A Letter to White Liberal Feminism.
Dear Women’s March on St. Paul,
I know you are proud that you pulled off a peaceful march of 100,000 people yesterday. 100,000 is an amazing number; a forceful repudiation of a racist, sexist, and corporatist administration. But I’m writing to let you know that many of us seek not peace, but the abolition of hatred by any means necessary.
Yesterday, in a not-so-quiet corner of your march, a white male Christian fundamentalist Trump supporter held up a giant sign that said “HOMO SEX IS A SIN”, and a few of us decided to disrupt the counter-protest. We formed a perimeter around the man, blocked his sign with our own, chanted to drown him out while he preached bigotry and hatred, yelled “Muslim lives matter” in his face when he started talking about how all Muslims were ISIS. For a while, you were cool with us doing this.
Then, some of us chose direct action. We wanted him out of the march. We were black, asian, latino, white, queer, cis and trans feminists. Our plan was to take his signs away and remove him from the march, not to hurt him. We used umbrellas and our bodies to try to pull his giant sign down. Immediately, your marshals formed a fence around him. Your marshals (all white cis-women) yelled at us (mostly POC cis and trans folks). You told us this was a peaceful march, that we had to follow your rules, that he had as much a right to be here as we did. I told you that we were women too and we were making a choice. I told you we had no intention of hurting him. I told you to step away if you didn’t agree. Still you protected him. While we chanted “who are you protecting?”, you linked arms and guarded his white male body from our POC femme and queer ones.
Then the man whipped out pepper spray and maced everyone around him. I narrowly missed it. Karma is a funny thing, though: the wind blew the spray back on his face. I wanted to laugh about it, but someone washed his eyes with Maalox before all the protestors who had been maced had been attended to. Shortly after, you formed your perimeter around him again. He had maced people, and still you told us, US, not HIM, that we had no right to be violent. He was the one who ended up hurting us, yet in the end (as always) you protected the oppressor.
For a while, some people attempted to engage him in dialogue. These were admirable attempts, though it was clear that the man had no intention of listening, least of all to people of color. A young lesbian couple made out in front of him. Those of us who have regularly taken part in direct action tried to strategize a way to move him out of the protest and collectively get him to leave, but before concerted action could be taken, a critical mass pulled his sign down and ripped it apart. Shortly after, the police arrived and took him away (though this, too—a call made by a marshal—troubled us: in a world where we have little reason to trust the police, we wouldn’t wish their brutality on even our worst enemies). The police were exceedingly polite to the man. They helped fold up and carry his step stool. They looked at me with hatred and threat in their eyes as we led the chants that chanted him out.
It was a victory, but you didn’t help at all.
Please sit with this for a second. You, many of you white cis-women, protected a white male homophobic extremist bigot, against feminists of color. It happens so often: white people prioritizing the value of free speech over anti-oppressive action, to the extent that they will silence less privileged parties for sake of a privileged one. Liberals choosing to value some vague commitment to peace over the active destruction of white supremacy, transphobia, and homophobia.
I want you to know that I am mad. I know many of you were organizing a march for the first time. Kudos. I hope you will continue to do so. In your efforts to capture a critical mass of people, however, you chose a weak political platform. You told us the march was “not anti-ANYTHING”. You told us it was about celebrating unity. So many knitted pink pussy hats equating feminism with having a vagina. So many selfies. So many signs about reproductive rights and perfecting “our” nation. So few signs protesting white supremacy, capitalism, police brutality, war, imperialism, Islamophobia, trans and homophobia. So many “Love trumps hate” signs. So few “I promise to actively destroy and work against hate” signs.
And true enough: when it came to actively disrupting hatred at the protest, you backed away and protected the oppressor. You chose a white liberal “feminism” that didn’t risk any of the privilege or leverage you/we/I have, to help destroy, disrupt, and abolish the structures of violence that keep the rest of us down.
So I want you to know this: if what you truly want is unity, do the work to learn what has to be abolished before unity can be made possible.
In the coming years, we will choose many different tactics and strategies to organize a resistance to this corporatist fascist administration and state. I will march with you. And I want to organize with you. But we’ve all got work to do. Take a look at yourselves and decide what you will risk. Understand that many of us have been risking ourselves, often without choice, for a long time now.
Understand that people will continue to pursue tactics you don’t agree with. You don’t have to agree with us, but if you don’t like what you see, walk away.
You don’t get to decide how we pursue our shared liberation.
You don’t get to decide how militant feminists choose to build solidarity with each other against racists, fascists, and homophobes.
And if you agree: Support us. Organize with us. Have our backs. Risk your own bodies, if you can, because you can. Because your bodies haven’t been at risk in the way that black, brown, Muslim, Latino, Asian, immigrant, trans, and queer bodies have for the hundreds of years before you even felt yours was threatened.
Please learn how white liberal feminism expresses a fantasy of liberation predicated on the illusion of formal equality, in a world where we have never been treated as equals. Yet there is hope: this is only one approach to feminism. You can’t think yourself out of whiteness, nor can you wish the material and social effects of racial hierarchies away. But you can think yourself into the forms of solidarity that are based on a vision of liberation for all. We invite you to learn about a feminism that is truly intersectional, queer, anti-racist, and anti-capitalist in its commitments. It is, for all of us who are enmeshed in this maze of snares, the only kind of feminism worth its salt.
To earn our trust, however, you have to do the work.
Ask whether your discomfort impedes us from doing our work. If it does, find a way to step aside or step up. Listen. Let us work. Work with us. Seek to abolish oppressive systems with us. Destroy hatred with us. Fuck things up with us. Risk yourselves with us and for us. Get trained for self-defense with us. Be anti-fascist and anti-capitalist feminists with us.
Please make yourselves worthy of the unity you call for, before you accuse us for preventing its flourishing. Because we were doing this long before you woke up. Don’t take naps now. No rest now. Fight now. You can do better. We’ve been waiting for you.
A feminist of color