An Immigrant Woman’s Message to White Feminists

by | September 29, 2014
filed under My Reality, Politics, Racism

Electronic red megaphone on standThis article has been very painful to write – it took me almost a year – on why many immigrant women, especially leftist immigrant women, hate white leftist feminists, and what needs to be done to bridge the gap.

Hard-working immigrant women hate the Women’s Studies princess professors who have full-time jobs with steady pay and do nothing to help while immigrant women like me struggle. We hate the leftist white feminist elites who like to call themselves working class, and claim they are us, when they are not. We hate those white feminists who call us conservative for being a new immigrant struggling to make a living in high heels.

True Conservative immigrant women are lucky: they can forget about leftists when they are so out of touch. Conservative MPs appear to listen to immigrant concerns, unlike leftist academics. This puts left-wing immigrant women of colour at an awkward position: between Harper and those trying to silence us when our reality doesn’t always work with their theories.

When leftist immigrant women are worried about our family back in our country of origin, each time we express it online or protest, white privileged students come and tell us they know our country better than us, that we are part of a “reactionary elite.”

In Yarmouk, a Palestinian ghetto in Syria, food has not been allowed in for a year, water for two weeks; women and children are dying of thirst and hunger. It’s worse than what’s on television of ISIS and the Yazidis. But when we speak about Yarmouk, we are attacked by white acadmics, as the princesses repeat the propaganda of Russian corporations like Gazprom and Rosneft

When immigrant women graduate from university, our leftist professors don’t help us find jobs. We have had to work at McDonalds, gas stations, minimum wage jobs with ridiculous hours.

When we work at the only jobs that accept us: fashion retail minimum wage, they make fun of us as “shallow.” Marxist feminists talked about helping the working class, asked us to join their protests – which we did – then laughed at us and refused to help.

In the end, in Canada, university degrees are a waste of time and money for immigrants. We don’t have connections or a job waiting for us. So we have to start our own business, or work minimum wage, impossible hours. All this talk about unions – no one makes an effort to unionize retail and call centres, where immigrant women work and it’s needed the most.

If we are forced to start a business, Marxist academic feminists say we corrupted our morals by becoming capitalists. Starting a small business makes you an Arab immigrant, not Dick Cheney.

I once had an argument with a Communist Party member on an event we organized with Amnesty International. We wanted to create a group to help Arab-Canadian victims of torture, but the woman kept bringing in more white people, when Arab men who we were discussing weren’t at the table.

I asked that the brown men we represent (myself the only brown woman at the table) also have a say in their own affairs. But she seemed to be more interested in using them to make a case against the Harper government.

It looks increasingly like leftist women use immigrant women because they are vulnerable in a new country.

When white leftists don’t like something Harper says, they can write to Rabble or Counterpunch, tweet it to the top of #cdnpoli and the world hears their voice. When white women organize there are 1,000s of people in the streets because they have lived here longer, have deeper networks.

We have no voice, we are shut out from government if we are not right-wing, and shut out from alternative media.

A great example of where white feminists impose their views on women of colour is the hijab wars in Quebec and another is beauty pageants in Ontario.

I was in Miss Universe Canada. Most of us were left-leaning immigrants. Unlike university, beauty pageants enabled us to network for a job, and gave us interview presentation skills that increased our employability. Pageants gave us immigrant girls a career boost that university failed to do.

My white privileged professors, who were making over $30 an hour with a regular stable paycheque, were unhappy that I made yet another brown girl immigrant decision: join a pageant. I asked them: “Why did you not refer me to your contacts or help me find a job? You didn’t help me with my business or find a job, but pageants did, so you have no right to criticize.”

When we started the pageant, none of us were what anyone would call traditionally beautiful. We simply had good personalities and were the type who could look good with proper exercise after half a year. The types of poses we do in pageants were found to help with success in job interviews, according to research out of Harvard Business School. All the girls I spoke to reported more success at work after pageants. At the end, we learned, no matter how you are born, everyone can look beautiful, and that doesn’t mean skinny or what the media tells you.

White women can complain about being judged by appearance all they want. Brown immigrant women don’t have that luxury. We need that job interview, we need that client – we need bread, we need to eat, you won’t help us pay our rent.

We just want white women to stop telling us how to live. We don’t tell white women to wear a niqab, so why do they tell us it’s haram to be in pageants like some Iranian religious police?

Ottawa is filled with immigrant women working several jobs to help relatives in refugee camps and leftist white women only add insult to injury. Instead of asking how they can help, they spread around that their favourite Marxist murderous dictator is an angel and that people trying to survive him are terrorists or fascists.

Our brown immigrant reality doesn’t match with white princess ideology. We are tired of colonialist mentality: we are not “wild and half child” as Kipling wrote in the “white man’s burden.” We can think for ourselves.

Disenfranchisement from the left leaves hundreds of thousands of immigrant women stuck voting for Conservatives. Listen to us; make space for us. Don’t tell us you know how to live our life, use our body, or say you know our countries better than we do.

As brown immigrant women we need solidarity, not just when it’s ideologically convenient. Sometimes we love or live a reality white leftists hate, like staring a small business or entering beauty pageants. Ask us why instead of judging us. Let colonialism die and sisterhood take its place!

We immigrant women of colour struggle to breathe, and to be empowered, to be given a voice and space in left-wing platforms like alternative media. Please open your hearts to new Canadian women and do not be like the Hezbollah guys we escape from who tell us how to live our lives and what to wear. Just listen to us, just be there for us, and we will be there for you.

I hope what was resentment will become family. As women, we have to be there for each other in what is becoming an increasingly misogynistic world.

Most immigrant women are not radical feminists and we do not believe patriarchy has anything to do with women’s problems: debating patriarchy and semantics is a distraction from stopping war crimes against women now.

Russian-trained troops used mass rape as a weapon of war because it worked for them from Germany, to Bosnia, to Chechniya, to Syria and other countries during the Cold War. ISIS, lead by Russian speakers like Al-Shishani does use rape as a weapon of war. Saudi is a more patriarchal culture than Syria and Serbia, yet Saudi-sponsored Al-Qaeyda units do not use rape as a weapon of war.

Feminist professors selectively ignore the mass rapes that happen in countries where some of their students are from. Alcohol and unemployment are much more important factors in abuse of women, yet they aren’t discussed. The reason why First Nations women are missing and murdered isn’t discussed. However, their cause is taken advantage of as a stick to beat Harper with. Harper ignores it, First Nations women are caught in-between.

Meanwhile, immigrant women wonder how to earn enough to eat, pay rent and not get evicted.

The kind of patriarchy white professors teach is a myth, yet the white good old boys’ and girls’ club at the office is real. The glass ceiling is real. It’s organic, not a result of men hating women, but men in privileged positions trusting and promoting their friends. The solution is to empower women to generate wealth and privilege. Also we should have reasonable regulations to offset privilege. Reality is nuanced, complex and not a textbook.

Mona Eltahawy said in crutches in Cairo after beaten by police:

“There is nothing more powerful than women telling their own stories.”

Please listen to our stories. We want to listen to yours.

Many of us also want to hear more about Aboriginal women’s stories told by their own voices. The fact no one looks for missing and murdered women horrifies us brown immigrant women. We immigrated to what we thought was a country of equality and law and order for all. Missing First Nations women need to be the main story on CBC every day. We need all of Canada to know their names, their hobbies, dreams, desires, what happened to them. We shouldn’t tell them how to live nor judge them. We shouldn’t take advantage of their vulnerability for political gain, just help give these women a voice.

Let’s listen to each other as women, and empower less privileged women by asking them to tell their story and promoting this story through our networks. This will change lives.


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  • TheRadicalRadish

    I definitely appreciate this article as an Indian-American woman myself. I love the line where you said “As brown immigrant women we need solidarity, not just when it’s ideologically convenient.” This really makes me think about FEMEN, a world-wide feminist collective that protests oppression of women by going topless and writing messages on their bodies. Part of me sees this as empowering because these women are trying to reclaim our sexualized bodies, BUT most FEMEN feminists are white women, often fighting for the rights that THEY want for all women. I was studying abroad in Spain when I saw news coverage of FEMEN activists protesting Russia, and since it sparked my interest I went on their website. There I found that they were protesting religions that required women to be covered (as in Islam), and they were claiming to fight for the rights of women all over the world. I know for a fact that women that practice Islam can choose to wear a hijab if that is the Islam they practice, therefore it is extremely wrong of FEMEN to declare that women are being oppressed by wearing a hijab. I think this example goes along with what you said about people judging you for wearing or not wearing a hijab yourself. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences!

  • Robert Keaney

    Dear Mrs. Al-Masani,
    Your story was extraordinarily powerful and I have little doubt that it struck a cord with a fair number of this sites readers. I am ashamed to say theres nothing I can do to help. Like TheRadicalRadish I too am an American so I am so very far away. My family has connections like the White Princesses you mentioned but there are connections in Utah. Besides, you are better of getting help from more socially just people. There must be some one out there willing to help.

    Well, if you need any clothes then I could always send them to you via UPS. I’m gonna warn you it might be a little small on you. Maybe it could stretch out in the wash?

    Also do you have any LDS or Mormon Churches in your area. Its a central tenement of our religion to help the less fortunate. As in if you or any one you know experiences any abuse while seeking help from them then be sure to notify the person in charge of that area.

    Also, wait, never mind, there aren’t many U.S. marine core recruiting stations in Canada so that point is moot. I’m sorry Mrs. Al-Masani. I’m ashamed that there is so little I can do. I’m sort of hopeless. Do you need books? I can send books to you via Fed Ex. Like maybe a book on how to raise a child or a book on how to learn russian. Also I’ve got like three different dictionaries.

    Forgive me for my weakness. I guess there is nothing I can do. Good luck Mrs. Al-Masani. May god watch over you and guide you through all your troubles. Stay strong, Maria.

  • Zoe

    As a white woman approaching 50 y.o. in the US and with two university degrees in Architecture from a tortuously difficult school, I have had to fight hard and work hard for not only my rights as a woman in male dominated profession but for other women to be treated fairly, which is still not the case in the vast majority of firms, especially in the Deep South, where my struggles have taken place. I am NOT from a wealthy family and had to EARN my degrees. I am so tired of seeing the white male business owners and corporate elite pretend to allow immigrants, including immigrant women from other countries, which are unfortunately far behind the US in gender-equality, encourage immigration in an effort to import low paid workers. I personally feel that the advances in women’s rights have been set back decades due to the importation of patriarchal minded women from other countries. And to be fair, the elevation of certain cultures within the US that are infamous for their degrading, devaluing of women. The educated woman who has fought so hard for advances in the US has been completely silenced, while stiletto-wearing, giggling, pandering women pour in and are willing to take any wages and behave in completely degrading manners just to have “an opportunity” in “the promised land”. I know I will be accused of racism, in spite of the fact that I have many friends from other races and from cultures all over the world and I genuinely feel compassion for these women….however, I also see a lot of unfair practices by many immigrant women and some white men seem to be all for that kind of behaviour. I think it’s immoral and shameful and always leads back to greed and the male ego and has absolutely NOTHING to do with racial/ gender equality or benevolence.