Got Privilege? A Queer White Girl’s Epiphany

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In Jamie Utt and Jarune Uwujaren’s article Why Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional (And 3 Ways to Practice It), they list three ways to practice intersectionality within the practice of feminism. In explaining their second step, the process of de-centering oneself, Utt and Uwujaren acknowledge that “society is more likely to listen to a White woman talk about racism than a person of color.”

Until the coining of the #BlackLivesMatter, I allowed myself to believe that America was no longer the racist country it was during the Civil Rights Movement with the exception of a few scattered incidents. However, taking a high school feminism class has completely changed how I understand my privilege as a young white woman.

My white privilege has allowed me to ignore racial injustice in America my entire life. I assumed everyone’s experiences were more or less the same. I lived in America where everyone was free to be who they were and say what they wanted. I could not understand that some of my best friends were having completely different experiences than my own.

Before attending my high school feminism class, I had heard Beyoncé’s song, Flawless that samples Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDx talk, We Should All Be Feminists. I knew that I was interested in, as Adichie says, the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. But I severely lacked the information and understanding I still need to understand my white privilege and what identifying as a feminist truly means.

Our feminism class teacher, Ileana Jiménez, recently pointed out that while it is important to inform ourselves and understand girls’ experiences globally, it is also easy to become enamored with global issues and ignore the extremely pressing issues of racism that girls and women of color face in this country as well.

In her article, “Black Girls Matter,” Kimberlé Crenshaw lists four separate incidents that happened within the past three years in which four girls were either “arrested, handcuffed, or faced with criminal charges” for simple acts they should not have been punished for. Each of the four girls ended up in some sort of police custody. Crenshaw says that black girls are six times more likely than their white female counterparts to be suspended, which can eventually result in unemployment, homelessness, and incarceration.This attitude toward black girls is not an uncommon one. The majority of America sees black girls as a burden rather as an asset.

Programs such as New York’s Young Men’s Initiative and Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper are in place to encourage young men of color to continue their education. The response to the lack of representation for girls of color was Michelle Obama’s proclamation that “Black girls rock.” Michelle also launched the hashtag #62MillionGirls in connection to Let Girls Learn, both of which help place girls globally into schools that offer a higher, safer, and more hygienic learning environment.

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Michelle Obama’s header to the #62MillionGirls Yearbook

 

But where is the representation and support for America’s black girls?

During our International Day of the Girl assembly, there was a portion of the assembly dedicated to #BlackGirlsMatter. The two girls from our high school feminism class who led the Black Girls Matter section of the assembly stated that many young girls of color are targeted not only because of their race but also because of their gender identity, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic class status.

In her article, “A Girl Child Ain’t Safe,” Janell Hobson says black girls are often precluded from the category of femininity, explaining that girls of color are excluded not only from America’s standard of feminine beauty but from America’s standards of how to be young, how to be a girl, and how to identify as queer. Already, presenting yourself as queer within your school and community can be a difficult and extremely taxing experience. Many instances across the country every day prove that while today it may seem cool to be queer, it’s not something that is wildly accepted. At one Pennsylvania school,

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Screenshot from Huffington Post’s video on McGuffey High School’s Anti-Gay day

students organized an anti-gay day during Ally-week. Like the girls who presented during our International Day of the Girl assembly stated, queer girls of color are targeted even more than queer white girls.

White feminism, the mainstream view of feminism, does not do a good job of including the voices of black and brown girls, whether straight or queer. White feminism is built upon the belief that simply because white women choose to be feminists, they automatically understand the systemic oppression faced by women of races and ethnicities differing from their own. This is toxic because it continues to perpetuate the notion that white feminism is the only type of feminism and that white feminists’ voices are the only voices that need to be heard.

White feminism disregards the voices of every feminist who does not identify as white and who does not slip easily into the ideals society sets out for us. Within mainstream media, the voice of feminism is largely that of the few visible white women who call themselves feminist. This allows the absence of feminists of color to go by almost entirely unnoticed. The absence of voices of color is true in every aspect of life.

Activist Holly Kearl came to speak to our class on street harassment. In her latest book, Stop Global Street Harassment: Growing Activism Around the World, Kearl writes that it is inherently easier for white, able-bodied women to speak out and share personal experiences about incidents involving street harassment. It is their white privilege that allows them to do this, and their white privilege excludes the voices of non-white women who have experienced street harassment as well.

Intersectional feminism is the answer to resisting the dominance of white feminism. Utt and Uwujaren offer a solution when they write about decentering ourselves in order to practice intersectional feminism. We cannot continue to let our assumptions aid our ignorance.

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Kearl’s latest book, Stop Global Street Harassment: Growing Activism Around the World.

As a white girl, I have been completely blind to what Brittney Cooper writes about in her article, “America’s War On Black Girls.” These issues were not the issues I faced in everyday life. I was blind to America’s reality.

I come from a white family where because of my privilege, the opportunities presented in my life have come quite easily, along with a progressive education full of encouragement from my parents and teachers. I have never faced racism in my life. While my family does live a very untraditional American life, my parents like to think that because we live slightly beyond the stereotypes of an upper middle class white family, we live above the racism and discrimination embedded within America.

But we don’t.

Just because we do not live in small-town Wisconsin (where my father’s parents live) or small-town Tennessee (where my mother’s family is from) does not mean we are free of blame.

We are not.

It is through the denial and removal with which we view these issues that I know we are not. Our white privilege allows us to pretend America’s racism and discrimination are no longer issues. We can pretend that these issues will eventually be solved by other people at a later date, or worse yet, that we are somehow affected by “reverse-racism.” It is too easy to play the victim and not take accountability for the actual racism that occurs due to white privilege and white supremacy.

Instead of living in denial of what we know to be true (and we do this because it is inherently easier) we should be looking for ways to be the people who will work to solve America’s dilemma.

I do not yet fully understand the ways in which women of color have been stigmatized. The feminism I claimed I had before beginning our high school’s feminism course was definitely my own breed of White Feminism. It was rooted in the popular idea that I had friends who were black, so of course I was not racist.

I have only begun to understand just how incredible the difference is between the way America sees me and the way America sees some of my friends. I am white and I have privilege because of that. In addition, as a young white woman who identifies as queer, my sexuality may be perceived as less of a threat than the sexuality of a young woman of color. Listening to some of my classmates’ stories has been a life changing experience, one that I did not expect to have. This only reaffirms the ideas that I have about racism in America.

I will continue to work toward Utt and Uwujaren’s idea of decentering whiteness as well as to look toward their third step of being “willing to make mistakes,” in acknowledgement that my understanding will not be something I happen upon, but something I must work toward and acknowledge that I do not yet have.

9 thoughts on “Got Privilege? A Queer White Girl’s Epiphany

  1. I loved your article. One sentence that really struck me was when you stated that it is “too easy to play the victim and not take accountability for the actual racism that occurs due to white privilege and white supremacy.” I find this phenomenon especially common in NYC, where many like to pretend we live in a warm bubble, exempt from the oppressions and privileges of America. Our location continually furthers the myth of the American Dream, the “equal playing field.” These were just a few of the thoughts your article prompted for me.

  2. I really love how you looked into your own experiences with white privilege in order to further analyze the current issues that come along with America believing that the nation is in a “post-racial” era.

  3. I know that you are very passionate about discussing the problems of white feminism and I am glad that you were able to use your passion to lead a workshop on white feminism on Diversity Day. Well done!

  4. Great article! I really loved when you were analyzing your family and how ignoring you white privilege plays into the systematic oppression of others. When you said just because you don’t live in a small town in Tennessee, doesn’t mean you are free of blame. That paragraph and the two right after it were really powerful! Great job!

  5. This is very well done! Its a very clear and eloquent analysis of the problems of white feminism. Explaining the lack of inclusion of black and brown voices as well as using your own experiences as further context.

  6. This is really well written and easily understood! I can totally relate to all the things you bring up in your post. It is extremely important for people like us not to get too caught up in our privilege and take a step back once in a while to be able to understand others lives who don’t share our same white privilege. Really well done!!

  7. Whiteness is a really complex issue, learning to decenter yourself can be an arduous process when you have been conditioned to dominate certain spaces. I also grew up in a household that believed colorblindness was the most effective way to combat racism. I think that we, as white people, must find a way to show others the flaws in white feminism and promote the voices of women of color.

  8. Wow Carson! This was a great read! You very eloquently frame what white privilege is through each article and your own analysis of your life. The part where you wrote about how your family believed they were above racism simply because they didn’t fit that stereotypical white family dynamic was such an important point. You really used this post to dig deep and look at yourself in relation to your world. I am also glad that you emphasized that the realization of ones privilege does not mean one is done with or suddenly above racism. There is so much more for us young feminist to learn!

  9. I was really able to connect to your writing. Especially when you go on to talk about how being a white has made you “blind to what Brittney Cooper [wrote] about in her article, “America’s War On Black Girls.” I too have never had to experienced these types of issues in my life, and will most likely never have to. Reading articles like Brittney Coopers makes me, as while girl, become aware of my privilege.

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