Feminism F.A.Q.s: What is Anti-Racism and How Does it Relate to Feminism?

by | August 1, 2012
filed under Feminism, Racism

Feminism FAQs Title Screenby Jarrah Hodge

It’s been a while since I posted a Feminism F.A.Q.s video but you can expect more in the coming weeks as I’ve just finished filming a handful. This video was the most popular response in the topic poll I ran on the Gender Focus Facebook page so I decided to edit it and get it posted first.

I did another version of this topic in my first round but decided to re-film the whole thing for audio and clarity. It’s a topic I feel conflicted about trying to address – as a white woman I shouldn’t be the one getting to decide what makes someone an ally. As someone I follow on Twitter said the other day, “The standards for allies are so low. Quote some bell hooks and you get a cookie.”

I don’t want it to seem like I’m asking for a cookie by just doing this video, but it’s a really important topic and I believe it is better for me to try my best to address it and to be open to critique rather than burying the issue and the responsibility white women feminists share to examine their racial privilege and be actively anti-racist.

I got a comment on the video where the person seemed to think I was implying feminism and anti-racism are the same thing. I just wanted to clarify that’s not what I was getting at. What I’m saying is that you can’t be feminist and racist at the same time because you would be implicitly supporting a system where not all women can achieve equality. I’m not saying that being anti-racist makes you a feminist – you need to have analysis of and support for gender equality for that to be the case.

Transcript after the jump:

Hi, my name’s Jarrah Hodge, writer and editor at Gender Focus, a Canadian feminist blog. Welcome to Feminism F.A.Q.s, where I try to answer questions and clear up myths about feminism.

Today: What is anti-racism and how does it relate to feminism?

Anti-racism is a broad term referring to movements that fight for an end to racism and racial inequality. Anti-racists see how racism in our society manifests at individual, group, as well as bigger social/structural levels and take actions and support policies aimed at ending racism.

Unfortunately, feminism has a mixed history dealing with racial issues. Western feminism has historically focused on issues around the equality of white women. For example, many leading suffragettes fought for the vote only for white women, not all women.  And in the 60s and 70s leading feminist organizations were called out for promoting a vision of sisterhood that was predominantly white.

Sadly many women of colour still experience barriers to full participation in feminist organizations, feminist media, and women’s studies departments at colleges and universities.

The reason this has to continue to change is that equality for women cannot be contingent on the race of the woman.

Without incorporating the voices of women of colour, feminism’s vision of equality will inevitably be limited. It’s not just about diversifying our organizations – feminists themselves need to be actively anti-racist.

Just as we ask men who want to be feminist allies to examine their male privilege, so too white women feminists need to look at their white privilege and the ways we continue to benefit from and perpetuate racial inequality.

We need to call out racism when we see it . And just as importantly we need to stop pretending we can speak for or fully understand the experiences of people of colour. We need to listen while not asking an individual to act as a token for their entire race.

And when we get called out on  racist actions, speech, or privilege, we need to try hard to listen without getting defensive.

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  • Jade

    “In some ways, the tendency to see sexism everywhere is proof that feminism is healthy and vigilant, and that is not necessarily a bad thing, because misogyny is insidious and rampant.”


    Why is it that so many feminists can see what what I just quoted but can’t see racism in the same light? And if they see racism the same way, why then aren’t they outspoken about it?

    I’m a male humanist who also identifies as a feminist because, feminism to me is simply the advocacy for equality of the sexes. I was an advocate for equality of races before I realized that there is no way that I could advocate for racial equality and not advocate for equality of the sexes.

    Why is it that this seems like the logical approach to take yet, some feminists, not only turn a blind eye to racism but, actually perpetuate racism?

    I think that many people, both male and female, are turned off of the idea of feminism because of this.

    Good job for speaking up.

    • The sentence you quoted is a tautology. “Feminism is a good thing because it makes us aware of that fact that feminism is a good thing.”

  • Defining ‘anti-racism’ as a thing creates a dichotomy that forces individuals to choose between ‘actively working against the proponents of a perceived racism’ and ‘being a racist.’ It forces the perception that “not being a racist” is not merely enough. It’s a subtle and probably unintentional tool that’s already reared it’s ugly head as the “anti-feminist” ideal, and it allows feminism to justify action taken against those who genuinely don’t agree or experience a feminist perspective of reality and our society at large. It’s the equivalence of affirmative action that has people feeling uneasy, which you shouldn’t confuse with racism or sexism. Most people believe in equal opportunity, not proportional representation. Basically, the virtues of representation should be held by the ideals of the minority themselves. As an extreme example, if 10% of the world was Buddhist, one would either say that if the military wasn’t proportionally 10% Buddhist also, then there must be discrimination therein–instead of the obvious fact that Buddhists have made the active decision not to present themselves in relative proportion in all facets of society. Their virtues dictate their behaviour, so why is impossible that women of colour hold a different standard of participation, and occupy that which is important to them, without the agency of white women telling black women they’re “under represented” where they ought to be by a white woman’s standards?

    • nerdybynature

      Hey Nathaniel, interesting comments here. For starters, anti-racism is important in feminism not because white women are telling women of colour that they’re under-represented, but because many women of colour have said that they feel actively shut out by white feminists. Which is a pretty significant difference, right? If someone tells me I’m making them feel excluded or that I don’t care about their issues, it is never my place to argue the point with them. As Jarrah mentioned, white feminism has a really bad history of this, so we need to actively do better.

      Which bring me to my second point. The dichotomy you identify is real, and it’s quite intentionally framed as something you need to take action on, if you don’t want to be part of the problem. The reason for that is that our societies are built on the ideas of white (and male) supremacy. It was enshrined in our legal systems – Only white men had the reasoning powers to be trusted with voting and running the country. We like to think that those days are long gone, but many of the same systems and structures created in that era, are still with us, and still influenced by that mentality. White people passively benefit from racist structures – we’re more likely to trust police, not because we’re inherently less criminal, but because we’re more likely to be given the benefit of the doubt and given a pass on minor infractions – We’re certainly less likely to be murdered or assaulted in public view. That may not seem like a privilege to you, but that’s exactly the point. White people benefit from a system set up largely for us, and it works so well, that we don’t even realize that things are rigged in our favour.

      It’s hard to get past the idea of individual merit, especially when you, like most people, were probably raised on the idea that you alone are responsible for your successes in life. We like to believe in both that sense of control and ownership over our futures, right? But the fact is that while it’s much easier on our egos to say that we earned everything we have, and while I might individually struggle with certain challenges, as a group, white people benefit from immense advantages that we haven’t earned. By not actively working to identify and challenge the ways this is true, we allow a broken system to continue.