugo April 5, 2008 at 11:39 pm |

    Violet, my wording was poor.

    I think the system can be redeemed, made less racist and sexist and classist. That’s at the heart of “liberal feminism”, which is not now nor has it ever been an oxymoron. “Radical feminism” has a fine and illustrious history as well. There are multiple feminisms (all praise to Make/Shift for regularly using the word in the plural.

    Yes, “choice” is often a function of privilege — the more resources you have, the more choices you’ve got. That means feminists can and should work to expand the range of choices available to all women, including those who have traditionally had few options because of racism or poverty. But the basic liberal feminist ideal — of taking public institutions and making them better and more responsive rather than overthrowing them — is still a valid one.

  24. octogalore
    octogalore April 5, 2008 at 11:52 pm |

    I think Hoffman, Marie and Hugo all have valid points. Yes, there are many ways in which white feminists are out of touch. But there are many common aims which get obscured in an attempt to suggest most mainstream feminists’ opinions are all out of whack.

    The goal should be to expand the lens of the movement to transgender women and women of different races, degrees of (dis)ability, etc. But to keep the focus on women. To the extent crime, poverty, immigration issues specifically target women, they are feminist issues and it’s AOK to call out the branches of the movement that give them short shrift. But the core of the movement is still, or should be, women. And issues like abortion, as WOC film maker Faith Pennick’s film “Silent Choices” focusing on WOC’s relationship to abortion, remain critical.

  25. Stentor
    Stentor April 5, 2008 at 11:53 pm |

    In recognition of this dynamic, VAWA created a path to legal status for immigrant women who are abused by their husbands or partners — if they can demonstrate that they have co-operated with the prosecution of their abusers, undocumented women can gain legal residency. My wife is the (white feminist) general counsel of a domestic violence organization, and in the last few months her agency has processed the residency applications of dozens of such survivors of domestic violence.

    Let’s go for the battle of dueling wife anecdotes — my wife is a (white) immigration lawyer, and what she says has led me to form a much less optimistic picture. U visas are great in theory, as the above quote explains. The problem is that they quite often don’t work in practice. The key is the requirement to cooperate with law enforcement. This means that 1) the woman has to be willing to work with a system that’s brutally racist and unaccommodating toward her and toward people in her community, and 2) law enforcement has to want to work with her — to prosecute her abuser in the first place, and then to use her aid in the prosecution, and to certify that to the immigration authorities (which may be difficult due to resource constraints and organizational priorities, plus the various forms of systemic and individual bigotry enacted by law enforcement). So while the U visa system started to try to think intersectionally in the way the article wants, it was hobbled by the persistent white assumption that law enforcement is basically a force for good that people can rely on.

  26. Oh
    Oh April 6, 2008 at 12:06 am |

    I’m happy to read these thoughtful challenges to white feminism, but I never like seeing radicalism/revolution held up as The Solution. I am always going to believe that the huge majority of people want to live their lives peacefully and securely, with opportunities to do the things their society has told them are valuable. No revolution is going to change that very human desire, and all revolutions violently disrupt people’s ability to do those things, including the ability of people who are not the oppressors.

    So, yeah, I’m always going to be a liberal/reformist. The work of radicals/revolutionaries is essential, and we should all be paying heed to what they say and do and honestly have it influence us–have it inform the ways we want to change what society says is valuable, how we decide what “peace” and “security” mean and whom they should involve. But I’ve spent too much time in places that did have massive revolutions in recent history to believe that trying to wipe out a whole system will end oppression or even shift around the scales of power for that majority of people who just want to lead simple, peaceful lives.

  27. Hugo
    Hugo April 6, 2008 at 12:13 am |

    Violet, my views on policing and prison are very similar to Churchill’s views on democracy: it’s a lousy system, but better than any of the viable alternatives on the table.

  28. sabrina
    sabrina April 6, 2008 at 12:22 am |

    I’m with Bitter Scribe, it was alot of piffle. So, if there are no prisons, magically people will stop committing crimes. I’m sorry if there are more minorities in prison, and I really believe this is more a socio-economic issue than a racist issue. I know a lot of police officers who are not racist, and they risk their lives everyday to keep people safe, on a very low salary. Instead of abolishing the prison system, why not focus on education, after school youth programs, internships for promising minority youth, scholarships, reducing gang activity in urban areas, reducing drug use among minorites, etc. It seems like its just a lot easier to blame it on racism than to actually assess and try to fix a situation.

  29. kate
    kate April 6, 2008 at 12:34 am |

    I agree wholeheartedly with Hoffman and as a white woman raised upper middle and thrown into permanently it seems, the lower economic strata alone, I have seen and experienced first hand both sides of the class binary and have also witnessed class and economic intersections of racism as well.

    One person above asks: “I’m certainly willing to agree that the legal/police/prison system has lots of problems, but what does she suggest?”

    Hoffman repeatedly offers groups that have struggled to provide alternatives and answers to obtaining safety for all groups and how those groups have worked to show that the present system does not provide safety for persons deemed outside the privileged class or who do not fit within the scope of deserved persona.

    Hoffman for example states, “members of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence have incisively and repeatedly critiqued the white-feminist-led antiviolence movement for its reliance on (and, thus, complicity with) the U.S. criminal-legal system, which uses the rhetoric of “safety” to destroy communities of color, squash dissent, and create profit for private corporations.”

    The number of men of color that are in or have spent time in prison is outrageous and a result of a construct of laws that heavily penalize behavior common among the black community (selling drugs for example) while at the same time minimizing penalties for related behaviors among the white community (using and possessing such drugs).

    But as the commenter provides proof, the white majority in power, refuses to see what is obvious and demands the oppressed provide “proof” satisfactory to them before they will get off their protracted asses and do something. The statements and testimony and struggle alone are not considered proof enough to satisfy those in power to change their privileged stance.

    Hoffman also provides examples of how the mostly white upper middle feminist organizations have chosen repeatedly to ignore or minimize the struggles of their counterparts who do not share their class position. She provides the example of the death of an immigrant woman and her experience in attempting to garner attention from white feminists for that story and how she was summarily ignored in her efforts; that the fading of a largely upper middle white non-profit organization was deemed more important at the time.

    I know this of which she speaks. As a white woman in poverty, I worked hard for welfare rights during the welfare reform struggle. For all the horn blowing and hollering about domestic violence and need for shelters, no one among the white middle class feminist organizations stood up loudly and clearly during the crucial time of debate about welfare restructuring to speak loudly and clearly about the effect that lack of economic support for single mothers would have on women attempting to leave abusive relationships. Nope, not only that, but these same organizations did not even speak to the way in which the Republican welfare reform rules were structured to control women’s reproduction and force women into marriage and subservience to male power.

    As a poor women, myself and my friends of color quickly were able to surmise that this was not an issue of concern and were told in many ways as such by many activists, because frankly, the only women that were worth their concern or who were in their radar were women who would have the financial means to leave their ex-husbands or boyfriends without great strain.

    These women could rely on the court system to act in their favor as they had property in their marriage, had higher education and held or had the ability to hold well paying jobs and/or had family that had the financial wherewithal to assist them.

    What of women who did not? What of women who had nothing when married and would certainly have nothing if they were to leave? Nothing in the sense of no money, no car, no job, no place to sleep, no relatives to run to, no assets to claim in court?

    My friends and I were told over and over again, “Well, that’s too bad, those woman made bad choices, that’s a shame, we can’t do anything about that. Maybe they could go to court?”

    And do what? With what lawyer?

    When I once interceded on behalf of a woman I knew when she was being waylayed in the middle of the night down the street from my house by a gang of college boys, it took the cops 45 minutes to respond to my call. That call came only after I was knocked to the ground, lost consciousness and had two teeth and my upper lip torn up. That call came only after the woman then ran from the college boys and hid in her house, ashamed that she was outside at that time of night and afraid to talk to the cops as they would probably assume she was prostituting — it was a poor neighborhood.

    The college boys were never “found” although there were pictures and my testimony as to what happened and the city was not very large and it only took a friend of mine less then 45 minutes to have a former cop help him track the plates of their car to a local residence. The cop that came to my house was unsympathetic with my efforts to quell what I perceived at that time to be a gang rape about to happen. When my house was broken into later that week and the prescribed narcotics for my teeth and lip were stolen and I had to suffer and writhe in pain for days, no one believed me when I asked for a refill and again the cops shrugged their shoulders, can’t find anyone to blame, not worth the trouble to report, all my fault anyway.

    I remember being on the board of a non-profit funding group that had for the time I served, made a point to fund grassroots organizations that worked specifically on issues regarding women of color, dealt with poverty, racism and were made up mostly of persons of these groups. When I pointed out repeatedly that the favored groups did not fit this definition and we should make efforts to reach out to such areas and such groups, I was viewed with suspicion and extreme dislike. My criticism of their exercising white privilege, doling out repeatedly to groups that favored white privilege and the dominant power structure I was tagged as trouble. Eventually I was pushed off the board at the first opportunity (when I was unable to attend for a period of time due to an injury).

    That was my last effort at making social change.

    I remember going to a seminar at a prominent Ivy League college where many prominent feminists spoke about the welfare issue and its relationship to domestic violence. Most of the more prominent feminists related the issue only to domestic violence and could only frame it within their white upper middle construct, thus not touching upon the very glaring issues of race and class the made up the core of welfare reform. I remember I was walking with an older activist from Detroit, we were talking, we paused momentarily to listen to the loud discussion behind us as we walked, the feminist “leaders” were speaking of this study or that study.

    The Detroit woman said to me loudly, “Another damn study! Why do they always have studies! Why don’t they just DO SOMETHING for once?”

    I laughed and agreed.

    The feminists stopped their conversation and continued walking, with us in front, “Who said that?” they said amongst themselves, “Who said that about studies?”

    Apparently, although we were only less than 10 feet beyond them, they could not see us.

  30. denelian
    denelian April 6, 2008 at 12:35 am |

    actually, rhetoric like this confuses me.

    let me try to give a small personal example. when i was a kid, my aunt was on the local tribal council. she was the only woman. and so she felt compelled to work on all the women’s issues that were created or affected by the tribal council. at the same time, she worked in a feminist orginization (that i dont remember the name of, i dont think its there anymore), and because she was one of two Cherokee women in the group, she felt compelled to work on all the indian issues that were created or affected by the feminist orginization.

    yes, that is interesctionality (SP?)

    but she spent most of her time spinning her wheels, because she took on so much, so many different battles, so many different TYPES of battles.

    oh, i agree all day long that there need to be people who are working on specific types of womens’ issues (indian, immigrant, WOC, women-at-work, women-at-home, daycare, etc, etc)

    but, having seen it with my own two eyes, there is ALSO something to be said for having those groups be seperate. or at least discrete. not ALL THE SAME GROUP because, as anyone who has to multi-task knows, something always gets hind tit. the least attention. i would rather have lots of different groups working at the various issues than try to have some huge umbrella that plinks at everything and acomplishes nothing

    also, different note. what is the answer to prisons? prisons became common when the “Rights of Man” began to include protection from “inhumane punishment”. i get, totally get, the problems with the prison system. but what do we replace it with? what stops 40jillion car accidents if tickets are not longer given for running red lights? how do we prevent murder from becoming a COMMON sport?
    it used to be the little infractions that now get one a small(ish) prison sentence got one, say, three lashes. or pilloried. or something. now its all prison. i am NOT all for public whippings or anything, i’m just saying that prison was used as a replacement for this even more barbaric practices, and its supposed to be a PUNISHMENT, a reason to not commit a crime, to not repeat a crime, or at least to prevent a crime for a set period of time. what replaces it?!?!?!

    (no, i dont think smoking pot is a crime, except next to me cuz it makes me violently ill. i think the whole war on drugs ™ is a crock. but there are lots and lots of crimes that are committed for criminality’s sake. as opposed to oppressions’ sake…)

  31. Meowser
    Meowser April 6, 2008 at 12:41 am |

    You know, I’m very bored with white feminists who say (paraphrasing), “I may be white just like the rest of you white bitches, but I am so much hipper and cooler and more progressive than the rest of you, so much more of a true friend to nonwhites, that if you had any idea of just how superior I am to you, you’d all kill yourselves right now.”

    White feminist bloggers blogged about the murder of a black transwoman, but they didn’t do it right. Shame on them. Shame on them for caring about this woman as an individual instead of using her death as a political football to tear down the criminal justice system and burn down all the prisons. Yeah. Shame on them, those overprivileged Manolo-shod little piglets.

    I mean, seriously? Is she saying that murder and rape of women of all racial and ethnic groups are nothing, not even worth losing a moment’s sleep over, unless they are committed by white men? Wow, Jessica, that’s very hip. But you are costing your cause far more than you are helping it by taking that position. If there was actually way to stop women from getting raped and killed without involving law enforcement at all, don’t you think someone would have figured that one out by now?

  32. tmi
    tmi April 6, 2008 at 12:43 am |

    Marie: The point, I think, is that (not all but) a lot of what white-feminists work for is not applicable to women of color or to women without class privilege. The glass ceiling is irrelevent if — because of legal status/race/education — the only job you can get hired for is housekeeping.

    The situation is complicated by the fact that as a rule, white-feminists want the involvement and energy of women of color, although they often remain blind to issues which don’t affect more privileged women, or often don’t consider those issues to be “feminist.”

    (I think, to be honest, this is partly because of the history of 2nd wave feminism; these women were generally liberal, often radical women already involved in the anti-war, civil- and workers’-rights movements who had become disillusioned when feminist issues were perpetually put on the back burner. This doesn’t excuse their doing the same thing to women of color when they find themselves the privileged ones in the movement, but I do think it’s part of the problem.)

  33. ellenbrenna
    ellenbrenna April 6, 2008 at 12:53 am |

    I disagree with the notion that a country does not have the right to decide who can enter their territory and who cannot. How those rules are enforced is a question of human rights and justice but the very existence of immigration laws is not.

    I think the decisions of a state (within its territory and especially the result of a democratic process) should be respected by other people and other nations. Of course that includes not overthrowing the elected representatives of people outside the US in favor of corrupt capitalistic fascists.

  34. Oh
    Oh April 6, 2008 at 12:57 am |

    sabrina: When studies show that white youth actually abuse drugs/use illegal drugs more than black youth, even though many more blacks are arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned, why would it make sense to ignore racism in favor of programs targeting minority drug use?

  35. Kristin
    Kristin April 6, 2008 at 1:08 am |

    You know, I’m very bored with white feminists who say (paraphrasing), “I may be white just like the rest of you white bitches, but I am so much hipper and cooler and more progressive than the rest of you, so much more of a true friend to nonwhites, that if you had any idea of just how superior I am to you, you’d all kill yourselves right now.”

    Meowser: Where did you get the idea that it was “cool” and “hip” to examine white feminism’s racism and classism? Every time anyone does it, it’s met with dismissive shit like this.

    White feminist bloggers blogged about the murder of a black transwoman, but they didn’t do it right. Shame on them. Shame on them for caring about this woman as an individual instead of using her death as a political football to tear down the criminal justice system and burn down all the prisons. Yeah. Shame on them, those overprivileged Manolo-shod little piglets.

    Shame on you for taking what was said in the article entirely out of context and dismissing it out of hand. The critique in the article has to do with the fact that the transwoman was treated as a token and a measure of the blog’s “diversity” sensibilities. At best, that’s condescending and insulting.

    I mean, seriously? Is she saying that murder and rape of women of all racial and ethnic groups are nothing, not even worth losing a moment’s sleep over, unless they are committed by white men?

    No, that is not what she said. Wow… You know what?? I’m really bored with white feminists who say (paraphrasing): “Fuck you for making me uncomfortable, for questioning my privilege, for challenging anything about my worldview. Since it would be uncomfortable for me to engage, I’m going to twist your argument around instead.”

    Wow, Jessica, that’s very hip.

    NO, it isn’t, and it isn’t what she was going for. What a fucking insulting response.

    But you are costing your cause far more than you are helping it by taking that position. If there was actually way to stop women from getting raped and killed without involving law enforcement at all, don’t you think someone would have figured that one out by now?

    Really? Would you please explain what she’s costing feminism/anti-racism?

    With regard to your other statement: “If there was actually another solution, wouldn’t we have found it already?” Does this mean there’s no room for critique? Really? We just have to be satisfied with the shell of a liberal state that we have left? As broken and as fucked up and as sexist/racist/classist as our system is now, I think it is incredibly irresponsible to shut down radical critique before the conversation even gets started.

    And for those of you who still think there’s “hope” in the current system: I think Violet did a great job of explaining how your sunny view is a function of your privilege. For fucksake. If we can’t even be self-reflexive about our institutionalized racism and classism, then yeah… There really isn’t a lot of hope left for white feminism.

    Normally, I’d try to be a little more civil on this blog. At the moment, though, I’m so angry, I can barely find words.

  36. Kristin
    Kristin April 6, 2008 at 1:12 am |

    Oh, and… Thanks for linking the article, Jill. I do often get frustrated with this blog, but your openness to difficult discussions is one of the things that keeps me returning. And that’s not meant as a backhanded compliment.

  37. Oh
    Oh April 6, 2008 at 1:19 am |

    If there was actually way to stop women from getting raped and killed without involving law enforcement at all, don’t you think someone would have figured that one out by now?

    There have been human societies where women weren’t seen as objects and commodities; gender-based rape and murder really didn’t come up then.

    My problem with trying to create such a society anew is that I think it would involve a tremendous amount of literal bloodshed to even attempt to wipe out all the kinds of societal accretion that evolved along with the idea of women-as-objects, and I also very much doubt that even if people were able to force some new kind of society into being that it wouldn’t be at least as oppressive in its own ways.

    I suppose I can see people not turning to oppression and hierarchies if they had to live in separate, small enough groups and didn’t have to depend on settling down or too much contact with other groups for anything they needed. But for that to work, there’d *really* have to be a huge amount of bloodshed first, to get the human population drastically smaller. And then you’d still have to oppress people in the small groups if they ever wanted to try other ways of life.

    Personally, I’m not going to be a fan of bloodshed in any circumstances. And even though I know some people welcome violence, destruction, and death for the sake of necessary change–and I’d agree it can be justified in sufficiently oppressive circumstances, despite my not being personally suited for it–I’m going to particularly doubt the ability of such people to create a non-oppressive society.

  38. Oh
    Oh April 6, 2008 at 1:31 am |

    I disagree with the notion that a country does not have the right to decide who can enter their territory and who cannot. How those rules are enforced is a question of human rights and justice but the very existence of immigration laws is not.

    Well, I pretty much agree with this, but I also think it’s important to acknowledge that these kinds of ideas about national sovereignty and about enforceable national borders and passports and the rest of it are all relatively recent inventions. It *is* very possible for people to live well without them.

    Moreover, I think it’s important to acknowledge that the people/countries in a position to invent these ideas and have them catch on as what seems like the natural way of doing things had a huge amount of power on the global stage and were able to reinforce their power and prevent others from getting it through these kinds of measures.

    I certainly don’t think that means we should look at the world as it is today and say, “Fine, then! No more borders! No more states!” Because I think we can all think of many ways that would go terribly badly. But I do think the ways just the fact of immigration laws can be problematic should always be on our mind, particularly if we’re saying we’ll accept them.

  39. Kristin
    Kristin April 6, 2008 at 1:45 am |

    About the article itself: I did want to defend the terms of the discussion itself, but I don’t mean to imply that Jessica Hoffman’s article is perfect or completely unproblematic. My main concern is the fact that the author is a white feminist who is writing to white feminists and who considered calling the article “An Open Letter to White Feminists.”

    I sympathize and agree with the author’s main arguments, and I want to give her the benefit of the doubt. However, I am also skeptical that anything “revolutionary” is ever going to happen as a result of a bunch of white feminists getting together and analyzing their own privilege. Yes, be self-reflexive. Yes, examine your own privilege. But don’t promote closed discussions and exclude non-whites from the discussion.

    I don’t think Jessica Hoffman intends to do this, but I wonder if it could be the outcome of such a letter?

  40. Kristin
    Kristin April 6, 2008 at 1:52 am |

    My problem with trying to create such a society anew is that I think it would involve a tremendous amount of literal bloodshed to even attempt to wipe out all the kinds of societal accretion that evolved along with the idea of women-as-objects, and I also very much doubt that even if people were able to force some new kind of society into being that it wouldn’t be at least as oppressive in its own ways…

    Personally, I’m not going to be a fan of bloodshed in any circumstances. And even though I know some people welcome violence, destruction, and death for the sake of necessary change–and I’d agree it can be justified in sufficiently oppressive circumstances, despite my not being personally suited for it–I’m going to particularly doubt the ability of such people to create a non-oppressive society.

    Oh: Could you maybe go and read the book by Angela Davis before you go and assume that she’s promoting something like the Stalinist Purges?

  41. Pinky
    Pinky April 6, 2008 at 2:18 am |

    So, I have things to say about the article, but i thought I would look at the comment section first to see what type of reponses were being thrown out, and it almost made me not want to comment at all. However, I do want to respond to this specific idea:

    but, having seen it with my own two eyes, there is ALSO something to be said for having those groups be seperate. or at least discrete. not ALL THE SAME GROUP because, as anyone who has to multi-task knows, something always gets hind tit. the least attention. i would rather have lots of different groups working at the various issues than try to have some huge umbrella that plinks at everything and acomplishes nothing

    This type of thinking, in that there has to be a hierarchy, that something *must* be left out, or get the short end of the stick, is the primary reason why white feminism is so exclusionary. the fact is, nothing has to be left out of the feminist movement, but choices have been made as to what is “important” and what “those other groups can deal with on their own” by those who are in power.

    I would suggest reading about the emerging reproductive justice movement (and not from a white feminist blog) and how there can be a starting point for our feminisms that is rooted in human rights and that actually attempts, and in my opinion accomplishes (most of the time), working broadly and at the intersections to actually encompass more than a few experiences.

  42. joe
    joe April 6, 2008 at 3:25 am |

    Yet it doesn’t look to me like you’ve really reckoned with those critiques.
    . . .
    In recent years, members of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence have incisively and repeatedly critiqued the white-feminist-led antiviolence movement for its reliance on (and, thus, complicity with) the U.S. criminal-legal system, which uses the rhetoric of “safety” to destroy communities of color, squash dissent, and create profit for private corporations.
    . . .
    I’m struck by the apparent lack of awareness of the prominent critiques made by feminists of color of law-and-order approaches to ending (or, even, finding “safety” from) violence.

    It took me a few reads before I could put my finger on what really annoyed me about the article. It’s the way she talks about these “critiques.” Since feminist women of color have critiqued x, y, or z, you white privileged feminists must agree and accept those critiques. I mean, four paragraphs in she suggests that using the police is a bad thing. Of course, maybe she’s right. Maybe she isn’t. But she’s so damn sure that these critiques are dead that she doesn’t even think she needs to make an argument for it. Of course calling the cops is obviously racist. How can you not see that?

    Honestly, it was hard to take her seriously after that.

  43. joe
    joe April 6, 2008 at 3:26 am |

    Sorry. That should’ve said “But she’s so damn sure that these critiques are dead on

  44. violet
    violet April 6, 2008 at 3:40 am |

    Hugo, after I posted that, I felt a little bad, because I could have been more charitable at reading your words.

    My issue is, fundamentally, that I haven’t seen evidence that the system can be redeemed.

    At the same time, this is about more than the radical/reformer divide. That will always be there, and I will happily accept that many people will not agree with the radical stance that I personally find most compelling. I know there will be people who feel their energies are best spent working for internal change within institutions rather than outright transformative change. I think that work is valuable, I do.

    But these issues go beyond that.

    The question from white feminists is always: “What do we do? How do we include these points of view more than we already have?” And the answer is really, really simple: you need to forget everything you know about how living in society works, and think about how it works for people who, for all purposes, do not live in your society.

    That’s not easy. But it is necessary. I don’t think anyone is fundamentally opposed to VAWA existing or to feminist groups working towards its passage and successful implementation. They might disagree that it’s the most effective use of resources, but on balance that is not a significant disagreement. The issue not simply that VAWA is not helping people who are utterly abandoned by what we shall laughingly call the justice system. The issue is that VAWA, which I incidentally think to be good legislation, does not help a huge number of women. And that simply needs to be addressed by mainstream feminist organizations, if they want to be doing work on the behalf of all women.

    This kind of work necessarily goes beyond what the institutions of society can provide, which is a space that mainstream feminist organizations are uncomfortable living in.

    The HRC has precisely the same problem. Their fundamental stance is, “hey, gays and lesbians are just like you and me!“ Where both you and me are, obviously, straight. Its stance is fundamentally ignorant of the issues facing transgendered individuals, of the issues facing LGBT immigrants and people of color. People who cannot say that they are just like (straight) you and (straight) me.

    This is the issue, too, with the focus on abortion rights (which, also, I obviously support). I think defending the legal right of women to have abortions, and more broadly, to have control over our bodies is, in fact, important and good work. But to do so without addressing the fact that millions of women don’t have access to reproductive health care, no matter how legal it may be, is a major problem. To do so without addressing the fact that millions of women cannot effectively choose to have children, because their economic and social positions forbid it, is another.

    The thing that is required is not just listening to the concerns of women of color; the thing that is required is making those concerns your own concerns.

    If you are here to help us, the saying goes, please leave. If you are here because you are not free until we all are free, then we work together.

    I re-iterate here: it is not the case that white feminists must work with women of color. It is not the case that they must fight for the justice of others. But if they don’t, then it is perhaps not surprising at all that women of color will form their own movements to address their own concerns, which are simply not addressed in mainstream feminist discourse.

    I mean, seriously? Is she saying that murder and rape of women of all racial and ethnic groups are nothing, not even worth losing a moment’s sleep over, unless they are committed by white men?

    No, she isn’t.

    When you write about a catastrophe like this, there are many ways you can write that story.

    You do want to focus on her humanity, and about the injustice perpetrated against her.

    But as you’re doing that, you don’t want to lose sight of the fact that she is one amongst many, that this is a massive and ongoing problem related very strongly to the desire to make trans people and people of color just… not exist. You need to relate this particular story to the experience of oppression felt by so many other trans women in this society.

    Writing about a victim is very different from writing about a person, and you don’t want to do the former. Because victims are individuals who just got unlucky—people are individuals who have navigated the treacherous barbs of the patriarchy and just failed to do so perfectly this one time. Victims let us feel better about ourselves—thank god, we say, that I’m not in her place. Telling the story of oppression, because if you do it right, you are telling a story that anyone can recognize, and you are telling it in a way that makes your readers realize: she was not unique in this way, she was not special. You make your readers realize that her experiences are their experiences, and that her justice is their justice.

  45. violet
    violet April 6, 2008 at 3:44 am |

    Since feminist women of color have critiqued x, y, or z, you white privileged feminists must agree and accept those critiques.

    You needn’t do anything you don’t want to do.

    Nobody is, as pop-culture goes, holding a gun to your head.

    But if someone says, “This thing you are not doing is hurting me, I want us to work together on this,” and you continue to ignore them, then you have made a decision that will affect the nature of that relationship.

  46. violet
    violet April 6, 2008 at 3:50 am |

    Of course calling the cops is obviously racist. How can you not see that?

    Because afterwards she’s like, “obviously, I shouldn’t have done and neither should anyone else?” I see, it’s right there in the text that isn’t there.

    What she actually said was that calling the cops had repercussions she didn’t think about, because in her experience up to that point, the police were just helpful—or, at least, basically on your side. For some people, they are the very opposite of that, and being able to call the cops, and actually wanting them to be there is an expression of privilege. (Welcome to the conversation.)

  47. Miss Sarajevo
    Miss Sarajevo April 6, 2008 at 3:54 am |

    I’m white and I’ve lived all over the world. I am more afraid of the police, and of going to prison, here in the United States than in any other country I have ever visited or lived in.

    That said, if I was in a situation where I thought the police could help me, I would call them.

    If that makes me privileged, and part of an oppressive culture, well, I’m doing my best for that not to be so.

  48. Miss Sarajevo
    Miss Sarajevo April 6, 2008 at 4:05 am |

    Violet, my views on policing and prison are very similar to Churchill’s views on democracy: it’s a lousy system, but better than any of the viable alternatives on the table.

    You’re kidding, right?

    Churchill was a bigot, and there are better alternatives to our prison system functioning right now, in the real world. Also, our police are better than some (see, for example, Russia’s or Zimbabwe’s) but much, much, much worse than many others.

    We have a long way to go.

  49. Maia
    Maia April 6, 2008 at 5:53 am |

    This article made a lot of sense to me, although I’ve already been long sold on the importance of open borders and prison abolition.

    But, until very recently, I was treating both open borders and prison abolition as abstract. Then three of my friends were arrested, denied bail and held for 26 days (the New Zealand government wanted to charge them with terrorism, it’s rather a long story). But in those 26 days I learned what it was to believe something and know it and that abstraction went away. I wrote a bit about that experience here and here.

    I think the response here, the number of comments that are shocked that prison-abolition and open borders are feminist issues, and do not respond in any substantial way, makes Jessica Hoffman’s point. To say ‘what’s the alternative’ means that you consider the oppression of the current system acceptable.

    The only issue that I have is that the article does seem to equate white feminism with white American feminism. A universalising that you generally only get in American articles. Not that other countries have feminist movements that are free from racism, but becaue their history of racism, resistance to racism, misogyny and feminism are different, so the intersection between those four things is different.. For example, in New Zealand while neither immigration nor prison abolition is taken seriously as a feminist issue at this moment in time (although I believe there have been times in the past where both have been important parts of the feminist movement). Welfare rights and welfare reform have always been treated as a feminist issues, and feminists lead the (largely unsuccessful) fight against changes to our welfare system.

  50. Brooklynite
    Brooklynite April 6, 2008 at 7:40 am |

    Stentor, I don’t know that I painted an optimistic picture of the overall situation. I do know, though, that several dozen abused women — all undocumented immigrants —who have passed through the shelter my wife’s agency operates are now on the path to legal residency because of the U visa program.

    There are big problems with VAWA, but it can’t be dismissed as a law that only out-of-touch middle-class white women could care about. Hoffman’s making an argument about reformism vs. radicalism, not white women’s concerns vs. the concerns of women of color.

  51. brownfemipower
    brownfemipower April 6, 2008 at 9:21 am |

    who have passed through the shelter my wife’s agency operates are now on the path to legal residency because of the U visa program

    except that the government is trying to abolish this little amendment to the VAWA. and it is regularly stripping women of their spouse status in order to deport them after their husbands die.

    http://www.thislife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?episode=353 (listen to act 2)
    http://xicanopwr.com/2008/01/the-politics-of-humanity-deporting-victims-of-abuse/

    My problem with trying to create such a society anew is that I think it would involve a tremendous amount of literal bloodshed to even attempt to wipe out all the kinds of societal accretion that evolved along with the idea of women-as-objects, and I also very much doubt that even if people were able to force some new kind of society into being that it wouldn’t be at least as oppressive in its own ways.

    You might want to try actually reading some of the work that Jessica referenced in her article, or better yet, look at the *actual organizing* that these organizations are doing. They are in the middle of *creating* a new world–of building up something new that is not dependent on violent or destructive structures–and you don’t even know it. That’s how violent and destructive their process is.

    And as suggested, read angela davis and others who strongly critique the inherent misogyny in violent overthrows of the nation/state.

  52. Holly
    Holly April 6, 2008 at 9:22 am |

    Wow, this thread is like a hit parade of “OMG defend liberalism.”

    Have any of you people who are totally aghast at the thought of radically changing the criminal justice system — as opposed to really hoping that maybe we can get rid of those pesky individual racists who mess it up — done any research or reading about the history of prison abolitionism and alternatives to incarceration? This isn’t a random cooler-than-thou radical idea that came out of nowhere, it has a long history (ever heard of Angela Davis?) and quite a lot of writing done about it inside of academia, studies of the law and politics, as well as without. Dismissing it as an idea with no connection to reality just makes you look poorly informed — it’s not an EASY idea, but it’s hardly absurd either.

    Here’s a good starting point:
    http://www.prisonpolicy.org/scans/instead_of_prisons/index.shtml

  53. Brooklynite
    Brooklynite April 6, 2008 at 9:47 am |

    How is that an “except,” BFP? If you’re angry that the U visas are under attack, doesn’t that mean they’re worth defending?

    I’m not saying that the existence of U visas mean “the system works,” or anything like that. As I’ve said, I think there’s a lot of merit in radical critiques of the current criminal law and immigration regimes. I’m not dismissing radicalism. But the post you linked to is an eloquent statement of exactly why it’s crucial that feminists — not all feminists, but some feminists — do the lobbying and organizing and direct services work needed to defend and expand VAWA’s protections for undocumented women, and similar arguments could be made in favor of organizing to strengthen and implement VAWA’s other provisions.

    I agree with a lot of what Hoffman said about white feminist myopia. But when she conflates that argument with an argument that says that it’s pointless and regressive to work within the system to make police and prosecutors more responsive to feminist concerns, she loses me.

  54. Kristin
    Kristin April 6, 2008 at 10:01 am |

    But when she conflates that argument with an argument that says that it’s pointless and regressive to work within the system to make police and prosecutors more responsive to feminist concerns, she loses me.

    This is not what she says. She does provide a pretty devastating critique of the system, but she never says “It’s pointless and regressive to work within the system.”

    What I took from the article was the argument that, while working within the system may produce incremental changes, the mechanisms of the liberal state will not fundamentally transform our society or undermine institutionalized power inequalities.

    Look, I’m sorry that it makes you nervous to read critiques suggesting that the good work your wife does is not fundamentally transformative. I do, however, think it’s “pointless and regressive” to dismiss various criticisms like this because they hit a little too close to home and make you uncomfortable.

  55. brownfemipower
    brownfemipower April 6, 2008 at 10:13 am |

    If you’re angry that the U visas are under attack, doesn’t that mean they’re worth defending?

    what? Why would being under attack necessarily lead to they must be worth defending? How about these laws are ALWAYS going to be under attack and maybe those of us who are being “protected” by these laws would like something a little more solid and permanent to ‘protect’ us than a law that can be changed according to who is in office that week?

  56. Sarah J
    Sarah J April 6, 2008 at 10:21 am |

    We none of us like being criticized. It’s a natural reaction.

    I’m 28 and working on my second degree in a writing-based field and I’m only now starting to be comfortable with people criticizing my writing.

    It’s even harder when people criticize your fundamental beliefs and things you’ve internalized all your life, like the idea that the police are here to help and that the people in jail are all dangerous criminals. Or that being a feminist makes you automatically not biased in any way.

    I understand why people are writing this article off as a lot of piffle. I’m a white, straight, middle-class woman in graduate school.

    But that’s exactly why this article was so important.

    Please, read it over again if it offended you the first time. And like a few people said, Angela Davis is a great place to start.

  57. Oh
    Oh April 6, 2008 at 10:29 am |

    Could you maybe go and read the book by Angela Davis before you go and assume that she’s promoting something like the Stalinist Purges?

    I’m not talking about Angela Davis or any particular issue. I’m talking about calls for revolution in general, because it struck me that, without saying so outright, that’s what Hoffman was putting forth as the only real solution. I agree with her criticisms of white feminism, but I agree with the commenter who says that this isn’t *just* an argument about white privilege, it’s an argument about the effectiveness of any kind of liberalism or reform.

    I’m responding because I think liberalism and reform can be effective, though they can also be ineffective and/or harmful. Working within a system requires constant vigilance against unintended harm against the people who have less power within the system, and the work to give people more opportunities and security within a system never ends, because even when one group starts doing better, other groups are being screwed over. But I also think liberalism builds in opportunities for change without as much bloodshed. People first have to be sufficiently motivated to change, and I think that’s where radicals and revolutionaries and their work are especially important–liberalism *is* useless if it’s not being influenced by that work.

    But, for example, I’m remembering doing LGBT work, and I know some people involved were against ensuring the rights of LGBT people to work in the US military or to get married, because, in their words, they didn’t think the military or marriage should exist. And, fair enough, people shouldn’t work on causes they think are illegitimate. But, while I think everyone needs to keep informed about all the ways those institutions are screwed-up and should work on making them be less so, I don’t think those institutions are intrinsically evil in the way that, say, slavery or de jure racial/religious/gender/etc. discrimination are. Accordingly, the violent upheavals that would go along with outright abolition of things like some form of a military aren’t something that I’d want to be part of. And even if some people want to work on trying to change things so no one will ever serve in any kind of military, I still don’t want there to be laws that take away rights from people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. I like to work to change those kinds of laws and make institutions more just.

    So, yeah, that does make me a liberal, which puts me at odds with some of what Hoffman was saying, and that’s why I was responding.

  58. Kristin
    Kristin April 6, 2008 at 10:38 am |

    I’m not talking about Angela Davis or any particular issue. I’m talking about calls for revolution in general, because it struck me that, without saying so outright, that’s what Hoffman was putting forth as the only real solution.

    What Holly said in # 52. To suggest that the literature the author refers to (notably, Angela Davis) necessarily leads to mass bloodshed and violence does make you look poorly informed.

    So, go ahead and defend liberalism if you want to. But if you would actually read some of the literature the author discusses, you’d see that no one is actually promoting the Dictatorship of the Proletariat anymore.

  59. Holly
    Holly April 6, 2008 at 10:50 am |

    Working within the system to secure some changes that could improve some individual lives in the short term is not necesarily an either/or proposition with working towards more radical, transformative change.

    Some people choose to approach it that way, of course.

  60. tayari
    tayari April 6, 2008 at 10:51 am |

    Reading this, I couldn’t help thinking about the Dunbar Village gang rape case. Short version: A Haitian woman was gang raped and tortured for three hours in her home. Among other brutalities, she was forced to perform a sex act on her own child. Al Sharpton and the NAACP went to Palm Beach to show thier support… FOR THE ACCUSED. (The idea was that denying the men bail was racist.) The black female blogosphere mobilized and succeeded in getting the NAACP and Sharpton to back down.
    (More info here: http://blackwomenvote.blogspot.com/2008/03/article-women-not-tolerating-sharptons.html)

    Anyway, I am writing about this because I have seen very little about the case in the (white) feminist blogosphere although I have personally sent links to lots of feminist blogs.

    This, for me, really shows the way that (white) feminism really is not tuned into women of color and the challenges we face.

    I read this blog every day and others like it because there is information that is useful to me. However, I don’t really feel like I am a real part of it.

  61. Kristin
    Kristin April 6, 2008 at 10:53 am |

    Oh: Okay, I realized I wasn’t finished responding just yet. Did you get catch anything at all that Jessica Hoffman said that implicates our own liberal system for its intrinsic violence, bloodshed, and targeting of non-white communities? The difference between someone like you and someone like her is that you’re a lot more optimistic about the capacity for progress that is built into the system. I would suggest that your optimism is more a function of your privilege than anything else. If you had had any of the sorts of experiences that Angela Davis had when incarcerated by the system, I venture you might feel differently.

    Again, I’m pretty sure Davis, Hoffman, and whomever else you’re arguing against is not in favor of a Stalinist Revolution. I’m not suggesting that you read this literature in order to be convinced. I’m suggesting that you read it because you will sound more intelligent when you argue against it if you know something about the actual critique. Reactionary comments about the EEEEEEvil Bloodthirsty Communist/Revolutionary/Anarchist/Anti-Liberal/Postmodern threat just make you look stupid. As does conflating all critiques of liberalism with violent revolution.

  62. Kristin
    Kristin April 6, 2008 at 10:56 am |

    Working within the system to secure some changes that could improve some individual lives in the short term is not necesarily an either/or proposition with working towards more radical, transformative change.

    Some people choose to approach it that way, of course.

    I couldn’t agree more. Very well said.

  63. Brooklynite
    Brooklynite April 6, 2008 at 10:57 am |

    BFP, I said if you’re angry that they’re under attack, that implies that they’re worth defending.

    But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe you think that energy put to the project of reforming deeply corrupt structures, and defending the progress that has been made in reforming them, is wasted energy. If so, I respect that position, but I disagree with it.

    I think it’s a good thing that the U visa program exists, and I think it’d be a great thing if it were replaced with something dramatically more feminist, dramatically more robust. I think that feminists who are working to strengthen and expand VAWA protections for women who are abused and raped are doing good and important work, and I think that people who are engaging in more fundamental challenges to the system are doing good and important work, too.

    Kristin, I’ve said in every comment I’ve made to this thread that I respect and support radical activism. But let’s look at what Hoffman says about reformism:

    She says that “reliance on … the U.S. criminal-legal system” amounts to “complicity with” that system, and she explicitly cites VAWA work as an example of that complicity. If she’d said that engagement with a compromised system is sometimes necessary, but that it must always be paired with an independent critique of that system, I’d have had no problem. But that’s not what she’s saying. She says that feminist organizations that “focus on legislation such as the Violence Against Women Act” are complicit with a system “which uses the rhetoric of ‘safety’ to destroy communities of color, squash dissent, and create profit for private corporations.” Nowhere in her essay does she even hint that such “complicity” might sometimes be justified.

    You seem to be saying that reformism and radicalism both have their place. I’m saying reformism and radicalism both have their place. But Hoffman isn’t remotely saying that.

    There are a lot of things that are making me uncomfortable this morning, and I may be a little more surly than usual because of them. But Hoffman’s critique of reformism isn’t on the list.

  64. Oh
    Oh April 6, 2008 at 11:04 am |

    you’d see that no one is actually promoting the Dictatorship of the Proletariat anymore

    I think part of where I’ve gone wrong is that I’ve spent too much time with people who, in fact, still do that, who think the necessary transformative change can only come about on a slate wiped clean. I mean, they *are* around, and they’ve influenced me. So I was arguing against them instead of where Hoffman was coming from.

    I apologize for the derail.

  65. MizDarwin
    MizDarwin April 6, 2008 at 11:11 am |

    One thing that irritates me with the Hoffmans of the world is their refusal to believe that anyone could, in good faith, simply disagree with them (cf. Joe). “But but but we have criteeeeeequed you! If you don’t see the righteousness of our claims you must 1) have poor reading comprehension or 2) be fearful of assessing your own privilege.” It’s a closed system; it’s rather like “I say you’re an alcoholic and if you say you’re not then you’re in denial which just proves what an alcoholic you truly are.”

    I read up a bit last night on prison abolition (Davis’s organization’s website). Found about 2/3 of it completely common-sensical and easily made part of a liberal framework; about 1/3 insanely utopian and, clearly advocating systems that could, themselves, be subject to abuse over time.

  66. Sally
    Sally April 6, 2008 at 11:26 am |

    That was a really good and important article, and it’s given me a lot to think about. In particular, I’m trying to figure out how I can be so uncomfortable with the idea of nation-state while simultaneously being pretty comfortable with the exercise of state power. There does seem to be a bit of a problematic contradiction there.

    I’ve got some issues with equating liberalism and whiteness, which Hoffman seems to do, just because that hasn’t been my experience at all. Over the last ten years, several people close to me have negotiated the immigration system, and I don’t know a soul who has dealt with that system who doesn’t want it reformed. My immigrant friends and family members are all liberals when it comes to immigration: they don’t want to dismantle the nation-state, but they think the system needs fundamental overhaul. But they all think I’m a bit of a wackaloon for thinking that maybe the sovereignty of the nation-state shouldn’t be the primary principle around which mobility is regulated. And while all of these people are coming from varying degrees of privilege when it comes to the immigration system, only one of them would be described as white. (And she’s Eastern European, which is a pretty un-privileged kind of white. The first time she applied for a visa, the guy a the U.S. consulate denied her application and indicated that he thought she intended to be a sex worker, which is probably not something that would have been said to someone from France.) I think that by equating whiteness and liberalism, the author kind of flattens out nuances of privilege, especially as they pertain to immigration, and sort of implies that liberal POCs are “acting white,” which is problematic.

    I hope that comment wasn’t totally unhelpful! Talking about this stuff makes me nervous, which is another thing I need to work on.

  67. Sally
    Sally April 6, 2008 at 11:32 am |

    >And while all of these people are coming from varying degrees of privilege when it comes to the immigration system, only one of them would be described as white.

    Sorry, I just wanted to clarify. What I mean there is that all of the immigrants I know are relatively privileged, in the sense that they at least all initially entered the country legally. Beyond that, their levels of privilege vary.

  68. Caro
    Caro April 6, 2008 at 11:58 am |

    I thought it was an absolutely thought-provoking and important article, and I’m glad that I read it. I am still processing her comments about feminism’s “safety” emphasis… I figure that if there’s one thing that all people should feel entitled to (yes, yes, I know “entitlement” is a bad word, but I can’t think of a better one), it is safety. Sometimes I felt like her solution to the fact that many people cannot currently feel entitled to “safety” is to scrap the idea all together, as if safety for more women isn’t an admirable goal. However, I understand that she is pointing out that by virtue of my white, middle-class privilege, I am already starting from a position of much higher safety than other women. Perhaps she meant that we should re-examine how we talk about safety… but I would have liked her to go into more detail about how she sees a re-creation of that concept.

    The part of the article that was most incomprehensible to me, however…

    One night in the summer of 1996, when I was eighteen, my (white, female, ex-gutter-punk) roommate and I rushed together to call the police when we were startled by a Peeping Tom outside her bedroom window. It was like a reflex, just what you do. We didn’t pause to consider other possible responses…

    I understand that she goes on to say that the increased police presence may have had negative consequences for her black neighbors, who might be treated unfairly by the police. However, what the hell other “possible response” could there be?!?! Stay in your apartment and fear to go outside? Go outside and lecture the potentially crazy/dangerous guy? Go out with a baseball bat and scare him off, or round up a posse? I feel like if she’s going to say that there are equally good and fair solutions to calling the police when someone is threatening you, she ought to at least give me an example of what that should be.

    Basically, I really wanted to understand what she saw as the alternatives to the “safety” emphasis or to calling the police, (and what her ideal future post-“safety”, post-law enforcement would be like), but I couldn’t, because she acted like I should already know what that is. She left me with a lot more answers than questions — which sometimes good writing does, but which doesn’t necessarily bring people over to your side. Overall, I’m glad that I read it.

  69. sara
    sara April 6, 2008 at 12:08 pm |

    i just found the way she dismissed women of color in the mainstream “white” feminist moevement completely condescending. there are women of color working in these organizations who are integral parts of the work and not just some token minority brought in by the white women to be “inclusive.”

  70. Sabotabby
    Sabotabby April 6, 2008 at 12:15 pm |

    I’m seeing a disturbing level of affection for the American prison system here—which Hoffman eloquently describes in her letter.

    So, to those who scoff at the idea of prison abolition or the idea that the current legal system is deeply and irredeemably racist, which other institutions or social forces only have problems as a result of a few bad apples?

    • The military?
    • The schools?
    • The advertising industry?
    • The government?
    • The patriarchy?

    If you’re quick to defend police or prisons (but agree that other social institutions are rotten to the core and need radical change to fix), please take a moment to think about why.

    Have you had a friend deported?
    Have you had a relative jailed?
    Have you been harassed or beaten by a cop because of your skin colour?
    Have you and your children been jailed in Hutto Prison in Texas because of your nationality?

    These are the sorts of experiences that lead one to come to the conclusion that Hoffman has, and frankly, she’s absolutely right.

  71. Hawise
    Hawise April 6, 2008 at 1:34 pm |

    I think that what we are seeing is the myopia of focus. Movements begin with objectives that look rational and encompassing but over time become more and more focused on the detail and trivia of the tasks. It is the constant need to challenge our focus and vision that makes it so hard to get the big picture. The more we work on the detail the more we change the overall picture and the more we need to look up and acknowledge the changes, good and bad, that have resulted from our own work.

    A system could have started as a viable solution to a problem but as the world changes under the pressure of the movements themselves, the movements have to reexamine their core values and objectives. We need to learn how to live in community again, privilege allows us to separate ourselves from the commonalities of the world but only at the expense of the community. So while movements need to focus on details they still need to recognize how those details function within the greater common picture. Hoffman is right, for want of a nail the house was lost, but for want of a house the nail was lost.

  72. Sylke
    Sylke April 6, 2008 at 1:37 pm |

    I have so many thoughts on this article. I only hope I can articulate them in some sensible fashion. I hope we keep talking about this though – I hate that there seems to be infighting in the feminist movement.

    First, isn’t everything a feminist issue, when you really look at it? Feminist theory is a huge umbrella, and what I see coming from this is that feminists – largely made up of women – are asked to solve the world’s problems and make everything better. Isn’t that a bit…patriarchal? Will rights of women take a back seat to immigration issues, since immigration is a feminist issue? Does racism trump feminism, and should we solve that big problem before we tackle the challenge of convincing the collective world that women are people? Looking back through history we can see that this happens again and again (civil rights movement, anybody?), and I have to wonder if the reason why feminism is such a struggle is because it just encompasses everything.

    And then I remind myself that the construct behind feminism itself is a theory that really has little to do with sex at all. It’s a worldview. A framework.

    As a white, middle-class feminist I would like to know why there is such a rift between the different colors (and yes, I think “white” is a color). I am aware that there are privileges that come with being white, and I would like to know what they are, how I can recognize them, and what I can do about it. Telling me to examine my white privilege is like asking a fish to describe what it’s like to live in water. I know this probably makes me sound like an idiot, but I’ve been drinking this kool-aid my entire life, and I need a little help in figuring out exactly what flavor it is.

    Instead of getting behind the fight to reconstruct our world paradigm, I’m going to keep getting pissed off and writing letters protesting executions of women in Iraq and Afghanistan, supporting women’s rights, and keep talking and asking questions.

    I hope some of that made sense.

  73. Sailorman
    Sailorman April 6, 2008 at 1:47 pm |

    This article seems familiar. It seems to be saying

    “It’s not that race or class trump gender. Really. I’m not saying that. It’s just that if you’re prioritizing gender issues over racial issues and class issues, you’ve got the wrong priorities. And if you’re prioritizing racial issues or class issues over gender issues, that’s OK.”

    How else can it be read? It’s a call to abandon work on A and switch to B. But it’s using arguments about benefit to other people who aren’t female, to back it up. Using this quote from the article as an example:

    I wonder again: What is your feminism for? If it is for disruption and redistribution of power across society (i.e., not just for women like you), it cannot be so ignorant of, exploitative of, and even counter to the prison-abolition and immigrants’ rights movements — not only because marginalized women are involved in and affected by those struggles, but because they are where some of the most significant challenges to power are being made today.

    I notice that “feminism” is quickly defined away from a focus on women into a focus on society or on power. When she says later “If feminism is about social change…” my response is: Sure. But it’s about a particular TYPE of social change, with a particular focus. Isn’t it? Isn’t that what makes feminism different from communism, antiracism, or a variety of other social justice movements?

    And it’s perfectly OK for everyone to have different foci. Some people concentrate on prison reform (social change) without much thought about whether or not the work has any particular effect on women. So that type of work is not necessarily feminist, (though it’s rarely antifeminist).

  74. Vail
    Vail April 6, 2008 at 1:58 pm |

    For me you have to find the root problem instead of spending all your time trimming branches. Or at least what you think is the root problem. Education is my big thing. If we can educate children to be more tolerant, to be open to new ideas, to turn away from violence, respect themselves and others, a lot of these issues could be helped. Yes this means we need to address the lack of funding for poor schools, and to help get children the equipment they need to compete. Yes that doesn’t address the current violence in our world.. being domestic, racial, sexual, criminal etc. But you have to start somewhere. If you don’t educated the children any reforms are bound to fail. But maybe I’m looking at things through my white eyes.

  75. Sylke
    Sylke April 6, 2008 at 2:07 pm |

    I was thinking along those same lines, Vail, only I think we need to change the very language we speak and hear from day one. Now, it seems like white male culture is the “norm.” Why? Why can’t it just be what it is? White culture isn’t the norm (or at least it shouldn’t be) – it just is what it is.

    As a nursing student, I am amazed to hear professors with PhD.s describe how women present with “different symptoms” of a heart attack than what “typical symptoms” are. Are white women “different” because they’re not like white men? No, they are just what they are, just like everyone else. Instead of pointing to someone who differs from us in some way and saying they are “different,” why can’t we all just own that we are who we are, and there is no central norm or standard?

    I’m articulating this badly, but I hope I make sense.

  76. brownfemipower
    brownfemipower April 6, 2008 at 2:11 pm |

    However, what the hell other “possible response” could there be?!?! Stay in your apartment and fear to go outside? Go outside and lecture the potentially crazy/dangerous guy? Go out with a baseball bat and scare him off, or round up a posse? I feel like if she’s going to say that there are equally good and fair solutions to calling the police when someone is threatening you, she ought to at least give me an example of what that should be.

    maybe you could investigate what the responses to police violence have been by groups like sista II sista or multiple LBGT groups–who don’t call the police, but have viable alternatives set in place nonetheless? For example, there are multiple organizations that have organized and trained response groups that intervene in cases of domestic violence–but then they also have started freedom schools and workshops where an entire community comes together to confront community issues like sexual assault and mental health in teens etc.

    The biggest problem with expecting police to save the day is that it removes the possibility of community wide responses to community wide problems. Women should be able to walk the streets in the middle of the night buck naked–that’s not going to happen if there isn’t a community wide response and critique of sexual assault, misogyny, culpability etc.

    what people don’t remember is that rape crisis centers (for example) were actually very radicalized community responses to rape when they first began–second wave feminists and I often butt heads but that’s one of the things that they got right–women who have been raped came together and helped each other and organized and agitated together–rape crisis centers weren’t just “help the victim through initial trauma”–they were also come together with other women who are survivors and get out in the streets and hold classes and teach each other empowerment strategies etc.

    This is what HOffman is referring to in her article. community responses to violence that reduce the need for nation/state interventions.

    Will rights of women take a back seat to immigration issues, since immigration is a feminist issue? What do you call it when immigrant women are raped in ICE centers in front of their children? Is that an “immigration issue”? What do you call it when women are forcibly prevented from breast feeding their children? Or when girls as young as 2 or three months are incarcerated for months in “detention centers”? or when pregnant women are denied health care during their pregnancies by ‘detention centers”? are all these things “immigration issues”?

  77. octogalore
    octogalore April 6, 2008 at 2:50 pm |

    Sylke, exactly, wrt:

    “First, isn’t everything a feminist issue, when you really look at it? Feminist theory is a huge umbrella, and what I see coming from this is that feminists – largely made up of women – are asked to solve the world’s problems and make everything better. Isn’t that a bit…patriarchal?”

    While some of what Hoffman cites in the article is specifically gendered behavior wrt the prison system and immigration, I don’t believe that these issues en toto should be imported into feminism. No other movement would import feminist issues in their entirety, or even in part. Because we’re women, we’re expected to do that or have our guilt strings pulled by smart but naive college students.

    Hopefully, we can look at this article and pick and choose in what contexts (because they definitely exist) Hoffman really has the right to say “where are the white feminists,” rather than letting our understandable feelings of discomfort dictate that we pass the whole thing off as brilliant.

  78. brownfemipower
    brownfemipower April 6, 2008 at 3:22 pm |

    Because we’re women, we’re expected to do that or have our guilt strings pulled by smart but naive college students.

    how about the women who are being abused by the immigration system? Are they guilt tripping you too?

  79. Jasi
    Jasi April 6, 2008 at 3:35 pm |

    I saw someone last week throw a car battery into the regular trash. Want me to call my feminist phone tree and organize a rally?

    I see some of the point, I guess. Relying on a largely imperfect, patriarchal and mostly white policing system for the safety of women is flawed. It’s a mess that only helps women who are “lucky” enough to be seen worthy through the system of protecting. It’s crap and everyone should be concerned and fight for the rights of all women.

    Ultimately though, I think this article divides us into categories of feminists who work within the system to improve it and feminists who want to tear it all down now and start over. Are you an idealist or a realist?

  80. Sylke
    Sylke April 6, 2008 at 3:48 pm |

    Brownfemipower wrote: What do you call it when immigrant women are raped in ICE centers in front of their children? Is that an “immigration issue”? What do you call it when women are forcibly prevented from breast feeding their children? Or when girls as young as 2 or three months are incarcerated for months in “detention centers”? or when pregnant women are denied health care during their pregnancies by ‘detention centers”?

    I call them women’s issues. I felt nauseous when I read about the case (above) of the Haitian woman being gang raped, and how Al Sharpton rallied to the defense of the rapists. That, too, was a women’s issue. Had I read about it, I would have sent an angry, screaming e-mail too, but I didn’t read about it, and I didn’t send an e-mail. Does this mean that because I’m a middle-class white feminist, it means I’m out of touch with the feminist movement? What I’m getting at here is that I’m trying to understand how my whiteness and my privilege blinds me to what feminism really is, and why there is so much disagreement among feminists. What is it I’m not understanding? Why did the woman in the article say “The road to hell is paved with feminists?” I don’t get how my desire for the notion of women to be realized as fully human is different from a black woman’s desire for women to be realized as fully human.

    What I alluded to in my above comment regarding immigration not being a feminist issue per se is that there are many issues intertwined with feminism that are not necessarily feminism itself. Regarding the larger feminist community, yes, I think we should all endeavor to end racism, and all the other -isms, and teach all the members of our communities to behave and help each other out. But calling on feminism specifically to end the shortcomings of our justice system? There would be space for this important work in the movement if we could all work together, but we’re not. I’m not a feminist because with the way things are in the world right now I like our criminals safely behind bars? I’m not a feminist because of my privileged notion of personal safety? I understand the utopia that this article alludes to – a society where we are all equal, where we all are safe and productive – but the the bridge between here and there is very, very long, if that place exists at all.

    The feminist movement has great, great potential, but as one feminist, there are only so many letters I can write and so many protests I can march in. I choose which of these activities I do and do not do. My only other choice is to do nothing at all, and that is unacceptable. So I guess this is my real question: Why is it that I am doing all I can do to make this world better for women, but my whiteness and privilege make me blind to the real issues of feminism?

  81. Everyday Feminist
    Everyday Feminist April 6, 2008 at 3:50 pm |

    Okay, Jessica Hoffman says “It’s time for white feminists to challenge their own privilege, listen to all voices and take on the issues that matter.” I happen to be a white feminist. I want to challenge my own privilege, listen to all voices and take on the issues that matter. Hoffmann says:

    “…making a point in your feminist projects to “include” the voices and issues of women of color, working-class and poor white women, and maybe even trans folks and members of other groups historically marginalized by dominant feminisms…Yet it doesn’t look to me like you’ve really reckoned with those critiques. It looks more like you appropriate or tokenize them, using their language while continuing to center white, class-privileged women’s experiences in your “feminism” and engaging in political work that upholds and strengthens white supremacy and economic exploitation — sometimes directly undermining the social-change work of feminists of color.”

    I do not want to be accused of only focusing on my white privilege, so I’m seriously asking – What can I do to avoid this?

  82. brownfemipower
    brownfemipower April 6, 2008 at 4:01 pm |

    I think this article divides us into categories of feminists who work within the system to improve it and feminists who want to tear it all down now and start over.

    No, actually I think it is the women who say that those of us who are interested in making gendered interventions into violence against immigrant woman, poor women, women of color etc need to make calls on our feminist phone tree who are dividing us all into categories.

  83. Sylke
    Sylke April 6, 2008 at 4:07 pm |

    Everyday Feminist wrote: I do not want to be accused of only focusing on my white privilege, so I’m seriously asking – What can I do to avoid this?

    Much more succinct than I put it. Seriously – I want to talk about this.

  84. octogalore
    octogalore April 6, 2008 at 4:20 pm |

    BFP, the answer is no. What I said is this: “While some of what Hoffman cites in the article is specifically gendered behavior wrt the prison system and immigration, I don’t believe that these issues in toto should be imported into feminism.”

    “In toto” means in full. So yes, the specifically gendered issues like the women who are being abused by the immigration system are indeed feminist issues and where the wake-up-call to mainsteam feminists is highly relevant. As I said in comments to your posted speech on the topic, it is a serious area of neglect in the movement.

    My issue, and I believe along the lines of what Sylke is saying, is that when feminism is asked to encompass all other lefty movements, it becomes problematic because the other movements do not encompass feminist issues to even close to the same degree.

    We should distinguish, I think, between accepting and acting on feelings of discomfort and guilt because concerns various groups of women are excluded (highly in favor of), and between accepting guilt trips for not putting other lefty movements into our feminist papooses.

  85. Sylke
    Sylke April 6, 2008 at 4:30 pm |

    Octogalore said: “My issue, and I believe along the lines of what Sylke is saying, is that when feminism is asked to encompass all other lefty movements, it becomes problematic because the other movements do not encompass feminist issues to even close to the same degree.”

    Thank you. I wanted to further add that because in reality feminism is intertwined with everything else, when feminism joins other groups in the fight-du-jour, women are often the ones who are left behind at the end of the day. All women. This is why it’s so discouraging to me to hear that we can’t be a cohesive group of…women.

  86. brownfemipower
    brownfemipower April 6, 2008 at 4:51 pm |

    I think, between accepting and acting on feelings of discomfort and guilt because concerns various groups of women are excluded (highly in favor of), and between accepting guilt trips for not putting other lefty movements into our feminist papooses.

    Is this what Jessica was doing? Saying that we should incorporate every lefty movement in the world into feminism? Or was she saying exactly what I said–that feminism doesn’t even recognize immigrant women, women of color, poor women, trans women, drug using women, imprisoned women, women sex workers etc etc etc as women at all? That feminism/ists continues to make comments like “call your feminist tree phone” and prisons aren’t so bad and the Iraq war is not a feminist issue and we have to be careful not to let race trump gender and liberation for abused women is really one step away from a violent bloody overthrow of the nation/state which would only result in more gendered violence.

    and because so many women are considered non-women unworthy of feminism the “reform” part of the equation keeps making miserable and often times violent choices that are heralded as “the answer” for all women but really only address the needs of a very specific group of women?

    I mean, people have defended reformism left and right by saying that reformism can work hand in hand with radicalism–but how can it when reformism doesn’t even know the very basic work that “radicals” are doing?

    And how can it work hand in hand when “reformist” continually make concessions in the name of “reform will work” but which actually do little more than throw the rest of us under the bus?

    The VAWA? Look at Native women. Sure this act exists and does some good things for them–but it doesn’t address the violence of colonialism. And when upwards of 9 out of 10 violent acts against women on the rez happen as a direct result of violence and genocidal legislation passed against tribes (major crimes act), what does the VAWA do for native women, really?

    And when the dept of homeland security is the dept that controls funding for this act (and whether or not it will be renewed)–but it is also the dept that is imprisoning immigrant women and hunting them down like animals
    –again–what does the VAWA do for immigrant women?

    I mean, can we all agree that the dept of homeland security should not be controlling and administrating the VAWA? But where are the outcries of feminist who believe in reform?

  87. brownfemipower
    brownfemipower April 6, 2008 at 4:57 pm |

    another example, before the recent reforms of the VAWA, if native women recieved funding for domestic violence shelters on the rez, they weren’t allowed to mention colonialism as a cause of violence against native women.

    It’s not coincidence that so many shelters for native women are under funded and perpetually one step away from shutting down–they refuse that money because how can you say as a native woman that colonialism had/has nothing to do with the violence you experience? Esp. when 3 out of 4 native women are raped by white men who know they can’t or won’t be charged because of the major crimes act?

  88. brownfemipower
    brownfemipower April 6, 2008 at 5:02 pm |

    this article lays out the basic history of how native women have been treated by legislation and government funding.

    one of the findings:

    Implementation of VAWA will stand as a critical test of the US government’s commitment to assist tribal governments and institutions in stopping violence against Native American and Alaska Native women. However, as of February 2007, funds remained unavailable to implement these provisions. This cannot be allowed to become the latest in a long line of
    broken promises made by the federal government to Native American and Alaska Native peoples.

  89. Sylke
    Sylke April 6, 2008 at 5:11 pm |

    BFP: “Or was she saying exactly what I said–that feminism doesn’t even recognize immigrant women, women of color, poor women, trans women, drug using women, imprisoned women, women sex workers etc etc etc as women at all?”

    I have always thought that all the women mentioned above WERE included in the feminism movement. I certainly have always thought that. Maybe I didn’t get the White Feminist Memo? :-}

  90. brownfemipower
    brownfemipower April 6, 2008 at 5:13 pm |

    Had I read about it, I would have sent an angry, screaming e-mail too, but I didn’t read about it, and I didn’t send an e-mail. Does this mean that because I’m a middle-class white feminist, it means I’m out of touch with the feminist movement?

    I think that the more appropriate question would be WHY haven’t you read about it? It’s been blogged about regularly on black feminist blogs specifically (and especially) and women of color feminist blogs in general. Why is this the first time you’ve heard about it?

    And this is definitely a question that makes people feel extraordinarily defensive–but I think that this is really ALL that Jessica is saying in her essay–why do predominantly white feminist organizations really have no clue what is going on in other feminist circles? The second part of this lack of knowledge (which jessica argues is due to privilege) is that there are consequences for the women who are doing other feminisms which do little more than continue or increase the violence against those women who are doing different feminisms.

  91. Gina
    Gina April 6, 2008 at 5:14 pm |

    I may be oversimplifying things here, but it’s seemed to me that large national organizations, most of whom have a white majority, think that they know what is right for “the movement”. And, really, this isn’t limited to the feminist movement. Sure, they’re educated and have all these grand ideas, but what makes them think that they know what people of color, immigrants, etc really need? It seems to me that most of the time they don’t even bother to ask the very people they’re trying to help. (The government is really good at this.)

    I’ve also seen a lot of “my-activism-is-more-righteous-than-yours” in many causes, and I think the author of the article is kind of making that point in a round about way. I think a lot of organizations, even when they try not to, think this way. And I feel that NOW is one of them. What makes them think that they’re way of feminism is the gold standard? What makes they HRC think that they represent all gay people? It seems to me that a lot of activists are more concerned about being the proper activist than actually doing anything.

    So, yeah, I can see where she’s coming from in the article.

  92. brownfemipower
    brownfemipower April 6, 2008 at 5:26 pm |

    I have always thought that all the women mentioned above WERE included in the feminism movement. I certainly have always thought that. Maybe I didn’t get the White Feminist Memo? :-}

    do you count as a woman if the issues that affect you most are actively dismissed as “race” issues or “immigration” issues or “prison movement” issues rather than women’s issues?

  93. brownfemipower
    brownfemipower April 6, 2008 at 5:27 pm |

    I mean, just look at how many times simply affording immigrant women the right to lives without violence has been dismissed as “not feminist” in this thread alone.

  94. Sally
    Sally April 6, 2008 at 5:29 pm |

    I’m pretty sure that her issue isn’t with NOW, Gina. I’m pretty sure it’s with the kind of women who write for and read this blog.

  95. Oh
    Oh April 6, 2008 at 5:29 pm |

    I saw someone last week throw a car battery into the regular trash. Want me to call my feminist phone tree and organize a rally?

    What, and you think calling the police will stop that from ever happening again? Did you, in fact, call the police, or did you just watch it happen because people do stuff like that once in a while and you don’t think it’s a serious enough problem where you are to keep from doing anything about it except bringing it up on the Internet?

    If hazardous waste disposal *is* a problem where you are, then, yeah, community organization to respond to it would actually be the thing to do. If you live somewhere that you can just call up an authority to get them to remove the hazardous waste for you–well, that’s certainly a nice position to be in. Even still, though, getting someone else to remove it after it’s been dumped wouldn’t change a persistent problem of unsafe waste disposal. Persistent local conditions are what cause persistent problems, and community organization is suited to address and change local conditions.

    If you actually want to figure out what community organization means beyond just calling up some friends to rally for a couple of hours, you don’t even need to get up, as the Internet is full of examples documenting that sort of work. If, from there, you actually wanted to participate in work that responds to local needs, you’d have to be willing to get up and do some work, as well as accept the leadership and expertise of people who aren’t you and who likely don’t carry around the same assumptions you do. But it’s certainly a way to get things done instead of just talking about them.

    See, liberalism, to me, has always meant making changes in institutions and societal conditions and believing that changes in people’s behavior would follow, because those things have a huge influence on the way people think and interact. So, to me, it’s always encompassed a huge capacity for transformative change and the creation of new ways of looking at and doing things–including some of the things here that I think people here are referring to revolutionary and radical. (Like I said, I need to apologize for dragging in my assumptions about the way people have used words like “revolutionary” in other kinds of discussions I’ve had and for being so ignorant about the way it’s used in the contexts Hoffman was discussing.) I actually wouldn’t have ever called someone who thinks that the problems of the US criminal justice system is a few individual racists in the system a liberal–the system, as it currently stands, is horribly racist, and the US prison-industrial complex is a force for evil, and I would expect any liberal to understand that. But it’s obvious that there are a lot of people here who seem to identify as liberal that don’t grasp how institutionalized these problems are, so I’d agree that it’s a bad sign for liberalism if the label “liberal” itself makes people feel they have license to ignore the problems.

    And that is the big weak point for liberalism, to my mind–that it can only work as well as liberals’ understanding about what conditions are actually like and how institutions affect all people, not just the people who remind them of themselves. One’s assumptions and starting premises are crucial. I feel the same way about science, actually–I’m not one for labeling science as irredeemably racist and sexist, even though it’s been used to create, justify, enforce, and perpetuate all kinds of bigotry. (And I realize no one here has said that–that’s *also* another discussion I’ve had elsewhere.) I think these systems can be a wonderfully useful tool for thinking about things and coming up with solutions, but they can only work if people are paying attention to what’s really going on, not what their prejudices are telling them.

    Now, because so relatively few people do that, or even think that they *should* be doing that, I can see why some people would want to turn to other tools altogether. And I definitely don’t think things like liberalism and science on their own can provide full understanding or get everything done–other tools are necessary in any case. But when people’s liberalism has the effect of oppressing another group, or when people’s science provides support to irrational bigotry, I do still believe those people are being *bad* liberals and scientists. They’re not doing the fundamental thing they’re supposed to, in their failure to start off with their eyes as clear as they can get them. What I personally like about liberalism and science is that they provide room for correction on that score without necessitating violently wiping out a whole system–provided people can get moved to correct themselves.

    It’s that last part that’s the doozy, of course, so I also can’t blame people for deciding not to bother with those who identify as liberals, scientists, etc.

  96. Sylke
    Sylke April 6, 2008 at 5:30 pm |

    BFP: “I think that the more appropriate question would be WHY haven’t you read about it.”

    Did you read about my friend in Seattle who was raped, tortured, then finally decapitated by her boyfriend? Did you respond to the outcry by the media and bloggers…oh wait, there was no outcry, because she was once upon a time a stripper and her torture and death didn’t matter at all.

    Are you an out-of-touch feminist because you haven’t heard of my friend? Am I an out-of-touch feminist because I didn’t read about the Haitian woman? Or are we both missing the point that the violence and hate that is perpetuated against women every single day is just too big for us all to deal with in our separate little groups? I don’t feel that anyone is “out-of-touch” or “privileged” because they didn’t read the little blurb the Seattle Times put in their paper about my friend (noting first, of course, that she used to make money taking off her clothes) – there are new victims to mourn every day – isn’t that the main issue?

  97. Sailorman
    Sailorman April 6, 2008 at 5:41 pm |

    # Jill says:
    April 6th, 2008 at 3:28 pm – Edit

    Sailorman, I think you’re reading it wrong. One of Hoffman’s big points is that we have to dismantle hierarchies. I know that’s hard to understand, because we organize just about everything into hierarchies

    In all seriousness, I’m trying to understand her post: that wasn’t a flip response.

    but she isn’t saying to abandon A and switch to B; she’s saying that B is already a part of A

    Well, yes. But everything is sort of a part of everything else, isn’t it? With ANY social movement there are things which can be tied in, somehow. So saying “yes, this is involved somehow” is of unclear use.

    I’m sure there’s some manner in which buying organic will help us stop the war in Iraq. But that doesn’t suggest that my actions if my priority is to stop the war will prioritize buying organic over other things. Because don’t we have to prioritize? Don’t we have a finite limit on action, money, political clout? Once you try to do literally everything, then it seems that you end up doing literally nothing. And once you expand your priorities, you immediately start running into conflict.

    and we need to deal with that reality instead of trying to separate out “woman” from “of color” or “immigrant” or “imprisoned” or whatever else.

    But the reality is that those DO refer to different–overlapping–groups. Isn’t that real?

    You can’t prioritize “women” over “people of color” or “low-income people” or “immigrants” because women are people of color and low-income people and immigrants — and women have attachments to those communities that cannot and should not be severed in the name of feminism.

    I guess that’s where I differ. I think it’s OK to prioritize your work; I think there are a variety of social movements, all laudable, with vastly differing priorities. I think it’s OK for people to prioritize anything from anti-racism to anti-sexism. That’s largely because I think that it’s difficult if not impossible to handle every possible thing that needs to be addressed in this world.

    because otherwise, who are youi going to deal with when the inevitable conflicts come up? What are you going to do when a “pro immigrant” issue is not pro-women? You have to make a choice. And I think that’s OK.

    Her point, I think, is that it’s a sign of privilege to be able to make Woman your primary (or singular) identity.

    I don’t disagree with that. Lots of identities are privileged: environmentalism, for example. But though I acknowledge it’s privileged, I guess I depart from what she appears to think it the logical outcome of giving it up. (obviously Woman is not my primary identity, though i identify as feminist.)

    Most women cannot separate out their gender struggles from their class, race and other struggles. These movements intersect and create complex webs of oppressions and experiences. The very idea that we can address “gender issues” first and “everything else” second just isn’t the reality that most women live.

    Yes: which is why those women focus on the issues they want, instead of the issues that might most benefit other women (who aren’t them.)

    She’s saying “acknowledge” what you are doing/thinking. i say the demand for acknowledgment is because she expects you/me/us to change our attitudes, and evolve towards what she prioritizes.

    I say this becasue of what she isn’t saying. She ISN’T writing a piece in which she says “these issues are feminist issues because ______” She’s writing a piece that seems to be saying “feminism should turn itself to this [not necessarily feminist] issue because it is socially just.”

  98. piny
    piny April 6, 2008 at 5:55 pm |

    I’m pretty sure that her issue isn’t with NOW, Gina. I’m pretty sure it’s with the kind of women who write for and read this blog.

    I don’t understand how “NOW” and “the women who read and write for this blog” are all that separate either in moral responsibility or political opportunity. NOW, like most political organizations, does listen to its constitutents–at least, it supports their weaknesses and channels their strengths.

    It’s a little bit like prison as a political issue. If we–and you can define that however you like–make it clear via our posts and comments that reforming the current system simply isn’t high on our list of priorities (we don’t know what “strike crime” or “supermax” means, that we’re not particularly concerned with prison rape or the privatization of prison health care, that we thought PLRA sounded like a good idea…) then our officials will respond with tough on crime stances. And our priorities will be used to damage the interests of other people.

  99. Sally
    Sally April 6, 2008 at 6:03 pm |

    I don’t understand how “NOW” and “the women who read and write for this blog” are all that separate either in moral responsibility or political opportunity.

    I think what I’m getting at is that a lot of us here don’t feel like NOW particularly listens to our concerns. I don’t feel like I have a thing to do with NOW: I’ve never been a member, I don’t really know what they’re up to, and I don’t consider them my kind of feminism. I suspect that a lot of feministe readers/ commenters feel the same way. So saying “she’s talking about NOW” sounds like putting “us” (“us” being young, white, middle-classish, etc. typical feministe readers) feminists on the side of the marginalized, not the side of the marginalizing. And I don’t think that’s what Hoffman is getting at.

  100. KW
    KW April 6, 2008 at 7:32 pm |

    I found that Jessica Hoffman made one good point in the five pages of her letter – that she didn’t see mainstream feminist groups at a major rally about immigration rights, and that many immigration issues are also feminist issues. She gave some good examples of this, especially related to violence.

    Other than that, Jessica Hoffman does not write in a way that convinces others to join her in activism. The first sentence sets the tone for the letter – “In 1983, when I was in kindergarten…”. Her letter is about “I”, her own whiteness and privilege. It’s not a discussion of why prisons or immigration are feminist issues. There are very few perspectives of actual feminists of color (or, frankly, anyone other than herself and Adrienne Rich.) There’s little but Jessica Hoffman on Jessica Hoffman, down to two paragraphs on why she chose “white” instead of “liberal” or “assimilationist”.

    It is this rather lazy, self- centered writing that brings out reactions like Meowser’s. The self- critique is a convention of radical writing, but unless it’s done right, it will rarely draw an audience other than other radicals.

  101. Oh
    Oh April 6, 2008 at 8:43 pm |

    It’s not a discussion of why prisons or immigration are feminist issues

    I don’t see why that’s something that should be discussed–there are a lot of women whom those issues affect in gendered ways. That’s just a fact, and you can know that without being guided through a logical argument on it because it’s there to see if you care to look or there to hear about if you care to listen.

    The question then becomes whether you want your activism to include those women and concern about the ways prisons, immigration laws, etc. affect them as women, or whether you just want to concentrate on issues that affect you and the kinds of people you’ve always known. Again, that’s not really a fruitful topic for debate–few people will find it rewarding to beg others for their consideration or to try to prove that their experiences are at least as important as their interlocutors’, particularly when they want action beyond debate.

    It’s just something you have to decide for yourself, in your own head: do you want to primarily concern yourself with issues that affect privileged women, with occasional moments of discomfort when you’re reminded that other women have other experiences, or do you want to keep making an effort to understand the experiences of women with less privilege and figuring out how you can work with them towards common goals?

  102. octogalore
    octogalore April 6, 2008 at 8:49 pm |

    BFP: “Is this what Jessica was doing? Saying that we should incorporate every lefty movement in the world into feminism?”

    Well, in fact, Jessica has said: “My feminism is not something separate from “other” progressive or radical or left politics.”

    And the article suggests this in multiple places:

    1) “To be a self-identified feminist activist apparently unaware of (or, worse, deliberately skirting) … voices calling for abolition of the prison industrial complex as a key element of social change seems to me to be part of a movement that is not only disconnected from but also damaging to some of the most vibrant and potentially liberating social-justice organizing happening today.”

    This does not explain how prison abolition intersects with gendered issues.

    2) Jessica is curious about “why the multiracial coalition of feminist and racial-justice groups that started out working together to save affirmative action “for women and people of color” in the spring had split into two, the (mostly white) feminists in one camp and the racial-justice groups in the other.” She says: “One of my co-interns had overheard a prominent leftist civil-rights attorney, a woman of color who was working with a former coalition organization, say, ‘The road to hell is paved with feminists.” I thought our work at the Feminist Majority was good and just and concerned with racial as well as gender equality; I didn’t understand.’”

    I’m not sure why the two groups couldn’t work together, in fact. Seems like it would make sense to combine forces. But why can’t feminism prioritize women of all colors and anti-racism prioritize anti-racism for all genders? Why should the feminists go to hell because the two groups split off, while the racial justice groups are apparently blameless?

    If the feminists chose not to work together: OK, that is problematic, but we don’t know that, at least from this article. Doesn’t Jessica get concerned with why the groups split up, and why does she buy into others’ assumption that those nasty feminists were clearly the culprits?

    3) “[the] U.S. criminal-legal system, which uses the rhetoric of “safety” to destroy communities of color, squash dissent, and create profit for private corporations.” Again, this does suggest incorporating lefty movements regarding capitalism, poverty and race, all worthy causes of course, into feminism. All very well if those causes looked at gender issues in this way. Do they?

    4) Finally, she says: “When I was in fourth grade, in the fall of 1986, my (mostly white, mostly wealthy) class spent a few weeks debating California ballot initiatives.”

    First of all, she’s speaking for herself here. Not all white feminists went to mostly white, mostly wealthy grade schools. I didn’t. This is one example of what KW is referring to, in which Hoffman projects her privilege in sometimes mistargeted ways.

    She then goes on to say: “I was assigned to argue the pro side on an initiative to make English the official state language. I took the sample ballot and voter guides home and studied them dutifully, then presented an argument that included the statement ‘If I moved to China, I wouldn’t expect them to speak to me in English.’”

    Well, substantively, China doesn’t even come close in inclusivity to our flawed immigration policy here in the US. North Koreans can testify to that. So it’s an odd hypothetical and typical of her general shoot first, details later, style.

    But back on point. While sensitivity to different languages and cultures is an interesting issue, there’s nothing in her example that explains why it’s a feminist issue. There are probably issues concerned with cultural/language adaptation that do impact women specifically. But Hoffman doesn’t cite them. The assumption that because those issues are there, somewhere, tossing the issues hook line and sinker into feminism is AOK is a lazy one.

    My point is not that feminists should not care about other lefty issues. We all should, in our efforts that don’t go under the feminist rubric. Most of us have causes and interests in addition to feminism. My point is that it does feminism a disservice to make it the mistress of all other worthwhile issues.

    For example, it is worthwhile to have a paycheck. It is worthwhile to take care of children. It is worthwhile to clean ones living quarters and pay ones bills. It is worthwhile to arrange social meetings with friends. It is worthwhile to take care of elderly relatives.

    Let’s say we have a couple, let’s make at least one of them a woman named Jane.

    If Jane has to handle all those issues in addition to her own job and doing PR for her partner Pat’s job, while Pat focuses primarily on Pat’s job, that’s not necessarily ideal for Jane. It’s great for Pat, of course, and Pat’s probably a wonderful person. But if Pat isn’t going to pay the same kind of attention to the other issues or Jane’s job, then Jane’s job is going to suffer.

    It will be put last.

    Of course, Jane is used to that. But it still doesn’t make it OK, IMO.

  103. brownfemipower
    brownfemipower April 6, 2008 at 8:51 pm |

    Did you read about my friend in Seattle who was raped, tortured, then finally decapitated by her boyfriend? Did you respond to the outcry by the media and bloggers…oh wait, there was no outcry, because she was once upon a time a stripper and her torture and death didn’t matter at all.

    except it does matter and I have talked about media coverage of the murder of sex workers on my blog. I was not talking about why haven’t you heard about the haitian woman specifically–but why aren’t white women reading the blogs of women of color. I was speaking in a general sense, I’m sorry I wasn’t clear. The point was that violence against sex workers and shitty media coverage against sex workers is nothing new–why aren’t feminists talking about it? Violence against immigrant women and shitty media coverage of immigrant women is nothing new, why aren’t feminists talking about it? Violence against disabled women and shitty media coverage of disabed women is nothing new, why aren’t feminist talking about it?

    Except that sex workers ARE talking about this shit, as are immigrant women, women of color, disabled women, colonized women, queer women, trans women–they’re all creating their own media and talking about this stuff endlessly–but “white feminism” (as defined by Hoffman) is not even acknowledging that the stuff that all of these different women are talking about are even *feminist issues*. She’s saying, rightfully so, that this lack of any sustained discussion is a massive problem–*because* people like your friend, like my family members are being destroyed by the refusal to interrogate feminism.

    I think that when a feminist isn’t aware that black women are being gang raped in public housing and sex workers of all colors are being brutally murdered simply because they’re sex workers–well–fuck, yes, that is an out of touch feminist. And a feminist that then finds out about this violence and looks a woman in the eye who has to deal with that bullshit and tells her “that is not feminisms problem to fix”–well, fuck–that’s a privileged woman. And a feminism that consistently refuses to acknowledge violence against certain women unless it’s on the terms of feminism rather than the women–well, that’s a privileged form of feminism.

    I didn’t use to cover sex worker rights on my blog–and even now I can say openly that I don’t cover it as much as I should. and I can say openly–the reason is because I’m not a sex worker and because I have the privilege of not being judged every time I leave the house or write an essay for my blog or go to work or leave work or apply for benefits or interact with the public in general. but as somebody who is privileged in that manner–do I then have the right to say that my feminism is for everybody if I refuse to even talk about sex worker rights as a part of my feminism? I don’t think I do.

  104. Vail
    Vail April 6, 2008 at 9:06 pm |

    My mother-in-law is a feminist of the old school.. where the first priority was equal pay for equal work. She felt (and still does) that until equal economic power is placed into the hands of women, equality will never happen. She still laments that the Equal Rights Amendment failed because of groups splintering off and loosing focus. I think she’s right. Find the root issues, that effect everyone, and by fixing those, we can fix other problems. Anything else is a band-aid. I’m not saying we should ignore horrible things that happen, I’m (poorly I know) trying to say that we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, lets tackle the big things first.

  105. Googler
    Googler April 6, 2008 at 9:11 pm |

    The prison-abolition movement? What planet is this woman living on?

    See:
    http://www.google.com/search?q=prison-abolition+movement

  106. KW
    KW April 6, 2008 at 9:21 pm |

    “I don’t see why that’s something that should be discussed–there are a lot of women whom those issues affect in gendered ways. That’s just a fact, and you can know that without being guided through a logical argument on it because it’s there to see if you care to look or there to hear about if you care to listen.”

    Yes, it is a fact that prisons and immigration are feminist issues, and if someone wanted to find examples of why they are, they would be very easy to find. But this letter is addressed to white feminists who do not know that. If one is going to use writing to convince someone else that these are important issues for feminists, one is going to need to use some technique other than saying “but they are!”

  107. brownfemipower
    brownfemipower April 6, 2008 at 9:22 pm |

    octo–I think the part where I disagree with your interpretation of Hoffman is the use of “movement” over “ism.” for example, you pointed to this section:

    “[the] U.S. criminal-legal system, which uses the rhetoric of “safety” to destroy communities of color, squash dissent, and create profit for private corporations.” Again, this does suggest incorporating lefty movements regarding capitalism, poverty and race, all worthy causes of course, into feminism. All very well if those causes looked at gender issues in this way. Do they?

    to me, capitalism, poverty and race are not “movements”–they are different points of intersecting “isms” that are ALL gendered and must be critiqued and understood and confronted by a feminist movement. Capitalism affects women. A feminist movement must address exactly how capitalism affects women. Race affects women. A feminist movement must address exactly how race affects women. etc. I think that in this case–feminism is centering women–and how different “isms” affect women. what’s a feminist response to the women who are being affected by environmental damage?

    I think that how I am understanding what you are saying is that feminists must become and join an already existing environmentalist movement. In other words–feminists must center the environment in their work and join the environmental movement–and physically, that’s just impossible because there’s only so many women.

    but I don’t think that’s what’s being said here–for example, the critique of no white feminists being at the immigration day rallies–NOW and other feminist organizations sign on to and support different actions all the time without actually being the ones to organize the actual rally/action. look it how many different feminist orgs/blogs/media makers signed onto and supported WAM. Did any of those women have to stop the work that they were doing (as in writing blog posts etc) to lend their name to the conference as a show of support?

    Similarly–how much work would NOW have to stop or shove aside by issuing a press release condemning ICE raids? They issue press releases all the time about SCROTUS decisions, Kennedy supporting Obama, the anniversary of Roe V Wade–would it really have that much of a negative effect to say–hey, there’s a bunch of feminists in Massachusetts that are rallying against ICE raids, support them in any way you can, and oh, yeah, ICE raids are fucked up abuse of nation/state power?

    and to go back to the legislation aspect of it–would it really be overextending feminist action to demand that the dept. of homeland security doesn’t control and run the implementation of the VAWA?

    I mean–I’m not a reform minded person, but I also see a place for people who ARE reformists–and if they want to fight like hell for legislation–why aren’t they fighting like hell to make sure that the legislation that IS implemented isn’t screwed up in such a devastating manner?

    For me–that’s where the tension is between reform and ‘radicalism’.

  108. brownfemipower
    brownfemipower April 6, 2008 at 9:24 pm |

    I think that how I am understanding what you are saying is that feminists must become and join an already existing environmentalist movement. In other words–feminists must center the environment in their work and join the environmental movement–and physically, that’s just impossible because there’s only so many women.

    when I said this–I meant “environmentalism” as an *example*–so feminist must become and join an already exiting environmentalist movement (for example)….

  109. Holly
    Holly April 6, 2008 at 9:28 pm |

    My issue, and I believe along the lines of what Sylke is saying, is that when feminism is asked to encompass all other lefty movements, it becomes problematic because the other movements do not encompass feminist issues to even close to the same degree.

    OK, feminism is crucially important for the well-being and liberty of a vast number of unjustly treated people on this planet. But at the same time, I don’t believe the fight for the liberation of women is somehow entirely different than other kinds of fights — I don’t buy this idea that feminist issues are “more likely to get left behind” compared to the issues of other oppressed, marginalized, and mistreated people. You could repeat the quote above about any number of movements focused on the liberation of an oppressed group of people. Just replace the word feminism — every marginalized group has had a legacy of being left behind, especially ones who are small minorities in a given society.

    So where does that leave us, anyway? All building our own little single-issue silos, because when we share cookies with other people then we inevitably feel like we didn’t get as many cookies as we would have if we kept to ourselves? Is single-issue politics really the way to go — even if you take the time out to occasionally have more than one “single issue?” I think that’s really what’s at stake here. “Divide and conquer” is a time-honored tactic used by people and institutions in power — do we really believe that the status quo is like a wall where if we just take out one brick, our own personal brick that we feel committed to, the whole thing will come crumbling down? I’ve definitely read words to that effect, and somehow it always smacks of “well I personally don’t really have to worry about anything else…”

    But these arguments about feminism, in particular, getting left behind always seem a little odd when you think about the fact that there are so many women who can’t easily afford to choose feminism instead of other movements that they may be just as affected by. Even if it’s in a “feminism on wednesday, anti-racist organizing on thursday” kind of way — it just doesn’t make sense when these things are incredibly intertwined in your own life. We have to work towards movements that simultaneously fight against racism, misogyny, fatphobia, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, colonialism, xenophobia and the exploitation of the poor and working class. I really don’t see an alternative to that and I won’t even do work for an organization that does not at least commit itself in principle to those things and consider its work accordingly.

  110. brownfemipower
    brownfemipower April 6, 2008 at 9:51 pm |

    Again, this does suggest incorporating lefty movements regarding capitalism, poverty and race, all worthy causes of course, into feminism. All very well if those causes looked at gender issues in this way. Do they?

    and one last thing in regards to this statement–Incite! (along with multiple other woc and trans of color led movements) DOES organize by incorporating ALL of these “isms’ into their organizing agendas. Right now, the primary work they are doing is in New Orleans–they are organizing a woman’s health clinic down there–but they also as an organization actively speak out against colonialism against Palestinian people, harmful sterilization practices, environmental pollution etc. And the organizing work that they do in New Orleans (as well as the local incite! chapters throughout the country) always works to make sure that the work that they are doing (even as it centers women of color) does not contribute the violence being committed against communities that are not their own.

  111. Kristin
    Kristin April 6, 2008 at 10:17 pm |

    I mean–I’m not a reform minded person, but I also see a place for people who ARE reformists–and if they want to fight like hell for legislation–why aren’t they fighting like hell to make sure that the legislation that IS implemented isn’t screwed up in such a devastating manner?

    For me–that’s where the tension is between reform and ‘radicalism’.

    BFP: I would agree with you there. I do not see a lot of hope in reformism. I don’t believe it will fundamentally transform the broken system we have now. However, I do think there’s an argument to be made for incrementally making improvements while also working for more radical changes. It’s not what I’m good at. I feel extremely hopeless when I try to come up with useful “policy recommendations,” so I stick to the more radical activism and critique.

    I do have a problem with those who promote liberal reform as the End Goal. I do believe that liberalism has become, as Wendy Brown says, little more than the “equal right to inequality.” I would agree with what Holly said earlier; it’s not an either/or proposition, and I’m not telling anyone they can’t do good things from the inside when I make these critiques. While I am not prepared to pass judgment on any and everyone who is trying to change things from within the system, I am taken aback by much of the reactionary defense of the system that I see on this thread. I find it troubling that so many seem so attached to the status quo.

  112. Kristin
    Kristin April 6, 2008 at 10:28 pm |

    OK, feminism is crucially important for the well-being and liberty of a vast number of unjustly treated people on this planet. But at the same time, I don’t believe the fight for the liberation of women is somehow entirely different than other kinds of fights — I don’t buy this idea that feminist issues are “more likely to get left behind” compared to the issues of other oppressed, marginalized, and mistreated people.

    Holly: I agree.

    Everyone: What’s going on with the Purity of Feminism strand of this thread? Why are people so concerned about feminism being left out? About maintaining some kind of Pure Feminism?

    Some have made comments such as: “For those other lefty groups, feminism is not a priority. They are always the first to abandon feminist principles.” Um… This sort of sentiment is ridiculously reductive and downright xenophobic.

    The Pure Feminism that some are clinging to is white, middle class feminism. It’s feminism divested of any race or class analysis. It’s the sort of feminism that serves white middle class women and, as BFP already said, refers to the injustices most directly relevant to non-white women as “immigrant” and “race” issues. To pretend otherwise–and to continue maintaining that, no, white feminism really is good for everyone–is just insulting to everyone involved in the conversation.

  113. exholt
    exholt April 6, 2008 at 11:12 pm |

    I am still processing her comments about feminism’s “safety” emphasis… I figure that if there’s one thing that all people should feel entitled to (yes, yes, I know “entitlement” is a bad word, but I can’t think of a better one), it is safety.

    This was one big problem I had with the essay. Having the right to be safe is an entitlement no one should be ashamed to insist upon. While Hoffman has a strong point about the endemic abuses within the criminal justice system, I don’t see how one should be required to forfeit one’s entitlement to their own safety and well-being in order to fight those abuses.

    This statement is quite troubling due to my own experiences as a POC child being physically beaten on public transportation by rowdy gangs of youths and burglarized at gunpoint in my family’s apartment in NYC during the 1980’s and early ’90s. The recent death of a Columbia University grad student due to being hit by an SUV while fleeing from a group of muggers in Morningside Heights is a painful reminder of those encounters. No one deserves to be physically threatened, attacked, or killed merely for going about his/her daily business.

  114. Sylke
    Sylke April 6, 2008 at 11:23 pm |

    I guess what I’m thinking of is the civil rights movement. Women marched too, and put in a lot of time and effort, and rallied, but at the end of the day, what did the civil rights movement really do for black women? I certainly cannot say for sure, but from my white vantage point it doesn’t look like a lot. I think that’s a damn shame.

    Do I think our justice system is horrible twisted? Yep. I think women who are pregnant and drug addicts are in need of help instead of being thrown in a cell? Yep. Do I think trans women are terribly underserved and underrepresented? Yes and yes. Would I ever look at a black woman, knowing that her life is harder in ways that I can not possible understand, and say to her “Feminism can’t help you with that?” Hell no. To me, that’s not feminism, that’s just lame. To this white feminist, if you are a woman, patriarchy is trying to smash you down and feminism is working to pull you up. The end.

    I don’t think I’m trying to cling to any notion of “Pure Feminism.” What I’m saying is that I want to see women – all women – get ahead and achieve personhood before anything else. I know that a lot of other things come along with that, but damn, what’s it going to take for the female half of the world to get ahead?

    Getting back to the article, I feel like I’m being told that as a white feminist I’m dropping the ball, but I want to specifically know WHY. As a white person, why do I have to prove myself to retain my feminist card?

  115. whatsername
    whatsername April 7, 2008 at 12:07 am |

    Thank you for posting this Jill, a really great article. I was made more confused than uncomfortable, but reinforcement of how far I still need to go is a good thing.

  116. octogalore
    octogalore April 7, 2008 at 12:19 am |

    BFP — certainly, capitalism, poverty and race are all intersecting “isms” and a rigorous feminism should look at how women are affected by each.

    However, they are in fact also movements. There are groups dedicated to proposing different economic models, to ending poverty, to ending racism.

    Wrt the critique of lack of white feminist support of immigration day rallies. I think that yes, it would have been nice if NOW would have supported this rally with a grant for something like job training for female immigrants and a booth dedicated to raising awareness of how immigration abuses specifically target women.

    But consistency would also require that we then ask anti-racist groups and immigration advocacy groups to support feminist events and rallies. Angela Davis’ “Women, Race, & Class” and other works make clear that anti-racism movements have not always been bastions of support for women of color. I don’t see prison abolition groups at women’s events.

    Of course, two wrongs don’t make a right. But let’s be consistent. If the goal is that true intersectionality exist, then that should go both ways. And if someone like Hoffman gets up on a born-again pedestal to scold, she should acknowledge this context as a factor. Despite statements above that all lefty movements face similar rudderlessness and vulnerability, women are unique in that we have so many other affiliations besides gender. And women tend for a number of reasons to try to multitask. While feminism’s inclusiveness is far, far from ideal, it is much more advanced than that of many other movements whose members include women.

    And your point is taken about reform and radicalism. I see a place for both. I am a reform-minded person and see a place for an analysis of where fundamental change is needed.

    For example, I do career counseling for low-income high-school students in certain neighborhoods in Southern CA. One such student is a WOC who has one parent in jail, has been sexually abused by a male relative (not her father) and her mother is supportive but on various meds that affect mood and stability. This student has a gift with computers. While she has dyslexia, she has scored unexpectedly high in classes involving math or technology. Nobody in her family has gone to college. She would like to work for a computer company in program management.

    Now, of course there are issues with capitalism involved here. A radical analysis would have feminists involved in this situation focusing on the larger issues of poverty and racism etc. But in the right-here, right-now portion of things, there are reform-minded things to be done so that this particular student can achieve her goals. She needs a tutor to bring her verbal SATs up. She needs (now has gotten) a formal diagnosis of dyslexia so she can get the additional time needed on her boards. She would benefit from the right letters being written by the right people to the right schools.

    Feminism, and all movements, need people working all angles of the game. Our flawed system is going to be in place for some time, perhaps for quite some time, and we need to help other women navigate it.

    So when someone jumps up all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and says “It’s time for white feminists to … take on the issues that matter,” then that confirms for me that person’s lack of life experience. Feminists shouldn’t dictate to others which issues “matter.” Hoffman speaks to individual feminists rather than groups like NOW, which does have the power to have oars in different places in the water. It’s not her place, and it doesn’t work.

  117. sminbrooklyn
    sminbrooklyn April 7, 2008 at 1:11 am |

    i can identify with your sentiment, sylke, about feeling that the suggestion of this piece is that white feminists need to do extra work to make up for the fact that the prison system is based on certain premises that make it hostile to women and really to everyone.* i’m a white feminist who agrees with hoffmann that feminism hasn’t done enough for each of the issues she mentioned. i agree with hoffmann that there are many better ways to do things, and i know that i don’t know as much as i should about the issues that affect women who aren’t in my demographic. i also know that ignorance like mine isn’t always a two-way street; white feminism is in a lot of ways dominant, and that’s not fair. but to me, feminism isn’t my right to be self-righteous about issues like the fact that there aren’t as many female CEOs of fortune 500 companies as there are male. i am a feminist because i believe that women have been systematically oppressed by patriarchal systems since the beginning of time. i am a feminist because i want the world to be a better place. and i think that the idea behind this dismantling of hierarchies is a brilliant one, but it sort of requires that we be willing to share common cause with one another. of course hoffmann is pissed about racist law enforcement practices and cruelty to women who are in the country undocumented. but – i am too. why do i have to be on the receiving end of this letter when i want to be an ally?

    if we are going to be intersectional, then let’s intersect. immigrant women’s issues are women’s issues. incarcerated women’s issues are women’s issues. upper middle class white women’s issues are women’s issues. bring the anger, because there’s a lot to be angry about. but at the end of the day, if we can’t ask questions of one another, there isn’t going to be any common cause, and if we can’t discuss issues then we are going nowhere together. rather than dismissing the ideas of people who don’t agree with us, we could engage them.

    i just think everyone needs to value one another’s issues, and, from a practical standpoint, it doesn’t seem that framing the issues of certain populations of women with anger at all white feminists is the best way to get the important work that we all want to see done, done.

    *i know that that isn’t what she said, precisely, but the tone of the piece is addressed to white feminists and is pretty clearly angry. it’s hard to avoid coming away with the idea that white feminists should for some reason feel bad for the grievances listed.

  118. Sylke
    Sylke April 7, 2008 at 8:36 am |

    Thanks for your reply, sminbrooklyn.

    First off, I want to say how thankful I am that we can have this conversation, and I have enjoyed all the thought-provoking posts here. I think this dialogue is so important because I think this world needs a huge, huge dose of feminism, and the last thing I want to do is screw up progress because my white privilege blinds me to larger issues. I know this is frustrating for everyone. I’ve had this conversation before, with other parties saying “You just don’t get it,” and walking away. We none of us can afford to walk away.

    I see the point that immigration is a feminist issue because there are women immigrants (who are being treated badly), and that racism is a feminist issue because there are women of all races that need feminism. I guess what I was trying to articulate (very) badly is that I would like to see a world where we are all women first, and everything else second. I know that that is not the reality of a lot of people, and I can see that my privilege allows me to believe in this notion. This is something I’ll have to work on.

  119. brownfemipower
    brownfemipower April 7, 2008 at 8:52 am |

    the funny thing is, octo, those who center, say, “race”–they DO support orgs like NOW and others. For example, the latina institute DOES make cross coalition analysis and they DO support events put on by mainstream-y big largly white feminist org’s–the march for women’s lives (or whatever that was called, the pro-choice march a couple of years back) WAS attended by and supported financially and through membership pushes by the latina institute along with several other “race centered” feminist orgs. NOW is a better about immigrant women than other org’s like feminist majority–but even so, there is limited to NO support from these org’s through just the simple means, like media support. This has been done historically and currently over and over again–and is a very large reason (if not the biggest reason) why so many groups of women (from queer women to trans women to racialized women or poverty stricken women or disabled women) have broken away from mainstream feminism. (another instance, native women have been pretty straightforward about their critiques of VAWA for a very long time–and it is THEIR mobilization that has invoked the changes in VAWA—which they managed to accomplish even as they are creating new forms of community accountability between men and women in their tribes).

    there is an assumption that there are no feminists organizing around the “lefty causes” like environmentalism, racism, capitalism, or any other “ism”. I see the point of not necessarily supporting work of say, the national council de la raza–but when the national latina institute specifically asks for support and help (and I don’t have any idea if it did or not, just using it as an example along the lines of this historical inability to ‘return the favor’ by mainstream feminist orgs)–is there a valid reason to say no?

    also, in regards to your scenario about the immediacy of real life playing out for women–I agree totally–but I think that the assumptions in your scenario, that radical minded folks wouldn’t be able to help that woman or wouldn’t help that woman because of long term goals infringing on the process…well, that assumption simply doesn’t play out in real life. Just look at the beford raids. Look at ALL of the ICE raids. esp. in california, women’s groups/feminist orgs are doing on the ground grassroots mobilization against the raids–but as Hoffman mentioned in her article, almost all of those groups are women of color/latina. (for example, a group of women have created a phone system such that if one woman sees/knows ICE is coming, she’ll make a call and eventually the entire grapevine of women are warned.) There are instances of this type of immediate mobilization with an eye on the bigger prize throughout all the woc feminist organizing in “lefty movements”.

    Finally–I think it’s interesting that Jessica Hoffman is greatly admired and deeply respected amongst women of color media makers. She has built lasting and strong bridges to the work that women of color are doing, and is constantly and consistently supportive of the various types of media that women of color are making. She isn’t just eager beaver hooray-ing women of color–she’s actually putting her money where her mouth is and building spaces and supporting the building of spaces where women of color are leaders, involved, and actively working. Why is somebody who has clearly built a trusted relationship with woc dismissed over and over again as an eager beaver, naive, “angry,” divisive, bushy tailed, etc? It seems to me that the white women who keep saying that they want to understand would do better by ending the dismissive tone and examining what Hoffman is saying/doing.

    **And I want to make it clear that it is not just her doing this work, the entire editing board of Make/shift has been incredibly committed to anti-racist feminist based media making. The only reason I am highlighting Hoffman at the moment is because she is the one being dismissed.

  120. brownfemipower
    brownfemipower April 7, 2008 at 8:57 am |

    And this paragraph:

    (another instance, native women have been pretty straightforward about their critiques of VAWA for a very long time–and it is THEIR mobilization that has invoked the changes in VAWA—which they managed to accomplish even as they are creating new forms of community accountability between men and women in their tribes).

    was inserted in the wrong place (ugh). It should be after this paragraph:

    Look at ALL of the ICE raids. esp. in california, women’s groups/feminist orgs are doing on the ground grassroots mobilization against the raids–but as Hoffman mentioned in her article, almost all of those groups are women of color/latina. (for example, a group of women have created a phone system such that if one woman sees/knows ICE is coming, she’ll make a call and eventually the entire grapevine of women are warned.) There are instances of this type of immediate mobilization with an eye on the bigger prize throughout all the woc feminist organizing in “lefty movements”.

    Ok. I’m officially off to ignore the world for a while.

  121. Kristin
    Kristin April 7, 2008 at 9:49 am |

    I guess what I’m thinking of is the civil rights movement. Women marched too, and put in a lot of time and effort, and rallied, but at the end of the day, what did the civil rights movement really do for black women? I certainly cannot say for sure, but from my white vantage point it doesn’t look like a lot. I think that’s a damn shame.

    Sylke: This wasn’t where I was expecting you to go. I was expecting a sentiment that I more commonly hear: “What about all those anti-colonials in Africa and their support for female circumcision?” That’s what I most often hear among people who are really concerned about “those other movements” and how they “might leave feminism behind.” It’s also the one most commonly targeted by liberal white feminist scholars like Susan Okin. I won’t fully deal with it here since no one has raised it, except to say that it’s an extremely complicated issue and one that only affects a very small minority of African women. Western women tend to become obsessed with it in a very troubling way–and one that does not usually recognize the unequal power relations between Western women and non-Western women. In addition, any understanding of African women as monolithically poor, dispossessed, passive victims is highly problematic. Those who worry about “illiberal” movements that “leave feminism behind” often have this issue in mind.

    But you mention the Civil Rights Movement. I’m not sure I can fully respond to everything that is wrong with your question, “What did the civil rights movement ever do for women?” But I’ll try. First, feminism in the United States during the most active years of the civil rights movement–the 1950s and 1960s–barely even existed. To hold the Civil Rights Movement accountable for not knowing about a movement that hadn’t really penetrated the rest of the American public yet seems ridiculous to me. And, yes, I know there was some incipient feminism around. My claim is just that these were not golden years for feminist activism.

    Second, and more importantly, the Civil Rights Movement was a movement that advocated for liberal reforms. Now, before anyone accuses me of dismissing the importance of what the Civil Rights Movement, let me be clear that I’m not doing that. So, what did the Civil Rights Movement do for women? Why, the exact same things it did for men–make gains in establishing equality before the law. Palpable, meaningful, important gains, from voting rights reform to the eradication of Jim Crow laws throughout the South. The critique of liberal reforms, as crucial and as important as they are, is of course that legal equality sometimes serves as a mask that hides and diminishes actual inequality. The Civil Rights Movement achieved a lot of impressive successes, but it didn’t transform unequal power relations in our society for all time. And perhaps it’s wildly utopian to think that anything could, but at the very least, I think it suggests that we need to look beyond liberalism if we have a transformative vision.

    Anyway, it seems odd to me that, in a discussion about the justifications for and arguments against liberal reform, you’d cite a liberal reform movement such as the Civil Rights Movement as an example of how you think radical movements “leave feminism behind.”

    To this white feminist, if you are a woman, patriarchy is trying to smash you down and feminism is working to pull you up. The end.

    Except, it’s far from “the end” of the discussion because differently situated women do not experience “the patriarchy” in the same way. Moreover, this sort of simplistic understanding of feminism completely ignores power inequalities between women. It also trivializes the differences between the ways that you, a white woman, experience oppression and the ways a non-white woman may experience oppression (Here, more often at the hands of the state and the policing mechanism.). It is not all the same.

    Getting back to the article, I feel like I’m being told that as a white feminist I’m dropping the ball, but I want to specifically know WHY. As a white person, why do I have to prove myself to retain my feminist card?

    I don’t see how anyone has asked you to prove your feminist credentials. The point is that white feminists ought to be self-reflexive enough to reflect on the ways that their feminism is a function of privilege that undermines the experiences and struggles of non-white women. Why is this so hard for people to hear?

  122. octogalore
    octogalore April 7, 2008 at 10:11 am |

    BFP, I am not denying that WOC organizations have supported mainstream feminist organizations, but that non-women-led organizations generally don’t include feminism as part of their cause. I feel like we are basically agreeing on more than meets the eye, but using different examples here.
    “when the national latina institute specifically asks for support and help (and I don’t have any idea if it did or not, just using it as an example along the lines of this historical inability to ‘return the favor’ by mainstream feminist orgs)–is there a valid reason to say no?”

    No. Here again, I hope I’ve made clear that I feel mainstream feminism SHOULD support other women-led causes with no expectation of reciprocity – if it happens, great. If Greenpeace asked for support and help, there’d need to be reciprocity.

    Also, I am sure Hoffman has earned her respect among WOC media makers. I am not dismissive of her as a person, but of her style and various comments in the article. Perhaps I could have expressed this more clearly. I’m sure she has done a lot of good work. I think it’s still fair to have an opinion about the article.

  123. octogalore
    octogalore April 7, 2008 at 10:13 am |

    “also, in regards to your scenario about the immediacy of real life playing out for women–I agree totally–but I think that the assumptions in your scenario, that radical minded folks wouldn’t be able to help that woman or wouldn’t help that woman because of long term goals infringing on the process…”

    Agree. I know people can wear multiple hats. My point is that sometimes folks who’ve been playing the reform card from within are best situated to help someone like this woman, not that others wouldn’t. So that there are various effective roles women can play.

  124. brownfemipower
    brownfemipower April 7, 2008 at 10:25 am |

    I feel like we are basically agreeing on more than meets the eye, but using different examples here.

    I agree! :-)

  125. JPlum
    JPlum April 7, 2008 at 10:33 am |

    I’m still reading through comments, but I was thinking about the history of the suffrage movement in the USA-from what I’ve read, white women were instrumental in the fight for universal suffrage, for people of colour, and for women. But the movement (the male part, anyway) threw the women under the bus, told them to wait their turn, that it was more important to get black men the vote, and that they’d work on getting women the vote once they had secured it for black men. So, black men got the vote, and the men abandoned to movement for universal suffrage. Yes, I’m simplifying, and making some generalizations.

    Anyway, I wonder if there is a level of subconscious fear of this happening again-if feminists start taking on ‘other people’s’ fights, the ‘other people’ will take over, and women will be told, once again, to wait their turn-we need to work on racial equality first, then we’ll get around to women.

    Or am I over-analyzing?

  126. Kristin
    Kristin April 7, 2008 at 10:51 am |

    I’m still reading through comments, but I was thinking about the history of the suffrage movement in the USA-from what I’ve read, white women were instrumental in the fight for universal suffrage, for people of colour, and for women. But the movement (the male part, anyway) threw the women under the bus, told them to wait their turn, that it was more important to get black men the vote, and that they’d work on getting women the vote once they had secured it for black men. So, black men got the vote, and the men abandoned to movement for universal suffrage. Yes, I’m simplifying, and making some generalizations.

    Who the hell taught you your history, JPlum?? Good lord…

    Leaders in the women’s suffrage movement actively spoke out against those who wanted voting rights and protections for African-American men. Elizabeth Cady Stanton is known to have said that women of “wealth, education, and refinement” were needed to offset the votes of former slaves and immigrants whose “pauperism, ignorance, and degradation” she thought would destroy the American political system.

    So, um… It was the other way around. No, you weren’t over-analyzing. You just don’t know history.

  127. juju
    juju April 7, 2008 at 11:13 am |

    I guess what I was trying to articulate (very) badly is that I would like to see a world where we are all women first, and everything else second.

    One is not a woman on Tuesday, an undocumented immigrant on Wednesday, living below the poverty line on Thursday, disabled on Friday, and Mormon on Saturday, etc., etc. I know you get where I’m going with this. A person is all of those identities at once, every single day of the week. Women experience environmental destruction, racism, and the prison industrial complex, for example, in gendered ways.

    What I hear you saying is that because you don’t experience gendered racism, for example, the issues that are particular to Hmong-American women are not feminist issues. It sounds like you and some of the other commenters are saying that the term “feminism” only applies to the issues that affect you personally; that you preserve the right to define the impact of patriarchy.

    The ‘feminist issue” of the right to a safe and affordable abortion is experienced in a diversity of ways, depending on your socio-economic, ethnic, religious, etc., background. What I understand Hoffman to be saying is that you honor this diversity, and that white women’s activism reflect this lived reality. I think she’s just asking that white women do the kind of work that WOC, for example, are already doing.

  128. Kristin
    Kristin April 7, 2008 at 11:17 am |

    Before anyone jumps down my throat, I think I over-simplified things a little here too. Many of the suffragettes did support African American men’s suffrage, but white women’s suffrage was always the priority. It was always a very conflicted allegiance, seeing as Stanton and others repeatedly made comments that suggest that they thought African-American suffrage would lead to social degradation. In many ways, then, the call for white women’s suffrage was in response to the racist fears of activists who were worried that wealthy whites would lose control of the political system.

    So, when you raise questions about all those “mean African-American men” who didn’t support women’s suffrage… You ought to understand a little more about the historical context you’re talking about.

    No, I do not think there’s a “subconscious fear of this happening again,” JPlum, since it really didn’t happen the way you have suggested.

  129. JPlum
    JPlum April 7, 2008 at 11:18 am |

    Didn’t Stanton help found the American Equal Rights Association in 1866, dedicated to universal suffrage? It was ultimately a failure-Stanton went on to form a women only suffrage group, while Lucy Stone formed one that inlcuded women and blacks. And suffrage for black men was secured 50 years before women got it.

  130. Leah
    Leah April 7, 2008 at 11:25 am |

    I haven’t gotten to read all of the replies, so forgive me if this is redundant.

    I thought, for the most part, the article was spot-on. Including the need to radically overhaul/throw out the current criminal “justice” system. I would even hop on board if we were to get rid of prison for all but violent crimes today.

    Unfortunately, I have yet to read a practical solution to violent crime. Most of what I have read says that we should change society to prevent these crimes. That’s all well and good, and I agree wholeheartedly, but that is not a PRACTICAL, every day use solution. Racist, classist patriarchy has been the name of the game for thousands of years, and I believe it will take just as long, if not longer, to get rid of it. In the meantime we need some sort of way to keep people safe. Is the current system the way to do it? Well, the current system sucks and I doubt it keeps more than 1% of people safe, so no. I don’t think it’s the answer for society, but I would never turn crime victims away from it. I don’t have any bright ideas on what would be better, but I don’t think prison abolition would work for violent criminals until society has been so radically changed that these crimes are a rarity in the first place. In the meantime we need victim advocacy, some sort of system to keep victims safe, and some sort of system to prevent violent criminals from re-offending.

    In my experience with domestic/sexual violence victim advocacy, we informed victim/survivors of all their options, and encouraged them to take the actions (or not take action) that would work best as a solution/resolution for them, using whatever resources, legal or no, were available to them. I would hope any victim advocacy does the same. I don’t think it’s fair for Hoffman to conflate victim advocacy with feminism, which I think she does. Yes the two intersect and overlap, but theory and practice are two very different things and for crime victims, they need to take actions that work for them from whatever they may be. Informing victims on their legal options does not preclude a feminist from wanting to abolish the current prison/legal system. But not letting a victim work within the system that is currently established as a feminist is just as bad as the cops or the DA not letting that victim do the same thing. It’s a slap in the face, and it is removing agency from the victim.

  131. Kristin
    Kristin April 7, 2008 at 11:26 am |

    JPlum, the fifteenth amendment did not unproblematically establish free and equal voting rights for African-American men fifty years before women got the vote. Haven’t you heard of Jim Crow laws and advocacy for voting rights reforms during the Civil Rights Movement?

    And, yes, as I’ve mentioned above, Stanton and others did take some steps in support of equal voting rights. But you have framed it as follows: “When the women suffragettes helped establish voting rights for POC, the mean, mean POC didn’t appreciate them at all. And those poor suffragettes got burned even though they tried to help everybody.” And that’s problematic. I apologize for going off on this a bit because it seems like a bit of a derail. But I am really tired of white progressives who love to point out all the great things white progressives have done for non-whites.

  132. Sally
    Sally April 7, 2008 at 11:31 am |

    Apologies in advance for being a pedant.

    I’m still reading through comments, but I was thinking about the history of the suffrage movement in the USA-from what I’ve read, white women were instrumental in the fight for universal suffrage, for people of colour, and for women. But the movement (the male part, anyway) threw the women under the bus, told them to wait their turn, that it was more important to get black men the vote, and that they’d work on getting women the vote once they had secured it for black men.

    That’s a really weird reading of that history.

    There was huge overlap between the women’s suffrage movement and the abolitionist movement. Most women’s suffrage activists started out in the abolition movement, and many of the most prominent abolitionists were ardent supporters of women’s suffrage.

    So in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, all the slaves had been freed. But abolitionists realized this was an incredibly fragile gain. You don’t have to be a slave, formally and legally, to be in de facto slavery. Everyone knew that former slave-owners were going to do everything in their power to reintroduce de facto slavery. And everyone in both the abolition movement and the women’s suffrage movement recognized that slavery was a system that visited particular brutalities on women. Rape was a pretty central part of the slave system: forced reproduction created new workers. Both abolitionists and women’s rights activists (and they were generally the same people) really focused on violence against enslaved women.

    So most people in the radical abolition movement thought that black people *and* women should have the vote. But the only thing that was being offered in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War was to extend the vote to black men. Women weren’t going to get the vote no matter what, because women’s suffrage just didn’t have enough support in the 1860s.

    A lot of women’s suffrage activists, also being abolitionists, believed that it was a good thing for black men to get the vote. It’s true that women weren’t going to be enfranchised, but that wasn’t the point. If black men had the vote, they would have some power to fight efforts to essentially re-enslave their community. Ultimately, that would help black women, as well as black men, since being re-enslaved would be just as awful for women as for men. And then everyone could continue to work for women’s suffrage. It is wrong to think that the people who supported this were “the male part” of the suffrage movement. Many female suffrage leaders, like Lucy Stone, agreed that it was worth working for the Constitutional amendment that gave black men the vote.

    Some women’s suffrage leaders, however, decided that it was terribly insulting to white women that black men were going to get the vote before them. And they freaked out. They didn’t just argue that women should have the vote, too. They turned on black men and used terribly racist language to argue that they didn’t deserve the vote. Their writing from that period is really tough to read. It’s explicitly, violently racist.

    In retrospect, I think that almost everyone thinks that the Lucy Stone argument makes sense. Denying black men the vote wasn’t going to help any women. And there were compelling reasons that the black community needed to be politically empowered, even if it was an imperfect step.

    If you want to read more about this, the classic book is Ellen Carol DuBois’s Feminism and Suffrage.

  133. Sylke
    Sylke April 7, 2008 at 12:05 pm |

    juju said: “What I hear you saying is that because you don’t experience gendered racism, for example, the issues that are particular to Hmong-American women are not feminist issues. It sounds like you and some of the other commenters are saying that the term “feminism” only applies to the issues that affect you personally; that you preserve the right to define the impact of patriarchy.”

    Not at all. The issues of Hmong and Hmong-American women are certainly feminist issues, because they’re women. (In fact, I think that the patriarchy is also bad for men and hurts them to, but I don’t want to open that can of worms.) However, because my privilege benefits me I know that I cannot know the experience of WOC, so I don’t feel like I can rightly speak on it like I know what it’s really like. I wouldn’t say to a black feminist “I identify with you,” because I don’t. I can’t possible truly understand what it’s like to be a black woman in this society, and for me to say “I suffer with you” is ridiculous, disrespectful, and insulting. But I am trying, and that’s why I find these loggerheads so frustrating.

    If I ever implied that feminism is only for white women, or that *my* feminism is only for white women, I want to state emphatically that I don’t think that. I’m stating that I can’t know the full impact of the patriarchy because of my whiteness – which puts me in the position to ask an uncomfortable question: Am I part of the solution, or part of the problem? Or both? And if I am part of the problem, how can I educate myself in a way so I can STOP being part of the problem? I guess I’m finding it difficult to toe the line between acknowledging and compensating for my (white) ignorance, being respectful of the differences of others, and being supportive.

    Do I believe that gendered racism doesn’t happen because it doesn’t happen to me? Absolutely not. I KNOW it happens, and the fact that I benefit from white privilege is frustrating because trying to see HOW is like trying to see air. I want to understand in a real way why the activist said “The road to hell is paved with (white) feminists.”

  134. juju
    juju April 7, 2008 at 1:17 pm |

    Am I part of the solution, or part of the problem? Or both? And if I am part of the problem, how can I educate myself in a way so I can STOP being part of the problem? I guess I’m finding it difficult to toe the line between acknowledging and compensating for my (white) ignorance, being respectful of the differences of others, and being supportive.

    What I am find frustrating about this sentiment, and some of the views expressed by some of the other commenters, is the fact that this is such an old and tired conflict. There is a cornucopia of material out there covering these issues. Over many decades (or over a century when you consider the work of women like Ida B. Wells), women have contributed books, theses, articles, lectures, interviews, blog posts, blog comments, etc.

    You just don’t have to be ignorant. But you will probably have to move beyond your comfort zone and do a bit of work. One commenter to this post suggested that white women read WOC bloggers, I think another commenter suggested Angela Davis’ Women, race and class, above, I suggested Davis’ Are Prisons Obsolete?. There are so many, many other resources out there. bell hooks is a personal favorite.

  135. Sylke
    Sylke April 7, 2008 at 1:30 pm |

    I definitely plan on reading Davis, and others. I think this is an old conflict, but not a tired one. I, for one, want to keep talking about it and figure out a way to go about fixing it.

    Anyone want to start an ad hoc reading group and read Davis with me so we can talk about it?

  136. JPlum
    JPlum April 7, 2008 at 1:37 pm |

    I was thinking more of the white male part of the abolitionist/suffrage movement tossing aside women’s desire for the vote, because it was a harder sell, not the mean black men. And the whole division between Stanton’s group and Stone’s over whether to include non-whites, and whose rights would be fought for first, and who could wait until later is a legacy that’s still being felt. I was just wondering if the history of the white women’s movement being told to wait their turn may be part of a reluctance to get involved with a broader group whose concerns might overshadow those of the white feminist movement-or at least, if there is a worry about that happening. I’m not saying the perceptions are valid, I’m just asking if anyone sees that as a subtext.

  137. sminbrooklyn
    sminbrooklyn April 7, 2008 at 1:45 pm |

    the suffrage example is a really interesting one here because it highlights the complexity of these issues and the challenges that we all face in confronting the status quo …. basically, the 14th amendment sucked for everyone involved, and the reason that it really sucked is because the hierarchy of identities that everyone has been railing against in this thread was put into action in a big way. before poc and women had the vote, they worked together. when the african american men had their cause adopted by the republican party, they took what was offered them, even though it not only excluded women but set them back. (it was the first time that a right was gendered in the constitution). should they have not taken it? philosophically, probably – saying “men of any skin color are more reasonable creatures than women of any skin color” isn’t exactly in line with the idea of freedom and equal representation and is pretty sexist. but could anyone have expected men of color to refuse voting rights en masse? i don’t think so. so, they signed on to a sexist program to achieve their rights. some women abolitionists/suffragettes saw this program as a step in the right direction and signed on in favor. some women abolitionists/suffragettes felt betrayed and saw this as evidence that they would be better off fighting for their own rights, the rights of poc be damned. they allied themselves with the racist democratic party and sought their voting rights on the grounds that the country would be better served by having educated (white) female voters than uneducated (black) male voters. they signed on to a racist program to achieve their rights. clearly, woc got a pretty raw deal – more so than anyone else. but it would be hard to argue that either black men or white women benefited from this arrangement, in the end.

    i think this scenario is a pretty compelling argument for radicalism – in accepting the terms outlined by the white, male political parties as the framework within which the debate had to take place, and in seeking, ultimately, validation from the existing patriarchal and racist institutions as an end goal, people of color and women were forced to see themselves as competing for rights, when in reality their stated original goals were the same: to live in a just society. if they had stood their ground together and remained a united movement, then maybe things would have been different and possibly better. as it happened, they ended up fighting one another for the affections of congress.

    however, i think it also pretty clearly shows the price of radicalism. it would have involved both groups deferring their own goals to who knows when. and call me a cynic, but i think that would have been pretty damn unlikely. can individuals act like that? sure. lucy stone is a great and inspiring example. can they garner followings? yeah. but can the leader of any movement really pass up the rewards of a group’s hard work for being imperfect, and keep the momentum of the movement going in the same way? that would require a mass repression of the survival instinct. maybe i am limited in my thinking, but i don’t see that happening.

    so, this is what gets me about all the anger that’s being directed at white feminists in this thread. it isn’t that it’s unjustified – i am sure it is justified. it just seems to me that it compounds the very hierarchy it expresses a desire to dismantle. instead of saying “these issues matter to all women” it says “goddamn you, white feminists, for not caring about the right issues”. the assumption is, really, that issues that matter to white feminists are getting more attention than they deserve, which brings us back to the idea of a hierarchy. it becomes a contest about whose suffering is worse and whose issues deserve the be at the center and whose deserve to be at the fringes. it is saying to white feminists that caring about their own issues makes them racist. and this fighting for the spotlight cheapens all of these issues and obscures the fact that all of these problems have the same source, and that is the existence of a hierarchy wherein some people and some issues matter more than others. as long as that is the case, then we are all going to suffer.

  138. Sylke
    Sylke April 7, 2008 at 2:00 pm |

    Sort of like how the energies of women were rallied to help out in WWII, and then after the war they were told to go back to their kitchens and embroidery?

    I think the subtext is there, but I don’t know if it’s valid or not.

  139. Liz
    Liz April 7, 2008 at 2:04 pm |

    Marie asks “The women’s history I have studied has shown that there the women’s movement was splintered based in color. I am just wondering what it will take to unite feminists? Abortion rights? What?”

    Here is a specific point I can address. The difference between fighting for abortion rights, and fighting for reproductive freedom/rights/liberties. Before I started reading lots of blogs and books by women of color, and seeking out perspectives other than 2nd wave white feminist books, I didn’t understand that difference, I never even thought about it, as a woman with a lot of white & class privilege. I learned how white middle/upper class feminists of the 2nd wave fought for abortion rights — while many women of color were dealing with forced sterilization and other reproductive rights issues. LIke, being able to choose to have a baby, and make a living wage, and have some social infrastructure to support that choice, for example. So, ….. I can answer one of Marie’s questions with a clear “No.” “Abortion rights” are not what will unite all feminists across lines of color/race/ethnicity. And it is very instructive to learn some of that specific history.

    That is leaving aside Marie’s larger question which seems to be not really a question, but a judgment that any differences, criticisms, or questioning of feminism by feminists should be quelled because it is “divisive” and the movement is not strong enough to bear it, or something…. Oh, come on now. I will answer that “question” with a big fat No as well. Criticism and discussion and learning are the only way we will actually BE a movement.

    I get mad at people like Marie and what they say but have to remember to keep in mind that we all have different sources of information and experience. And we just have to keep on talking — and acting — as best we can — with our good intentions and our ignorance. And just not be too flipped out when we find we are wrong, or ignorant, and say whoops, thank you, sorry, and move the fuck on from there without a giant fuss and drama.

  140. Liz
    Liz April 7, 2008 at 2:11 pm |

    Oh and one more thing here. Some if not most white middle class feminists are gonna just keep on fighting their own battles. They see what they see and they fight for their own rights.

    And some will look to unite and fight for all women’s rights and that means putting other people’s or groups’ issues above your own a lot of the time. And seeing it as all one.

    So, if you’re a white middle class feminist and you hear some women of color going “You’re not fighting for me… and your battle isn’t mine… and you’re not speaking for me either so don’t claim you are” then… why not just look to see if that has some truth in it? Why get all defensive and freaked about it and claim you ARE speaking for all women? When, they just explained how you’re NOT. *eyeroll*

  141. Sailorman
    Sailorman April 7, 2008 at 2:22 pm |

    Liz says:
    April 7th, 2008 at 2:11 pm – Edit
    And some will look to unite and fight for all women’s rights and that means putting other people’s or groups’ issues above your own a lot of the time. And seeing it as all one.

    That is accurate and well put.

  142. juju
    juju April 7, 2008 at 2:27 pm |

    I was just wondering if the history of the white women’s movement being told to wait their turn may be part of a reluctance to get involved with a broader group whose concerns might overshadow those of the white feminist movement-or at least, if there is a worry about that happening.

    But we’re talking about women (white) working to end the oppression of women (WOC, immigrants, etc.). This is not about white women getting on some “other”, “lefty” bandwagon. I simply don’t understand the confusion. This is about the “white feminist movement” working to become the “feminist movement”.

  143. Sally
    Sally April 7, 2008 at 2:35 pm |

    And the whole division between Stanton’s group and Stone’s over whether to include non-whites, and whose rights would be fought for first, and who could wait until later is a legacy that’s still being felt.

    I guess. But I would argue that it’s not being felt in the way you think it is. I don’t think that most feminist historians look at that episode as an instance of women being fed to the wolves. I think we look at it as an instance of elite feminists selfishly trying to block a much-needed and achievable reform that would help many less-privileged women. (And yes, I know, you’re not supposed to judge historical actors, but we all do.) Stanton and Anthony didn’t give a flying fuck that blocking the 15th Amendment would harm black women, as well as black men. It was all about them. If they weren’t going to get the vote, nobody should, and it didn’t matter who they hurt in the process. They weren’t going to get women’s suffrage right then no matter what, so that wasn’t the issue. The issue was whether it was ok to do terrible harm to black men and women in order to defend the principle that it was wrong to enfranchise men before women.

    This is all ancient history, except that it isn’t. It gets back to the issue about what counts as feminism. If ECS and SBA had succeeded in blocking the 15th Amendment, it would have hurt black women. It wouldn’t have hurt them as women, except in that the violence and exploitation that black women experienced was gendered, but it would have hurt them all the same. And therefore, it was an *anti-feminist* thing to do. Hurting women is anti-feminist, even if you don’t explicitly sit down and plot how to do specific harm to women.

    Sort of like how the energies of women were rallied to help out in WWII, and then after the war they were told to go back to their kitchens and embroidery?

    That seems like a different issue to me.

  144. Kristin
    Kristin April 7, 2008 at 3:19 pm |

    Juju is right. You don’t have to be ignorant. Nor do you have to demand that women of color educate you (which is rather presumptuous…and a non-starter when it comes to starting a conversation).

    Recommended reading from this conversation:

    Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity. Chandra Talpade Mohanty.

    States of Injury. Wendy Brown (critiques of liberalism)

    Visible Identities: Race, Gender, and the Self. Linda Martin Alcoff.

    Discipline and Punish and The Birth of the Modern Prison. Michel Foucault (not feminist work, but one of the first theoretical critiques of prison reform. Foucault was also a prison abolitionist.)

    Women, Race, and Class. Angela Davis.

    The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Paulo Freire.

    The Wretched of the Earth. Frantz Fanon (Fanon was problematic in terms of feminism, but is crucial to understand if you want to understand postcolonial critique.)

    Orientalism. Edward Said.

    Recommended feminist and/or postcolonial and/or critical race writers: Nawal el-Sadaawi, Fatima Mernissi, Leila Abu-Lughod, Maria Lugones, Winona La Duke, Marnia Lazreg, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Howard Winant and Michael Omi, Achola Pala, Gayatri Spivak, Arundati Roy.

    Maybe more later.

  145. White Privilege « Everyday Feminist

    [...] too much for words :D) and reading this piece by Jessica Hoffmann (which I found linked on Feministe) that I started to question white privilege. Hoffmann criticises white feminism and says that it [...]

  146. Sarah J
    Sarah J April 7, 2008 at 4:38 pm |

    not to mention that a lot of feminist theory did spring from Foucault’s work. so it is important, even if it’s not specifically ‘feminist.’

    Which, I think, is the theme of this whole discussion. and I think was summed up well here:

    Hurting women is anti-feminist, even if you don’t explicitly sit down and plot how to do specific harm to women.

  147. Kristin
    Kristin April 7, 2008 at 4:55 pm |

    A good book that will give you a basic primer on the relationship between critical race theory, postcolonialism and race is a volume edited by Kum-Kum Bhavnani called Feminism and ‘Race': Oxford Readings in Feminism. Oxford UP, 2001.

  148. Kristin
    Kristin April 7, 2008 at 5:03 pm |

    Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures. Jacqui Alexander and Chandra Talpade Mohanty. Routledge, 1996.

  149. shah8
    shah8 April 7, 2008 at 5:16 pm |

    Man, some parts of this thread was pretty damn disgusting, with JPlum providing the nadir.

    Guys, it’s pretty simple, although a couple of people recently mentioned it upthread, let me rephrase it.

    Feminism is a means, not an end. Empowered women are a means, not an end. Intersectionality is the bulk of the flavor, distinct feminist issue is only a small part of the flavor or aroma.

    A just world is desired. Feminism practiced as a goal merely means that the person wishes to redistribute the spoils system, i.e. broaden the ideal of an elite, and not pursue a overall non-status dependent world.

  150. JPlum
    JPlum April 7, 2008 at 5:32 pm |

    Wondering about the reasons behind the difficulty coming together is a disgusting nadir? Since when?

  151. Kristin
    Kristin April 7, 2008 at 5:40 pm |

    Wondering about the reasons behind the difficulty coming together is a disgusting nadir? Since when?

    Nah, but willfully defending a version of history that sounds like it came from Klan propaganda literature does.

  152. Kristin
    Kristin April 7, 2008 at 5:40 pm |

    does qualify as a disgusting nadir, I meant to say…

  153. Kristin
    Kristin April 7, 2008 at 5:43 pm |

    Man, some parts of this thread was pretty damn disgusting, with JPlum providing the nadir.

    I think the lowest point is up for debate. I kinda think Meowser toward the beginning qualifies too, but that person seems to have trolled and then abandoned the discussion.

  154. Meowser
    Meowser April 7, 2008 at 5:48 pm |

    It is this rather lazy, self- centered writing that brings out reactions like Meowser’s. The self- critique is a convention of radical writing, but unless it’s done right, it will rarely draw an audience other than other radicals.

    Thank you, KW. I have been a feminist since the early 70s, and all my life it’s frustrated me no end that we can’t get more women, even if they believe in basic principles of equality, to identify themselves as feminists. Do we actually want more feminists, or are we really prepared to say, “You’re not really a feminist if you’ve ever called the cops,” or, “You’re not really a feminist unless you believe 100% in prison abolition and attend their rallies”? (I’m also troubled by the idea that “law enforcement” is 100% white and male. Doesn’t anyone know any black female cops? I do.)

    I have no problem exploring those issues and making reforms. I have no problem educating myself on things I don’t have direct experience in over the course of my lifetime. But this is the kind of infighting that makes even someone like me who’s been flinging around the F-word for a good 35 years — going back to when doing so marked you as a total freak — say, “Well, maybe I’m not good enough to be a feminist, then.” If even I’m thinking it, I can’t imagine what a young woman who’s “on the fence” about calling herself a feminist would think reading an article like Hoffman’s.

  155. violet
    violet April 7, 2008 at 5:48 pm |

    Empowered women are a means, not an end.

    I see your general point, but people are not means. The empowerment of women—all women—is a just end.

  156. JPlum
    JPlum April 7, 2008 at 5:58 pm |

    Why the need to insult, Kristin? Why not just say ‘I think you’re wrong, and this is why’? How is blaming the white male elite of the anti-slavery/pro-suffrage movement for abandoning women a piece of Klan propaganda? You interpreted what I said as blaming blacks for something when I intended to blame the white male elite-when I realized that I hadn’t expressed myself well, I explained who it was I was talking about.

  157. Kristin
    Kristin April 7, 2008 at 6:00 pm |

    are we really prepared to say, “You’re not really a feminist if you’ve ever called the cops,” or, “You’re not really a feminist unless you believe 100% in prison abolition and attend their rallies”?

    Well, speak of the devil, Meowser… I’ve already explained to you that you’re misinterpreting the argument. Go back and read what she says.

    But this is the kind of infighting that makes even someone like me who’s been flinging around the F-word for a good 35 years — going back to when doing so marked you as a total freak — say, “Well, maybe I’m not good enough to be a feminist, then.” If even I’m thinking it, I can’t imagine what a young woman who’s “on the fence” about calling herself a feminist would think reading an article like Hoffman’s.

    Frankly, my goal is not to get more feminist recruits or people who self-identify as feminists. My goal is to work to end all forms of oppression alongside people who do and people who do not self-identify as feminists. I didn’t realize we were a recruiting club…

    Even though I have a problem with your Feminism as a Recruiting Project perspective, let’s just go with it for a moment. You’re talking about white, middle class women–these are the ones you think may feel alienated from feminism as a result of these sorts of conversations. Why such sincere concern for the white women who you worry might be alienated from feminism–and not for the sex workers, non-white women, trans-women, and all “othered” women are are saying they are being ignored by white feminism???

    Check out some of the many resources that I and others have mentioned above. You have a lot of reading to do.

  158. Kristin
    Kristin April 7, 2008 at 6:03 pm |

    JPlum, here is what you said:

    I’m still reading through comments, but I was thinking about the history of the suffrage movement in the USA-from what I’ve read, white women were instrumental in the fight for universal suffrage, for people of colour, and for women. But the movement (the male part, anyway) threw the women under the bus, told them to wait their turn, that it was more important to get black men the vote, and that they’d work on getting women the vote once they had secured it for black men. So, black men got the vote, and the men abandoned to movement for universal suffrage. Yes, I’m simplifying, and making some generalizations.

    Jesus… Haven’t we already established that your historical perspective was shit, and can’t we just move on?

  159. Kristin
    Kristin April 7, 2008 at 6:22 pm |

    JPlum, the other major problem with your reading of history was, as others have stated, that you attributed such good will, such beneficence toward African-Americans on the part of the suffragettes. Why did I react so strongly? Because I have never heard anything approaching that reading of history. Because you tried to defend and downplay the racism of these women. Because, in effect, you asked us to pause for a moment and feel grateful for everything they did for Blacks. And because you are now confused about why you may have offended some people. An apology for your ignorance was really the only thing in order here, but you continue to defend yourself.

  160. Kristin
    Kristin April 7, 2008 at 6:25 pm |

    Oh, and, JPlum… Because you equate your woefully misinformed comments with “wondering about the reasons behind the difficulty coming together.”

  161. Kai
    Kai April 7, 2008 at 6:54 pm |

    It’s a terrific essay, Jill, thanks for linking it.

    Kristin, your words throughout this thread have been right on target, and patient as hell, if ya ask me, which you didn’t. But just sayin.

    The whole emphasis on white middle-class parlor manners and appearances and recruitment tactics (i.e. “watch your tone! don’t get angry about racism! don’t make me look or feel bad! speak and write and argue my way!”), over the moral compulsion to fearlessly gaze at the actual shape of this bleeding world and humbly listen to those whose actual lives and experienes and wisdom are needed to inform broad social change, sums up so much of what’s wrong with white liberalism. This thread itself contains many of the reasons why James Baldwin called white liberals an “affliction” to social change and why the lawyer in the article made the “road to hell” quip.

  162. Kristin
    Kristin April 7, 2008 at 7:43 pm |

    Kristin, your words throughout this thread have been right on target, and patient as hell, if ya ask me, which you didn’t. But just sayin.

    The whole emphasis on white middle-class parlor manners and appearances and recruitment tactics (i.e. “watch your tone! don’t get angry about racism! don’t make me look or feel bad! speak and write and argue my way!”), over the moral compulsion to fearlessly gaze at the actual shape of this bleeding world and humbly listen to those whose actual lives and experienes and wisdom are needed to inform broad social change, sums up so much of what’s wrong with white liberalism.

    Thanks, Kai. I think that a lot of the emphasis on manners has to do with a sense of entitlement when it comes to avoiding discomfort. These sorts of discussions make a lot of white people uncomfortable, and a lot of us are not used to being challenged in such fundamental ways. So, instead of owning that, the response is often, “You’re being mean.” I hate that too. It shuts down the discussion before it even gets started, which makes the recurring “But I want a conversation, I want to understand” comment all the more frustrating.

    By the way, everyone should go and read the link Kai posted about this. It’s spot on.

    Anyway, when it comes to white middle class parlor manners… I’m with you. Fuck ‘em.

  163. Silke
    Silke April 7, 2008 at 8:10 pm |

    Kai, that link really explains a lot. Thanks for posting it.

  164. Kristin
    Kristin April 7, 2008 at 8:17 pm |

    And to all of you who are getting paralyzed with White Guilt: You have no viable excuses for being paralyzed. No more of this, “Aw shucks, I can’t do anything about racism, everything I say makes people mad” bullshit.

    Go out and read this book too: Memoir of a Race Traitor by Mab Segrest. South End Press, 1994. A white woman anti-hate group organizer who spent many years fighting against the Klan and Neo-Nazism in North Carolina.

  165. JPlum
    JPlum April 7, 2008 at 9:12 pm |

    I’m sorry you interpreted my comment as me asking for a pause to thank the nice white ladies-that was completely not my point. I was pointing out that I’m sure they expected a tit for tat situation-we’ll help with the struggle for black men’s suffrage, and you help with ours. And both those fights had a lot of white folks involved, since who but the privileged white class had time for that kind of thing? I was never attributing angelic good will to anyone. I’m just saying that, among the old school white feminists, there may be an attitude of “we got screwed over the last time we got into this, so this time we’re taking our toys and going home.” That’s totally different that me saying that it was a good idea, or endorsing it. Nuance, people. ‘What if’ and ‘Maybe’ are different from ‘I dogmatically believe that this interpretation is the only correct one’

  166. The Lost Dog
    The Lost Dog April 7, 2008 at 11:06 pm |

    “The legal system is racist because the people within it are racists, not because that’s an inherent feature thereof.

    One of the things that really blew me away when I saw a documentary of Johnny Cash’s performance at San Quentin in the 60s was how many white prisoners there were, compared to what you see in prisons today.>

    Zu Zu

    That’s because the far left hadn’t convinced minotities of their “victim” status yet, and most people (majority or minority), still KNEW the difference between right and wrong, the truth and lying. Have you ever read anything written before the “Feminist revolution”?

    There will ALWAYS be jerks, but that doesn’t mean, as an individual, you have to buy in with them.

    I am a jerkist, and it makes no difference what color, gender or whatever “ism” you are, if you are a jerk, you are a jerk.

    Fortunately, I graduated high school before the loonies took over. There are too many people that think “self esteem” is arrived at by listening to children in adult bodies who say: “You deserve it. Even if you lie (mostly to yourself), cheat, and steal, and screw people over for your own benefit? No problem! You can Still love yourself.”

    Uh-uh. NO YOU CAN’T! Because, no matter if you fool everyone else, you can’t fool yourself. And this baloney eats your very soul.

    You (not specific “you” – general “you”) don’t deserve self esttem, and, in passing, are DENIED self esteem, by pretending that you can love yourself without any effort to be truthful, caring, and always doing what you KNOW is right.

    All this “victim” patootie is for lazy people who want to blame someone else for their own problems, and think that the world owes them a living. Are the feminists telling me that they can’t “make it” because of some fantasy of people keeping them down? Too bad you didn’t know my mother. There was nothing whiny about her, but she was smart, accomplished and would crush people like you like a bug.

    Yeah. Yeah. I’m a Fascist. How could anyone who is not a Fascist suggest that happiness is your own responsibility? IT’S THE GOVERNMENT’S JOB TO KEEP ME HAPPY! Sorry, but the government is the cause of most of your misery, because they tell you “Always look to blame someone else for your problems.” Nope. Your problems are YOUR problems, and YOU are the one who has to deal with it. Quit blaming me and saying that if only THEY gave more money, everything would be heavenly. Ridiculous. This national sickness (which actually started in the early 50’s), is EXACTLY why we are losing our TRUE freedoms at an alarming rate.

    The strutting rooster act of the left really makes me laugh. The Patriot act? “Oh, that F’ing Bush wiretapping people with no warrants”. Ha ha ha. Which case of personal invasion are you looking at to prove your point? THER AREN’T ANY, except from CAIR, a front group for Jihadists. You should Google “data mining” sometime, because THAT is exactly what the government does with the unidentified phone numbers they use. Do you realize it would take more people than there are in China and India combined to listen to every phone call.

    It takes an eighth grade mantallity to honestly belive that the government is randomly tapping phones. I find it hilarious that ANYONE could believe that, because it would be totally ineffective for finding terrorists.

    The left’s ignorance of FACTS is stunning.

    Did you happen to hear that idiot, Harry Reid, arguing for fifteen minutes that taxes in the US are VOLUNTARY? This is the kind of moron that you want to run the country? Taxes are voluntary? Just try not paying them for a couple of years…

    Yup. “Everybody hates me, nobody loves me, I think I’ll go eat worms”. That is the left’s message of change.

    Will this post get dumped? I wouldn’t be surprised. Not one bit…

    Tahat’s why I’m copying it and posting it at PW. So we can se the true color of the left’s screams about free speech…

  167. Kristin
    Kristin April 8, 2008 at 9:37 am |

    That’s totally different that me saying that it was a good idea, or endorsing it. Nuance, people. ‘What if’ and ‘Maybe’ are different from ‘I dogmatically believe that this interpretation is the only correct one’

    Don’t lecture me about nuance.

    Nobody said you “dogmatically” believed anything. What was offensive was that you thought it was a viable interpretation at all. And continued to defend yourself even after multiple people explained to you that you were wrong.

  168. Vail
    Vail April 8, 2008 at 9:56 am |

    I’m kinda confused at who you all are pissed at in these comments. Is is only JPlum and Meowser or are you talking about me?

  169. juju
    juju April 8, 2008 at 10:38 am |

    I’m kinda confused at who you all are pissed at in these comments. Is is only JPlum and Meowser or are you talking about me?

    For real?!? Is that a joke, like funny ha ha? …. or are you really that self involved? Are you interested in understanding the points of the dialogue or is this really all about making sure nobody is mad at you?

  170. lamb
    lamb April 8, 2008 at 10:58 am |

    Yeah…. I suppose my middle class cracker-ness is showing…I couldn’t get through the first page. I am gonna blame it on the last three months of Epistemology class. I expect a certain level of coherence and contiguity now in things I read. Time is of the essence and I don’t have time for any level of racist verbosity.

  171. Anatolia
    Anatolia April 8, 2008 at 12:00 pm |

    Even though I have a problem with your Feminism as a Recruiting Project perspective, let’s just go with it for a moment. You’re talking about white, middle class women–these are the ones you think may feel alienated from feminism as a result of these sorts of conversations. Why such sincere concern for the white women who you worry might be alienated from feminism–and not for the sex workers, non-white women, trans-women, and all “othered” women are are saying they are being ignored by white feminism???

    You’re fighting strawmen. Stop it, it’s a lame debating tactic and does nothing to advance the discussion. Also, your prejudice is showing.

  172. Vail
    Vail April 8, 2008 at 1:23 pm |

    For real?!? Is that a joke, like funny ha ha? …. or are you really that self involved? Are you interested in understanding the points of the dialogue or is this really all about making sure nobody is mad at you?

    I’m very interested in understanding the discussion. I’m sorry if I offended you. I just wanted to know if my statements were considered to be white privilege or not. I’m raising a child who’s Asian, and if what I’m saying is hurtful to WOC then I need to know. I’m sorry if I came off as self centered. I have ordered the books suggested in this thread as I admit I’m more familiar with the plight of women in Asian countries.

  173. Anatolia
    Anatolia April 8, 2008 at 3:01 pm |

    The whole emphasis on white middle-class parlor manners and appearances and recruitment tactics

    Manners aren’t the domain of white middle-class people, no matter what Bill O’Reilly might think. What were you trying to say?

  174. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers April 8, 2008 at 3:17 pm |

    My problem is that the moment someone tells me that the fact that I can call the cops when I’m in trouble is a privilege, meaning I should feel kinda ashamed that I exercise it, and not a right which is unfairly denied to others, I can’t take anything they say seriously.

    I mean, yes, it is a function of privilege, in the sense we mean when we say “white privilege” or “male privilege”, that we don’t have to question whether or not we will be granted our rights. But that does not make them NOT RIGHTS. It should be a basic right of all citizens that when you call the cops because you’re in trouble, they come and they treat you with respect and they help you with your complaint. The truth is that shit ain’t like that, I understand that. But to phrase it as if the problem is with the white women who unthinkingly exercise their privilege to personal safety, rather than the problem being with the endemic racism within the justice system structure that denies women of color the right to call the cops when their safety is threatened, is ridiculous.

    It is a right, in a civilized society, to have a body you can call on for help when you are victimized by crime. Many people are denied this right on the basis of racism. That’s terrible. If you are not denied this right on the basis of racism, you have an obligation to try to use your privilege to work toward granting others that right. But that doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to exercise the right yourself without feeling bad! That’s like saying you have to starve until everyone in the world can eat! Food is a right, and so is being treated decently by the cops your tax money pays for.

    One can argue that the justice system is too broken and can’t be reformed from the inside, and an entirely new system needs to be established (although, if you’re talking to people who you are assuming haven’t thought about these issues, explaining what this other system might look like would be helpful if you want to be persuasive.) But you really can’t argue that exercising the right to stay safe is a privilege. No. It’s a RIGHT. Other people are denied that right and you should fight to give it to them, but that doesn’t make it not a right.

  175. juju
    juju April 8, 2008 at 4:15 pm |

    I’m very interested in understanding the discussion. I’m sorry if I offended you. I just wanted to know if my statements were considered to be white privilege or not. I’m raising a child who’s Asian, and if what I’m saying is hurtful to WOC then I need to know. I’m sorry if I came off as self centered. I have ordered the books suggested in this thread as I admit I’m more familiar with the plight of women in Asian countries.

    I’m sorry if that came off a bit strong. I am so very frustrated with continually having to have these discussions. I said that I would give up talking to white women about these issues when I graduated from college, and here I am, years later, posting to this thread. I always seem to just end up angry, and the white women with whom I speak seem to have such a limited commitment to understanding where I and other WOC are coming from, it doesn’t really seem worth it. I mean there are just so many resources out there, if white women who say they are interested in feminism wanted to “get it”, it seems to me they would. When I look at the comments in this thread, I read so many people getting defensive and simply dismissing what Hoffman has to say. This makes me wonder how many white feminists really care about being inclusive, about the liberation of women, all women, and not just the few who are white, middle class, urban, educated, and living in the west.

  176. juju
    juju April 8, 2008 at 4:18 pm |

    The whole emphasis on white middle-class parlor manners and appearances and recruitment tactics

    Manners aren’t the domain of white middle-class people, no matter what Bill O’Reilly might think. What were you trying to say?

    Did you follow the link that was posted?, because I think that link makes it pretty clear what she was trying to say.

  177. Anatolia
    Anatolia April 8, 2008 at 4:59 pm |

    Did you follow the link that was posted?, because I think that link makes it pretty clear what she was trying to say.

    Yes, I followed and read it. One can make a point about favoring style over substance, but the use of the identifying adjectives in the discussion belies some very ugly prejudice.

  178. exholt
    exholt April 8, 2008 at 5:37 pm |

    My problem is that the moment someone tells me that the fact that I can call the cops when I’m in trouble is a privilege, meaning I should feel kinda ashamed that I exercise it, and not a right which is unfairly denied to others, I can’t take anything they say seriously.

    Though this discussion is illuminating, I am a bit disquieted at the fact that criticism of this part of Hoffman’s essay is being largely ignored in these large numbers of comments.

    To some extent, her citing the desire for personal safety as an “entitlement” is reminiscent of how experiences of urban working/middle-class crime victims were often minimized, ignored, and even sometimes condemned by many clueless overentitled suburban upper/upper-middle class “liberal” White/Asian-American classmates at my ostensibly radical progressive-left liberal arts college in poli-sci and American history class discussions.

  179. Kai
    Kai April 8, 2008 at 6:26 pm |

    exholt, actually I think the more fascinating phenomenon here is that many of you are imagining Hoffman saying something which she did not actually say. She used the anecdote about calling to cops in a community of color to illustrate her point that benign and well-intentioned actions can have unintended and negative consequences which may fall outside a privileged actor’s realm of experience or perception. Personally I think it’s a rather banal anecdote, but I don’t think it’s a particularly controversial idea, nor is it Hoffman’s central thesis. I find it amazing yet consistent that so many commenters here are so defensive about their privilege that such a minor anecdote can be taken to mean “Only privileged racists call the cops so don’t call the cops!!” Huh? That’s a notion that I honestly have not heard expressed among any activist groups I’ve worked with on this issue. To use this fake objection to dismiss an entire anti-racist campaign is, as I said, amazing yet consistent.

  180. On Acceptable and Unacceptable Victims | Comments from Left Field

    [...] Make sure to also check out the AlterNet article that provoked Christina’s musings, along with the related discussion at Feministe. [...]

  181. Kristin
    Kristin April 8, 2008 at 7:00 pm |

    You’re fighting strawmen. Stop it, it’s a lame debating tactic and does nothing to advance the discussion. Also, your prejudice is showing.

    Oh, dear… I’ve been told my prejudice is showing. And that my debating tactics are “lame.” Let me go into a corner and cry now.

    Which prejudice exactly are you speaking of? And then you mention “ugly prejudice” again in #179. You might want to be more specific about what you mean because, frankly, you sound like you’re saying, “Ooooh, you noticed racism, that means you’re the racist.” A point I’ve seen beaten to death on this blog.

    Otherwise, I’m quite curious to know what you mean by my “prejudice.” I’m against racism. I’m against white privilege. And class privilege. I’m against any privilege that depends on the exclusion and inequality of other people. And, yes, I’m white too. I’m saying there is no excuse for not “getting it” and no excuse for ignoring and dismissing the critiques leveled by women of color. And I believe that–no matter how sheltered your upbringing. Did you want to take me to task for me “ugly prejudice” against whites? Because that… That’s a strawman argument. And I think you just told me it was a “lame debating tactic.”

  182. Kristin
    Kristin April 8, 2008 at 7:02 pm |

    I mean there are just so many resources out there, if white women who say they are interested in feminism wanted to “get it”, it seems to me they would.

    I agree with you there. And, frankly, I think you’ve been beyond patient on this thread.

  183. the15th
    the15th April 8, 2008 at 7:13 pm |

    Thank you, Alara Rogers and exholt. We constantly condemn the various ways in which rape and abuse victims are second-guessed — why didn’t she report it right away? why did she go to that guy’s apartment in the first place? why didn’t she just leave? I don’t see how “why didn’t she realize that calling the police is an exercise of white privilege?” is any better. And actually, the essay goes much further than that. Getting a job without facing discrimination because of your race is an example of white privilege, but few people would argue that there is anything problematic about an individual white person applying for and accepting a job. Hoffmann is, however, arguing that there is something problematic about a woman reporting violence to the police. I’m disappointed that the reaction to this piece has been largely uncritical.

  184. Anatolia
    Anatolia April 8, 2008 at 7:20 pm |

    I’ve been told my prejudice is showing. And that my debating tactics are “lame.” Let me go into a corner and cry now.

    First, you make up things and then attribute them to other people. That’s lame and dishonest debate. Own your own shit instead of projecting it onto other people.

    As for your particular prejudice:

    Why such sincere concern for the white women who you worry might be alienated from feminism–and not for the sex workers, non-white women, trans-women, and all “othered” women are are saying they are being ignored by white feminism???

    Speaks for itself. You attribute insincerety and/or outright fabricate a “lack of concern.” Is that because you assume this applies to whiteness or female or feminist or all of the above?

  185. Kristin
    Kristin April 8, 2008 at 8:00 pm |

    Speaks for itself. You attribute insincerety and/or outright fabricate a “lack of concern.” Is that because you assume this applies to whiteness or female or feminist or all of the above?

    Hmm… I attributed it to Meowser, the person I was responding to. I’m curious whether or not you read this entire thread, or just that one part. I was responding to Meowser’s overall performance here on this thread. And I didn’t fabricate anything. When anyone says, “I’m getting tired of women of color who try to make me feel bad for being a white feminist,” then, yes, I do read such dismissal of substantive concerns as a “lack of concern.” That’s exactly what it is. Nah, I didn’t think Meowser said anything insincere; I’m pretty sure Meowser really believed the tripe she was peddling.

    Okay, let me own my own shit: I’m tired of having these sorts of idiotic conversations with white women who demonstrate a serious sense of entitlement and a lack of interest in the sorts of critiques made by those who feel left out. I am not attributing that to everyone here, but certainly to a vocal and very present contingent. I am tired of people who conflate the critiques made by people of color, trans-women, and sex workers with, “She’s trying to make me feel bad for being a feminist.” I am tired of the tired line, “Ooh, you noticed racism, that must mean you’re the racist.” I’m tired of the surprise, outrage, and defensiveness that often meets these sorts of critiques. I am tired of people who are unwilling to deal with and own their discomfort with this sort of thing and who then distort the arguments made (In this case, “Jessica Hoffman is trying to make us feel bad for calling the police.” This is not at all what she said, but even if it were… God forbid anyone feel bad! Meowser was a prime distort-er of Hoffman’s piece, so you may want to read what she said way upthread.).

    Oooh, this is fun, let me own my own shit some more: I am angry, and I am tired of people who feel entitled to their own ignorance. I am tired of people who bring half-assed third-grade histories of things like The Relationship Between Women’s Suffrage and People of Color to serious conversations and who continue to defend their right to ignorance and stupidity despite the obvious annoyance and disgust of others (JPlum was the main culprit here. Otherwise, though, I’m speaking about lots of folks.). I’m tired of the people, however well-meaning, who say, “Don’t get mad at me. I really do want to understand” (since, as Juju has mentioned, there is a plethora of information out there, and anyone who wanted to “get it” could do so easily. It strikes me as a lazy conflict-aversive cop-out.).

    So, there’s my shit. Laid out bare. Hope that helps. :)

  186. Kristin
    Kristin April 8, 2008 at 8:08 pm |

    Though this discussion is illuminating, I am a bit disquieted at the fact that criticism of this part of Hoffman’s essay is being largely ignored in these large numbers of comments.

    Exholt: I think this is a reasonable point. The reason that I have not really raised it here is that the reactionary comments–the ones that seem to suggest that Jessica Hoffman is out of line for critiquing white liberal feminism at all–have not really provided a lot of space for a thoughtful, nuanced response to the strengths and weaknesses of Hoffman’s article. I’ve been too busy defending the notion that we should be against white privilege to get into the details.

    The safety issue is a difficult one, and I do not believe that Hoffman is saying that people should feel bad for calling the police. I think she’s asking us to look at the institutional racism and prejudice which make it “safe” for someone like me to call the police and potentially “unsafe” for a person of color to call the police. This has been explained multiple times here.

    And I also think she’s asking us to have some vision beyond the liberal paradigm, and that requires that we do some difficult and work to deconstruct the status quo.

    But, yes, I think you have a valid point. And minus all the white entitlement and resentment that showed up here, I think it would’ve made for an important and useful conversation.

  187. Kristin
    Kristin April 8, 2008 at 8:09 pm |

    Hah, I forgot to close my italics, exholt. Didn’t meant to do that.

  188. Kristin
    Kristin April 8, 2008 at 9:09 pm |

    exholt, actually I think the more fascinating phenomenon here is that many of you are imagining Hoffman saying something which she did not actually say. She used the anecdote about calling to cops in a community of color to illustrate her point that benign and well-intentioned actions can have unintended and negative consequences which may fall outside a privileged actor’s realm of experience or perception. Personally I think it’s a rather banal anecdote, but I don’t think it’s a particularly controversial idea, nor is it Hoffman’s central thesis. I find it amazing yet consistent that so many commenters here are so defensive about their privilege that such a minor anecdote can be taken to mean “Only privileged racists call the cops so don’t call the cops!!”

    I’ve been frustrated by the same point. I’ve tried to explain, you’ve tried to explain it… Several have tried to explain it here, but the reactionary response to the safety issue persists.

    Some have said that they think “entitlement to safety” is a right that all should have. I can understand this response (Although, again, I don’t think those who press this point have understood the main argument of the essay.). I’m curious, though… For those who are concerned about this right to safety: Are you concerned that this become a broadly inclusive right, or are you just defending your right to your own privilege? In what ways are you working to transform the system in order to universalize the right to safety? What are you doing to fight against racial profiling? What are you doing to stop cops from targeting and assaulting sex workers? What are you doing to make the “right to safety” at the hands of the state a reality for women of color? Are you actually involved in the fight to make the entitlement to safety an inclusive right? Or are you comfortable with letting it remain the domain of white women?

    If you want to defend safety as a right, I think you should be thinking about how “working within the system” to establish that right is going to work. And I think these sorts of concerns should be at the forefront of your work to expand an entitlement to safety. And I think you should be very attentive to and interested in women of color who point out that the system has not historically protected their safety, and that it does not do so today.

    And, as Kai has pointed out… The “Oh my god, only white racists can call the police!” reading of Hoffman’s article just isn’t an accurate reading. So, could we possibly dispense with that? It’s not what she says. It’s not even close. And if one more person is forced to explain that on here, I think I am going to throw something.

  189. donna darko
    donna darko April 8, 2008 at 9:38 pm |

    But consistency would also require that we then ask anti-racist groups and immigration advocacy groups to support feminist events and rallies. Angela Davis’ “Women, Race, & Class” and other works make clear that anti-racism movements have not always been bastions of support for women of color. I don’t see prison abolition groups at women’s events.

    Of course, two wrongs don’t make a right. But let’s be consistent. If the goal is that true intersectionality exist, then that should go both ways. And if someone like Hoffman gets up on a born-again pedestal to scold, she should acknowledge this context as a factor. Despite statements above that all lefty movements face similar rudderlessness and vulnerability, women are unique in that we have so many other affiliations besides gender. And women tend for a number of reasons to try to multitask. While feminism’s inclusiveness is far, far from ideal, it is much more advanced than that of many other movements whose members include women.

    And your point is taken about reform and radicalism. I see a place for both. I am a reform-minded person and see a place for an analysis of where fundamental change is needed.

    I agree with these statements but a lot of white people feeling good about PC aren’t seeing this.

  190. donna darko
    donna darko April 8, 2008 at 9:40 pm |

    If white feminism is radical nonwhite movements should be radical/feminist/GLBT-friendly too.

  191. exholt
    exholt April 8, 2008 at 9:47 pm |

    But, yes, I think you have a valid point. And minus all the white entitlement and resentment that showed up here, I think it would’ve made for an important and useful conversation.

    The ironic part is that I had no problems with the rest of the essay. Her citing safety as an entitlement as she does here:

    a sense of entitlement to safety (especially within existing social structures),

    really troubled and angered me as someone who along with many people in my working-class urban neighborhood were subjected to multiple incidents of violent crime in public or even in their own homes as I was at gunpoint as an adolescent during the early ’90s. What happened with Minghui Yu’s mugging and death was hard to take as the way he was attacked was almost exactly like the way I was attacked on the subway and buses multiple times during my daily commutes to/from junior high during the late ’80’s…except they involved more rowdy youths and occurred during the day/afternoon.

  192. Kristin
    Kristin April 8, 2008 at 9:50 pm |

    If white feminism is radical nonwhite movements should be radical/feminist/GLBT-friendly too.

    Lovely how you categorically dismiss Them as if They universally are not any of these things. So, this here… This is another thing I’m tired of: “If you want feminism to be concerned with nonwhites, then all you nonwhites better be concerned about feminism too!”

    We are talking about inequalities within feminism. We are talking about the fact that some white liberal feminists have shown a remarkable propensity for defining the issues that count as “feminist issues” based on the issues most directly related to their lives–in ways that sometimes hurt non-white women. I have mentioned several times that many white feminists have been decidedly indifferent to the concerns of trans-women (And I really think one must be inclusive of trans-women if one gets to count as GLBT-friendly–something many white feminists have not done. Or the HRC, for that matter.).

    The point you have made is a non-starter. It dismisses and trivializes the importance of undermining white privilege. It has nothing to do with the conversation at hand.

  193. donna darko
    donna darko April 8, 2008 at 11:32 pm |

    I’m non white and they aren’t. Male and female led nonwhite movements are not feminist or GLBT-friendly.

    We get that feminism is racist and classist. Everyone gets that feminism is racist is classist.

  194. donna darko
    donna darko April 8, 2008 at 11:33 pm |

    This is not to say WOC lead groups and movements don’t try to work with white feminist groups. They do and it’s mostly been a waste of time because of the racist and classism inherent in white feminism.

  195. Kristin
    Kristin April 9, 2008 at 12:12 am |

    Male and female led nonwhite movements are not feminist or GLBT-friendly.

    I think it is a HUGE problem to speak as if this is universally true. Of all non-white movements. As if all non-white movements are a big monolith of anti-feminism and homophobia. Most of the critiques advanced in this thread were originally articulated by feminist women of color and postcolonial feminists. And some LGBT women of color (bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Maria Lugones? The list goes on.).

  196. Kristin
    Kristin April 9, 2008 at 12:19 am |

    We get that feminism is racist and classist. Everyone gets that feminism is racist is classist.

    Honestly, a casual perusal of this thread suggests that a number of people still don’t get it.

    And I want to be clear that I have not been saying–and I do not believe–that feminism is universally classist and racist. I believe that there are a powerful and virulent strands of classism and racism in some forms of feminism. Much of this emanates, I think, from white middle class liberal feminism (and often from second wave feminists who have never been willing to listen to the critics). I believe there are a plurality of feminisms (And I’m damn sure that mine doesn’t look like that of the liberal apologists on this thread.).

    I do think this thread suggests that some of these beliefs and attitudes run very deep. The entitlement and defensiveness that I have seen on this thread has been both disheartening and frustrating.

  197. Kristin
    Kristin April 9, 2008 at 12:21 am |

    DD: To be clear, I mean the entitlement and defensiveness expressed throughout the thread by a number of people defending the shortcomings of dominant forms of feminism–and of liberalism. I didn’t see you this way.

  198. donna darko
    donna darko April 9, 2008 at 12:25 am |

    Generally and historically speaking, majority male lead nonwhite groups have not been feminist or GLBT friendly.

  199. donna darko
    donna darko April 9, 2008 at 12:26 am |

    Anyway, I’m glad we agree on most points.

  200. MizDarwin
    MizDarwin April 9, 2008 at 3:07 am |

    Kristin–it is possible to disagree with radical critiques and support liberalism without being entitled and defensive. It is possible to support liberalism on the basis of evidence and analysis. You may not agree with that analysis, but the radical leap to the ad hominem attack is alienating on the emotional level and unfalsifiable on the logical level. (“You say that because you’re entitled and if you deny it that proves how entitled you are.”)

    And this:

    Are you actually involved in the fight to make the entitlement to safety an inclusive right? Or are you comfortable with letting it remain the domain of white women?

    Isn’t a binary. The answers can be no, and no. Time is finite. Most of us have to support ourselves and possibly a family, we have multiple obligations in our personal and professional lives, and there are too many important causes to give time, energy, or money to all of them.

  201. juju
    juju April 9, 2008 at 7:19 am |

    Exholt: I think this is a reasonable point. The reason that I have not really raised it here is that the reactionary comments–the ones that seem to suggest that Jessica Hoffman is out of line for critiquing white liberal feminism at all–have not really provided a lot of space for a thoughtful, nuanced response to the strengths and weaknesses of Hoffman’s article.

    What she said. There have been some very thought provoking criticisms of this aspect of Hoffman’s article, but I have had a hard time considering them as I have felt a need to address the wholesale dismissal of the main thrust of her argument.

  202. juju
    juju April 9, 2008 at 7:33 am |

    I’m non white and they aren’t. Male and female led nonwhite movements are not feminist or GLBT-friendly.

    So very true, “male and female led nonwhite movements are not feminist or GLBT-friendly”, but this is simply not the point. We are talking about inclusiveness within feminism, not without. This is not about white feminists working with nonwhite movements, this is about white feminists working with nonwhite feminists on the issues relevant to those particular groups of women.

    We get that feminism is racist and classist. Everyone gets that feminism is racist is classist.

    The WOC I know who do work on feminist issues certainly get this, but the white feminists I encounter in my everyday life (and some on this thread) do not.

  203. donna darko
    donna darko April 9, 2008 at 2:04 pm |

    Certainly. But one has to be consistent. Feminism should help those who need the most help. The poor, sex workers, transgendered, the incarcerated, immigrants. Nonwhite movements should help those who need the most help. Poor women of color.

  204. juju
    juju April 9, 2008 at 2:48 pm |

    Certainly. But one has to be consistent. Feminism should help those who need the most help. The poor, sex workers, transgendered, the incarcerated, immigrants. Nonwhite movements should help those who need the most help. Poor women of color.

    I whole hearted agree with this statement, but I’m not seeing the inconsistency. I most certainly am not saying that nonwhite movements shouldn’t focus their efforts on those most in need, that would just be stupid. Of course nonwhite movements need to be more inclusive, absolutely. But this is a feminist discussion and feminist movement is the topic at hand.

  205. donna darko
    donna darko April 9, 2008 at 9:16 pm |

    Octogalore had a similar discussion on her blog. It’s fine individual women are multitaskers and say their immigration, anti-military or -globalization activism is part of their feminism. But no one demands other progressive movements to be replaced by anti-military, -prison or -globalization movements or what have you. No one demands anti-racist movements be feminist or GLBT-friendly except me of course. It’s a double standard to expect feminism to be all things to all people when no one makes demands of other movements to this degree.

  206. donna darko
    donna darko April 9, 2008 at 9:21 pm |

    The only problem is if it’s no longer directly related to women. ICE raids, the Iraq occupation are directly related to women but anti-free trade, -prison industrial complex and -war movements should not replace feminism. Should anti-racist movements be replaced by feminism, GBLT, prison and immigration reform movements?

  207. hipparchia
    hipparchia April 9, 2008 at 9:27 pm |

    You know, it would be well worth it to take a look back through prison films and documentaries of the 70s (not to mention actual statistics) to see what the racial balance was before the war on drugs.

    some race/incarceration statistics [my apologies for leaving the actual math and analysis to others]

    1. incarceration rates [males], by race, 1880-2000 [table 1.4]

    2. u.s. population, by race, 1790-1990

    3. an interesting snapshot: drug commitments, by race, new york state, 1980 and 2000 [table 1]

  208. sminbrooklyn
    sminbrooklyn April 9, 2008 at 10:03 pm |

    dd – i don’t think it’s so much a double standard as it is a fact that the group “women” for whom feminism purports to advocate is a lot bigger than the group “immigrants” or “prisoners” and includes many members of those groups. what is a ‘women’s’ issue, anyway? the way i understand it is as an issue that affects women in a gendered way, which can easily be read encompass everything that women experience. i thought octogalore’s discussion was interesting and i could understand the sentiment from which it arose, but what she’s saying is, white women shouldn’t be shamed out of addressing their own issues in the name of intersectionality. which is fine, but it means that you are defining ‘women’ and ‘feminism’ in ways that exclude many women who do not happen to share the issues of white upper middle class women. i think it’s very easy for movements, and for individuals, to define their mission and their target population narrowly so as to be effective, and then let their strategy restrict their thinking about how broad an issue really is. there is a huge difference between saying “all white women who want to work on feminist issues have to redirect their energy toward the prison abolition movement/immigration/sex work/whatever” and saying “feminism as a thought system is for all of us and we should treat it as such”. personally, i think hoffmann fell somewhere in between those two poles, and she’s in a position to receive critiques from both sides (and she certainly has in this thread). however, that was my take-away from this discussion and it was certainly a very challenging and stimulating process getting there.

    to those who advocate a feminism wherein those who need the most help are the ones who should get it – i am curious to know how you decide who that is. i’m also curious to know who gets to make the call. i am not trying to be snide … but it seems to me that deciding who is “most in need” is pretty much impossible. and isn’t it a little bit of othering to see feminism as swooping in and saving those in need? to see feminism as primarily a rescue mission for the poor downtrodden not-me-i-have-my-shit-under-control just reinforces the idea that we’re not all equals in sisterhood/feminism.

  209. Kristin
    Kristin April 10, 2008 at 12:14 am |

    to those who advocate a feminism wherein those who need the most help are the ones who should get it – i am curious to know how you decide who that is. i’m also curious to know who gets to make the call. i am not trying to be snide … but it seems to me that deciding who is “most in need” is pretty much impossible. and isn’t it a little bit of othering to see feminism as swooping in and saving those in need? to see feminism as primarily a rescue mission for the poor downtrodden not-me-i-have-my-shit-under-control just reinforces the idea that we’re not all equals in sisterhood/feminism.

    Oh God. I really don’t advocate that. And neither does all the postcolonial literature I listed above. I don’t see any of that here… I’m very much against anything like that and don’t understand my activism or politics as a Rescue Mission.

    What I see is people getting defensive when marginalized groups claim that dominant forms of feminism ignore them and sometimes hurt them. And a few of us defending the critiques of white liberal feminism that Hoffman makes in her essay.

    The thing is… We aren’t all equal in the “sisterhood” or whatever you want to call it. Want to read a good postcolonial critique of “sisterhood”? Check Amina Mama; she’s awesome. Sure, you can throw around some liberal assurances, “But we’re all equal because of our shared humanness, that makes us a sisterhood.” Except, when white Western women have the resources to define what will be taken up as “feminist issues” and what will not–well, we’re unequal… Whether or not we are ontologically equal, as liberalism assures us, is not really the point when there are real, palpable power imbalances. To claim otherwise is cruel. This is one of the worst features of liberalism–the assurance that we’re all equal in spite of actual, material, inequality. And we should fight against power imbalances and work to undermine white privilege. Not because anyone needs saving, but because it makes us exclusionary assholes to keep ignoring the criticism.

  210. donna darko
    donna darko April 10, 2008 at 1:49 am |

    to those who advocate a feminism wherein those who need the most help are the ones who should get it – i am curious to know how you decide who that is. i’m also curious to know who gets to make the call. i am not trying to be snide … but it seems to me that deciding who is “most in need” is pretty much impossible. and isn’t it a little bit of othering to see feminism as swooping in and saving those in need? to see feminism as primarily a rescue mission for the poor downtrodden not-me-i-have-my-shit-under-control just reinforces the idea that we’re not all equals in sisterhood/feminism.

    No, nothing like that. Feminism is for all women and 70% of women in the world are not white. So all women can decide what it’s about. De-prioritizing the group you mentioned, “white upper middle class women,” is key because they are the most privileged.

  211. donna darko
    donna darko April 10, 2008 at 1:54 am |

    Nonwhite communities can de-prioritize the same way and focus on sweatshop workers, nail salon workers, the undocumented, sex workers, the poor, the uninsured.

  212. Holly
    Holly April 10, 2008 at 2:04 am |

    I think it’s pretty clear that populations who are targeted by racism and populations who lack access to material resources — people of color, poor people — among all the other categories mentioned here ARE in greater need than those who don’t face those problems. I mean, what? How do you decide who’s in greater need? It’s not a contest where you have to find a winner — nor is it mutually exclusive with prioritizing the leadership and political voice of those same people. It doesn’t have to be a “charity case” setup unless you’re a privileged person who insists on running things instead of taking a back seat and helping the marginalized and oppressed folks drive the bus for a change. All of that is easier said than done — in this world it’s simply easier for privileged folks to have the authority, training, resources, time, confidence and recognition to lead and speak — but you can’t nobody is saying it or that nobody is at least trying to do it.

  213. Synonymous
    Synonymous April 10, 2008 at 10:33 am |

    Why, though, is feminism being singled out as the problem here? Many movements seek increased protection under the law and use legislation to accomplish their goals. Why aren’t *those* movements being told to boycott the police to right the wrongs of which Hoffman speaks? Why isn’t *their* “privilege” under fire?

    Oh, right – because we need to stop worrying about women’s concerns and get back to the *actually important* stuff. Of course.

  214. Kristin
    Kristin April 10, 2008 at 10:53 am |

    Why, though, is feminism being singled out as the problem here? Many movements seek increased protection under the law and use legislation to accomplish their goals. Why aren’t *those* movements being told to boycott the police to right the wrongs of which Hoffman speaks? Why isn’t *their* “privilege” under fire?

    Oh, right – because we need to stop worrying about women’s concerns and get back to the *actually important* stuff. Of course.

    It’s because white liberal feminism presumes to speak for all women even though it is most concerned with advancing the interests of white liberal middle-class women. Jesus… How can people be too stupid to get that??

  215. LadyVetinari
    LadyVetinari April 10, 2008 at 11:11 am |

    The reason why feminist groups are pressured to talk about race issues in a way that social justice groups focusing on race aren’t pressured to talk about feminist issues (Donna Darko and Octogalore are 100% right about this) is because, among some white feminist circles, women of color are kinda like rap music: a way of showing how hip and cool and “real” they are. As a Native American woman, the whole thing makes me feel like a football. I’ve seen repeated discussions in the blogosphere where a white feminist will, tearing her shirt and rending her hair, bemoan her own privilege or that of another white feminist. There will be some critical responses to this, but most responses will be positive, and the positive responses will be longer and more persistent than the negative ones. It will all be one big navel-gazing, self-indulgent circle jerk of guilt. Kind of like when one white middle-class girl says “Gee, I look fat,” and all her friends join in the orgy of self-blame and self-hate.

    It’s because white liberal feminism presumes to speak for all women even though it is most concerned with advancing the interests of white liberal middle-class women.

    And yet, countless civil rights groups have presumed to speak for all African-Americans, Native Americans, Asian-Americans, and have thoroughly neglected the women and LGBT members of these groups. I don’t see this searing contempt or anger directed at them. Still less do I see the members of these civil rights groups getting angry at themselves for it to nearly the same extent as feminists do, despite the years of experience I’ve had with them.

  216. LadyVetinari
    LadyVetinari April 10, 2008 at 11:16 am |

    Jesus… How can people be too stupid to get that??

    We’re not as smart as you, unfortunately. But we all wish we were!

  217. Radfem
    Radfem April 10, 2008 at 12:10 pm |

    I like Adrienne Rich’s quote that Hoffman cited in her essay. You don’t hear it mentioned or quoted much among White feminists. Gee, I wonder why.

    Interesting essay and thread. I thought Hoffman’s essay raised many good points, many of them have been discussed and written about for a long time by women of color bloggers including those in this discussion as well as women of color off-line. I’m a bit taken aback by how “new” the issues raised in Hoffman’s essay are to many people here. I think that speaks volumes about how feminism tends not to view issues that impact predominatly women of color, because women of color know more about issues that impact White women than the other way around. But what I’ve found with White feminists that if you point out that there are divisions or differences, you’re the one creating or manifesting or maintaining those differences and that’s really unfortunate to say the least.

    Thanks for those raising the problems with the VAWA amendment for immigrant women. Yeah, the text is necessary but it’s not as closely watched as it should be by some of VAWA’s biggest proponants and it’s constantly under danger of attack especially in the climate that’s impacted some areas of the country. Especially if you have people who oppose it in positions of power who won’t follow through on it and are dealing with LE agencies that are too busy criminalizing undocument immigrants b/c of resolutions passed by local governments to give them this authority to supplement ICE or through changes in policies in LE agencies doing the same thing. Or feminist organization who don’t think addressing this is even feminist or a concern of feminists. More women here are helped by the special visa program separate from VAWA but that’s less than a handful. Many women don’t come forward and bfp explained very well why that is.

    My focus is on police issues and sometimes how immigration intersects with that though mostly through the bogus DUI checkpoints that target undocumented immigrants. There are smaller grass-roots groups primarily Latino men and women involved which are pretty closely knit. They also form coalitions with other grass-roots groups addressing disparate treatment by race in the CJS. These aren’t issues that attract many White women. In fact, I’ve given up even discussing them, especially since for one thing, engaging in a very disappointing public forum discussion with White women, is difficult while also engaging in a more private (PM) conversation with other White women who are interested in these issues but don’t want to engage publicly and get ridiculed. The experience was a bit bizarre but it was a learning one.

    I don’t call the police either but I’ve been warned that if I do, they won’t come anyway so that alleviates some of the suspense. I have in the past for other people but I’ve rethought that, given how they’ve been treated.

    And that’s due to my activism not my racial and gender identity which is White female. That, and not knowing which officers except for one particular one who made rather scary comments about wishing harm on me and my family makes it difficult to call and either have him show up or another officer leak out where I live. My work also requires that I interact with them a lot. I blog about these issues and a lot of my traffic is local LE. I’ve had some interesting conversations with police officers discussing their own institution. I’ve also had interesting conversations with blog visitors who claimed to be officers but that’s a whole different thing. I get called “anti-cop” a lot and that’s life. Many Whites, men and women, worry about being called that and seen that way and when they are called that, it shuts them up.

    I think racist institutions are structured that way to serve a purpose which is to promote White supremacy. Individuals are racist, with varying degrees of malice. They themselves don’t create racist institutions. They by themselves don’t maintain them. Even many White people who are antiracist help maintain them because they enjoy racial privilege which doesn’t necessarily even have to be wanted to change the fact that it’s there. And one example is safety when it comes to calling or “depending” on law enforcement as mentioned here. Another is not having to teach your kids what to do during a traffic stop in a car or on foot. Another is not having to wait for your kid and if he’s late, wondering if the police beat him up or shot him. Another is to not be racially profiled as a criminal including when you’re a victim. Another is having staffing to investigate your murder or that of a family murder that’s equitable to the staffing provided for a White murder victim. And so on.

    The beliefs by White women that the current system while flawed is the last resort keeping them safe can be detrimental and often is to women of color and their communities. Hoffman raised an example of wanting increased police patrols to help White women feel safe that might increase the unsafe feeling experienced by Black neighbors. But it’s a double bind for many people in these communities who fear crime and violence but can’t depend on the police to do anything but contribute to that violence. And there’s not nearly enough discussion of the impact of violence by the state as it’s called by Jael Silliman in the essay, “Sex, Race and Criminalization” from Policing the National Body: Race, Gender and Criminalization and by others as well, by White feminists even those who address violence against women. It’s also a theme that runs strong in “Killing the Black Community” by Judith A.M. Scully in the same anthology. I think that’s what Hoffman’s focusing on in large part in her letter on that and why that is from her own perspective.

  218. Radfem
    Radfem April 10, 2008 at 12:47 pm |

    We get that feminism is racist and classist. Everyone gets that feminism is racist is classist.

    Unfortunately not. Or maybe they do and that’s why discussion is so taboo.

    How can you *get* something you won’t even talk about or admit exists? I’m done having that discussion. I think White feminism should just admit that it’s mostly concerned about issues that pertain to it and not claim it’s for issues impacting all women, because even the issues that fall in this group impact women differently. But then you’d have to admit that there’s racism in White feminism and that’s a can of worms that’s definitely not great to open unless you have plenty of body armor, lol.

    One thing that’s been great is learning about Incite! Women here want to start a chapter which is pretty exciting. It addresses a lot of issues that women face that are pretty much ignored or given attention when they don’t detract from *real* feminist issues.

  219. octogalore
    octogalore April 10, 2008 at 12:58 pm |

    LadyVetinari: awesome.

    sminbrooklyn said “what she’s saying is, white women shouldn’t be shamed out of addressing their own issues in the name of intersectionality. which is fine, but it means that you are defining ‘women’ and ‘feminism’ in ways that exclude many women who do not happen to share the issues of white upper middle class women.”

    That’s not, in fact, what I was saying. I was saying that feminism is about equality of women. All women. And any area, whether it be immigration or prisons or glass ceilings, which has a gendered impact is a feminist issue in the context of that gendered impact.

    When we’re looking at the areas without focus on gender, it’d not a feminist issue. That does not mean it is not a relevant issue to our lives or that feminists shouldn’t care. But if feminism doesn’t focus on women, meaning ALL colors and types of women, then it ain’t feminism, it’s absorbed by other male-run lefty movements for exactly the reasons that LadyV sets forth.

    So, sminbrooklyn, while you’re trying to put me into some kind of entitled white woman box, that’s not actually a fit with my argument. Granted, the argument you want me to have made is easier to refute, but let’s not be lazy.

    Also, your blythe “white women’s issues” is pretty demeaning to WOC. My sisters are WOC and we share many of the same feminist concerns. What are you trying to say here?

  220. donna darko
    donna darko April 10, 2008 at 5:21 pm |

    It’s because white liberal feminism presumes to speak for all women even though it is most concerned with advancing the interests of white liberal middle-class women. Jesus… How can people be too stupid to get that??

    Has anyone denied this? And why not be consistent:

    And yet, countless civil rights groups have presumed to speak for all African-Americans, Native Americans, Asian-Americans, and have thoroughly neglected the women and LGBT members of these groups. I don’t see this searing contempt or anger directed at them. Still less do I see the members of these civil rights groups getting angry at themselves for it to nearly the same extent as feminists do, despite the years of experience I’ve had with them.

    This is a double standard.

    The most marginalized groups in feminism and anti-racism are more aligned with class than race or gender. For example, feminism marginalizes the poor, sex workers, transgendered, the incarcerated, immigrants. Anti-racism marginalizes the poor, sweatshop workers, nail salon workers in toxic environments, the undocumented, sex workers, the uninsured, poor women of color.

  221. Anatolia
    Anatolia April 10, 2008 at 8:10 pm |

    And to all of you who are getting paralyzed with White Guilt: You have no viable excuses for being paralyzed.

    You do realize that the term and concept of “White Guilt” is used almost exclusively by conservatives who are opposed to assistance to disenfranchised groups or programs aimed at equalizing opportunity. Don’t like affirmative action policies; the “give ‘em bootstraps” crowd that believes helping someone is hurting them.

  222. FAIL: Call the Police, Go to Jail « Off Our Pedestals

    [...] I found ProfBWoman’s post originally through Writeous Sister Speaks. Aaminah Hernandez titled her post, “See, This Is Why Some of Us Are So Angry,” which cast my mind back to a discussion of Jessica Hoffman’s article, “On Prisons, Borders, Safety, and Privilege: An Open Letter to White Feminists,” that recently took place at Feministe. [...]

  223. Feministe » Having “The Answers”
    Feministe » Having “The Answers” April 19, 2008 at 12:42 am |

    [...] your own privilege” and “just stop being shitty.” I’ve read through comment threads where other certainly well-intentioned white people have asked things like, “I get that you [...]

  224. Flight Papers
    Flight Papers May 17, 2008 at 4:31 pm |

    A Purity of Movement….

    Your movement does not exist in this world; not your feminism, nor your anti-racism, nor your social justice movement.
    These things do not exist. They’re ephemeral—like language and so much else, they are constructed by people and their ide…

  225. charles
    charles May 17, 2008 at 5:28 pm |

    thanks for posting this Jill, it is a very thought-provoking article.

    or thought-deflecting, in some cases, as some of the very unfair responses prove. the article has a very useful critique, but many responses are so divorced from reality it shows just how hard it is to get people to address the problems in what too many of us take for granted.

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  227. When Authorities Don’t Give a Shit at Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture

    [...] have been some recent discussions at Feministe about the inability of POC communities to rely on police, particularly to protect [...]

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