Photo: One Tumblr user's contribution to the #Solidarityisforwhitewomen discussion.
When I spoke to Mikki Kendall on August 14, just two days after she started the nationally trending Twitter hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, she was tired. The discussion started on Twitter had spurred much-needed and long-ignored conversations about the treatment of women of color by Big Name Feminism. Kendall wasn't tired from the media blitz or the requests for her to write about the topic or discuss the hashtag—she was tired in the way she always was after working her full-time job, tending to family responsibilities, and settling in to write before doing it all again the next day. Despite years of writing, some of it controversial, Kendall has never before been given this level of attention or this type of platform by the feminist community. Ironically, she's finally made her way into the spotlight for pointing out the shortcomings of white feminists, perhaps proving that solidarity is indeed for white women.
Fuck Hugo Schwyzer—this isn't about him. The real story behind the hashtag is Kendall's experiences, the issues that affect her community, and the years of mistreatment she and her friends Sydette Harry and bloggers like brownfemipower and Flavia Dzodan experienced at the hands of mainstream feminism. For those who think this is all about Hugo—including the feminists who supported him despite his abusive, violent past and the outrage expressed by women of color feminists for years now—you're missing the point. This conversation was started long ago, it just hasn't broken into the consciousness of white feminists until now.
"I'm not going to lie and say that I'm shocked by the fact that the hashtag resonated because these were conversations that me and my friends had been having for years," Kendall says. "So yes, I knew it would resonate, but I really had no idea it would explode the way it did. I'm a Southside Chicago girl and I was popping off at the mouth as I'm apt to do, but I've been wrongly accused of stirring the pot. The pot has been boiling over for years."
In the days since Kendall's hashtag and Schwyzer's Twitter meltdown in which he admitted to targeting women of color, we've heard very little from the women who helped give Schwyzer a platform to spew his hateful bullshit, including Amanda Marcotte, Jessica Coen of Jezebel, Jessica Valenti of Feminising, and Jill Filopovic of Feministe. I too had a Schwzyer interaction that still leaves me furious, two years later. In May of 2011, while irresponsibly unaware of is past, I reached out to the organizers of SlutWalk Los Angeles to address concerns voiced by women of color regarding the event, especially the concerns outlined by Crunk Feminist Collective. Schwyzer, whose image accompanies my article, was the first to respond, so we did a phone interview in which I asked him why he was involved. He told me, "Men have to make it clear that their involvement isn't some weird strategy to meet people or a creative way to get laid." In his case, it was. And in this way, I was another woman who gave him the space to do this.
Only Filopovic has publicly admitted to being complicit for publishing an interview with him in 2011 after his abusive history was made public and for being a part of the system that enabled Schwyzer's career to blossom. Coen, on the other hand, copped out, painting herself as the victim by detailing her stages of grief surrounding Schwyzer's admissions, though never mentioning him by name. To add insult to injury, Jezebel wrote about #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, though never crediting Kendall for starting the movement. When outraged commentators pointed out the oversight, an apology was issued.
When addressing the hashtag on Feministe, Filopovic wrote, "There is a pattern to who Hugo targeted for abuse—who he knew it would be safe to target for abuse. That speaks to major power imbalances in feminist communities. It reveals whose voices matter, whose pain is considered important enough. I do want to find a way to discuss the systematic problems within feminist spaces that allowed an abuser to thrive in our ranks." This falsely speaks to the idea that Schwyzer is the root cause for Kendall's hashtag, when really he was just another example of something that has been going on, well, forever.
Writer Mandy Van Deven expertly addressed the issue, drawing a straight line from the way suffragette and abolitionist Frances Dana Barker Gage silenced Sojourner Truth to the relationship that women of color have with white feminists today, writing, "More than 150-years after the delivery of Truth's speech, many white feminists have yet to internalize the seminal theories contained in works like The Combahee River Collective Statement, This Bridge Called My Back, and the INCITE! anthologies. Our refusal to accept the perspectives of women of color regarding our shared history means white women continue to resist, dismiss, and ignore the same critiques when they are made today." Van Deven goes on to say that Kendall is not the first woman of color to point out that some white feminists claim to speak for all women while excluding the concerns of a great number of them.
"In the brains of those who allowed Schwyzer to do what he did, he is the root of the problem, but these very women have a history of dismissing issues that affect the lives of women of color and dismissing us when we point out problematic shit. I mean, do you remember the racist images in Amanda Marcotte's book and the way she lashed out at anyone who pointed it out? These feminists have benefited heavily from this feminist culture that cuts out women of color and Hugo was just tapping into that because it was so easy. I don't know about you, but I'm tired of being asked how issues that we want to write about that affect our lives and our communities– like the closure of schools or what undocumented women are up against – are 'feminist'. How was it feminist when Hugo wanted to write about jizzing on women's faces? Did anyone ask him, 'How is this feminist?' Is that more of a feminist issue than whether or not my child's school will get closed down?"
Photo: Mikki Kendall
#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen has been accused of being divisive, but it's very much about race and the divide has been there all along – and it wasn't created by women of color. Kendall says the feeling she got from the response to her hashtag and how strongly it resonated with so many women, was that it had been pent up for so long and many women needed a green light to speak truth to the many ways they'd been slighted, but most of all to express their hurt. Kendall inadvertently granted women of color permission to express the pain of being silenced and ignored and dismissed, of being relegated to a footnote in a movement that promised sisterhood. As Maya Angelou wrote, "The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them." Mainstream feminism has been showing women of color who they are for years and for many, the message was clear: sisterhood—as defined as "bonded in solidarity"—is bullshit.
How accurately can mainstream feminism reflect the voices and experiences of all women when the loudest voices with the largest reach are white, educated, cisgender, heterosexual women who rarely, if ever, lift women of color up with them? White feminists who've carved out nice careers and comfortable livings thanks to a movement that excludes women of color, failing, in almost every instance, to understand intersectionality, instead relying on women of color, as Kendall tweeted, to be used as "teaching tools & resources, not actual people."
The question isn't, "How did mainstream feminism allow an abuser to flourish in its ranks?" but, "How are mainstream feminists so blindly invested in white supremacy that they continue to perpetuate a cycle in which the voices of women of color aren't heard, especially not in the face of a white guy who will increase their page clicks?"
On her Tumblr page, brownfemipower, a woman whose writing and ideas have been stolen in the past, discusses being told to stop complaining about how "easy" white women have it and "do it yourself. Write your own books, publish your own books, create your own speaking circuit. Hustle. Show a little backbone. Stop Whining. Do it yourself." As she says, it's not about hustling harder, it's about not having access to the same resources. This is something echoed by Kendall, who like so many of women of color writers, cannot afford to write fulltime, cannot afford to go to expensive conferences, cannot hobnob at literary events in New York and Los Angeles, who is not granted access to the editors that can provide more exposure and a more reliable paycheck.
"When we bring up the professional aspect, when we bring up the money that's being made – though not made by us, we're made to feel badly about it, but if our work is good enough to steal, why isn't it good enough to pay for? With Big Name Feminism, economic solidarity is, 'I make money, you get exposure.' It's, 'We work hard to support all women, just not you,'" Kendall says.
For Kendall, and myself, and so many of the women who participated in #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, our feminism is deeply rooted in our lived experiences and it's painful and endlessly frustrating to constantly encounter white feminists who want to talk for us, but not listen to us. Editors who receive our pitches about the issues impacting our lives and our communities and ask, "How is this feminist?" The feminists, who upon finding out Kendall joined the military in order to attend college, ask, "Why would you do that?" The feminists who wrote me about my immigration blog post to say, "But they ARE illegal."
"I honestly feel like sometimes we're not on the same planet or that these women don't understand that we're real people, not just sound bites or sources or someone they fight with on the internet," Kendall says. "For so many years gender has trumped race and women of color have been told, 'Maybe later we'll address your needs, maybe later we'll address your access, maybe later we'll discuss your resources…' It's 2013 and it's still 'maybe later.' Now we're hearing about 'leaning in' or the work-life balance stresses of married women who are making six figures – and these conversations still have nothing to do with us. I can't say what will result from #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, but I do know that Twitter is changing everything. Now, people are forced to hear us and women of color no longer need the platform of white feminism because they have their own microphones."
Related Reading: We Need to Talk About Hugo, Race, and Feminism