This Is White Feminism, And It's A Big Problem

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
Originally Published: 

Feminism isn’t a new concept — as long as there have been women, there has been feminism. And for just about as long as feminism has existed, so has white feminism. Even though it’s been the barnacle on the side of feminism for easily a couple hundred years, the phrase itself has really moved to the forefront of consciousness in the last few years.

White feminism is the direct contrast to intersectionality — the concept that individual marginalizations are huge factors if feminism is every going to be truly successful.

White feminism — and by extension, white feminists — have become less overt as time has gone on. But that doesn’t mean they’ve gone away. Not by a long shot. White feminism runs rampant all over the place. From Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi to Emma Watson and the character Joy from Disney’s Inside Out, you can’t swing an arm without hitting white feminists. They are literally everywhere.


And what exactly is white feminism? There isn’t a clear cut definition, honestly. But anyone who runs in feminist circles has seen it in action. At its core, white feminism is the centering of white women within the feminist movement. Even though many white feminists of yore fought for equal rights, they did so on the backs of women of color, more often than not, black women. They still do most of the time, but they’ve gotten a lot better at hiding it. For example, the #MeToo movement. It was started about 10 years ago by a black woman named Tarana Burke, but once Hollywood got a hold of it, suddenly, the faces of the movement were very…white. When the Time magazine person of the year were the women of the movement, Burke wasn’t even included on the cover.

White feminism is an affliction with a cure, if only most white feminists could see it. These women are more often than not, completely blissfully ignorant of the fact that they are leaving women of color and other marginalized out of the feminism conversation. Sometimes you have to wonder if it’s intentional, because by becoming truly intersectional, white feminists would be giving up the privileges gifted to them by white supremacy.

Signs You or Someone You Know is a White Feminist

1. You operate in largely white spaces.

If you’re doing any sort of social justice work and your group is 75+ percent white, you’re doing it wrong. You can’t pat yourself on the back for being progressive when you’re just surrounded by a bunch of other white people. That’s just a bunch of people experiencing the same privilege sitting around and talking about their privilege without having to take marginalized people into account. And to say that you can’t find people of color is no excuse — they’re literally everywhere.

2. When someone calls out your behavior, you get defensive.

It’s hard to get called out for shitty behavior. No one likes being told that they’re wrong. But if your automatic response to a call out (however gentle it may be) is to get angry and defensive, you are most definitely a glaring sign of white feminism. Why? Because as “woke” as you think you are, you can’t handle anyone, even qualified people, telling you that you may not be.

Look, no one is perfect. But listen to the people calling you out — you’re basically putting your hands over your ears and going “la la la, I can’t hear you” and not only is that ineffective at understanding, it’s super fucking childish. (It’s also a microagression.) Double points if after the call out, you claim to have been “attacked.”


3. You center yourselves in conversations about marginalized people.

This goes hand in hand with the first point. If you’re telling a story about a marginalized group and somehow the story revolves around how you handled the story, you’re a white feminist. Not everything is about you. Again, stop fucking patting yourself on the back for being the most basic definition of a decent human being. Did you encounter a group of queer people and explain to your child why the men were wearing rainbow tutus? Good! But don’t write a Facebook post about how great you feel now. You were doing the literal least you could do. You don’t deserve to go viral for not being a terrible person.

4. You show up when you’re directly affected.

Yes, showing up is important. But what exactly are you showing up for? If you’re a leader of your local chapter of Moms Demand Action but you’ve never been to a Black Lives Matter meeting, then you’re probably a white feminist. If you’ve attended the Women’s March, but never gone to a gay rights march, you’re probably a white feminist. If you didn’t care about something like the opioid epidemic until it started affecting Chad and Becky, even though it’s been killing Shaniqua and Jamal for over 20 years? Yup, you guessed it, white feminist.

5. You’ve tone policed a person of color.

This one is a direct tie in with calling out or centering yourselves. I can’t tell you how many times I have personally dealt with tone policing. When a white woman doesn’t like what a black person, especially a black woman, has to say, they will try to “tone police.” Meaning, they will try to tell the black woman how they should have said something. If a black woman is like, “hey, this thing makes me really angry,” and you’re like, “well, you could have said it nicer,” you’re tone policing. And that shit is so not cool.

6. Your “not all” conversations.

This is literally white feminism 101. White feminists love to throw this one around. If I post something like, “white women be like,” I can usually time my watch to some white women rolling into the comments to be like, “Well I don’t! How dare you make generalizations? What if I said ‘all black people?’”

Listen up, white women. If you know that’s not you, then you can keep scrolling. CTFD, not everything is about you.

Examples of prominent white feminists include: Alyssa Milano, Rose McGowan, Tina Fey, Lena Dunham, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Anne Hathaway, and Amy Schumer.

What I Want To Say To White Feminists

Dear white feminists,

This doesn’t have to be a permanent situation. White feminism isn’t a thing that has to exist forever, I promise. If you would only take off your rose-colored glasses and do the hard work with us marginalized women for real, then we could all just be feminists. But you have to meet the rest of us halfway.

And if you’re reading this, and think this is about you, well then, it probably is. You’ve got work to do.

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