Saturday, August 30, 2008

An open letter to white feminists reluctant to challenge sexism against Michelle Obama

The following is a response to an article called the "Cost of Silence," which is co-authored by Corinne Douglas and Jacquelyn Gray. Essentially, Douglas and Gray claim that, because black women did not defend Hillary Clinton against sexist attacks launched by the media and Obama supporters, they (black women) are to blame for white feminists' failure to protest similarly sexist assaults on Michelle Obama.


To view the original article, go to:

Ms. Douglas and Ms. Gray,

You wrote: "It is entirely unacceptable to go along with unfair attacks against women simply because you disagree with the particular woman under attack."

Who says that black women did that?

What evidence allows you to conclude that black women -- as a group -- did not resist or challenge misogynistic attacks on Hillary Clinton because 2 prominent/public black women (Valbrun & Curtis), as you point out, did not resist/challenge sexist assaults against Clinton?

Even if you -- Douglas and Gray -- meant to imply that *most* black women did not defend Senator Clinton *or* that *most* of Barack Obama's black women supporters did not defend Senator Clinton, you would still be guilty of making -- at best -- an unfair, unsupported generalization about black women's responses to the sexist assaults against Hillary Clinton -- and at worst, a racist assumption about *all* or *most* black women's responses to sexist attacks on Clinton. I use the term racist because your claim is not grounded in any defensible, statistically concrete evidence but an assumption based on your own (inevitably) racialiized perception of particular racial groups' response/non-response to the sexist targeting of Hillary Clinton.

That said, it also strikes me as entirely unproductive to rationalize, justify and excuse white women who, in response to what they believe is black women's refusal en masse to protest misogynistic assaults on Hillary Clinton, choose *not* to challenge/resist sexist attacks on Michelle Obama.

You write: "But we cannot expect white feminists to come to the defense of Michelle Obama if we deny them the ability to, at a minimum, identify their own mistreatment at the hands of the same oppressors that are victimizing Michelle."

Why can't "we"?

(And who is the "we" you're addressing? White women? Women of color?)

Women of color and white allies in the struggle against racism, racist-sexism/ sexist-racism, and institutionalized oppression in general can certainly *expect* and *ask* white women/white feminists to set aside any ill-feeling they may harbor against those who failed to identify, criticize and resist the sexist targeting of Hillary Clinton. Women of color and white anti-racist/anti-sexist allies can ask this of white women/white feminists simply because it is the right thing to do. If, as you say, women of color, white women (and, I would add, their allies in the struggle against gender & race oppression) are committed to the eradication of social injustice -- the question of whether or not to act resistively should *never* be a question.

In fact, if I apply your logic -- women of color owe white women *nothing* because 1) white women, as a group, extract (both voluntarily and involuntarily) countless unearned benefits in a context of institutional racism simply because they are white. And 2) while, historically, a minority of white women (and a minority of white feminists) have joined the struggle against institutional racism, the vast majority of white women (and white feminists) have not done so. The majority of white women and white feminists continue to benefit from the racist oppression of men and women of color, do little or no work to reduce their complicity in white supremacy, and/or remain in denial of the extent to which they enjoy white privilege and benefit from access to white patriarchal power (or white men's privilege).

Moreover, your statement about black women's inaction in the face of sexist attacks on Hillary Clinton *does not*: 1) take into account the marginal or altogether invisible voice black women have inside pop cultural institutions that are dominated by middle and upper class white men -- the same pop cultural institutions that grant white women a comparatively greater but still less powerful, minority presence than it does women of color. And 2) seems to be subtly informed (or shaped) by the belief that white women/white feminists are entitled to women of colors' support -- an expectation that many folks would identify as "white entitlement" -- even though, as you point out, women of color are disadvantaged, subordinated and oppressed (to varying degrees because of class, sexual identity etc.,) by *both* white women and white men in a society as fundamentally structured by racism as it is sexism.

Ms. Douglas & Ms. Gray, it seems far more useful and endeavor to identify (at least some of) the reasons (some) white feminists (irrespective of class status) may choose *not* to resist/challenge sexist attacks on Michelle Obama *and then* encourage them (white women/white feminists) to make a different choice. Failure to do so will only give certain women of color reason to believe they do not now and will never have allies among white feminists -- that at the end of the day, what matters to white women is their own issues and concerns -- a sentiment that is amply supported by the history of racism and classism (forms of oppression that are interconnected, which is to say that racism *does not* operate independently of classism, or sexism, etc.,) inside the feminist movement from the post-Civil War era to the present.

But to even say that alone without discussing the complexities of racism and classism within a feminist movement dominated and led by middle and upper class white women does not do justice to that history.

In any case, I believe your blog burned more bridges than it helped to build.



Thank you, Nadra Kareem, for writing the blog that drew my attention the "Cost of Silence" article.
Kareem blogs for Racialicious. To read her blog and the comments she received, go to:

Thursday, August 28, 2008

New Yorker Cover image of the Obamas

I am willing to concede that the satiric illustration (pictured above) that dons the New Yorker's cover might be well intended if the image is truly meant to mock the combination of racism, sexism, xenophobia** & neo-imperialist** attitudes and views used to tear apart, in order to discredit, Michelle and Barack Obama — (vs. an attempt by the New Yorker to exploit for profit the attitudes of both Obama's supporters and non-supporters).

However, in an institutionally racist/white supremacist**, sexist, xenophobic and neo-imperialist context — good intentions don't matter because everything (or, at the very least, most everything) a person says and does *and* an institution's messages/views and practices — operates in that oppressive context.

That said, the New Yorker's attempt at progressive satire would've been more useful and effective had they used a cover image that shifted the focus from one of the routine targets of oppression (i.e. people of color) to the those most empowered by that oppression (i.e., white folks).

In other words, the New Yorker should have rejected satiric portrayals centering on people of color — i.e., the Obama's — and instead, used a satiric illustration that focused on the most powerful segments of the population forwarding bigoted critiques of people of color/the Obamas — i.e., white folk — and The New Yorker should have done THAT precisely because of the oppressive attitudes and practices it wants the public to believe the July cover is meant to critique. I

n the U.S./"Western" context, it is more useful to challenge and resist white supremacy by directly challenging and resisting white racism and white peoples' (intentional and unintentional) participation in white supremacy. Efforts to challenge and resist white supremacy by mobilizing racist-sexist-xenophobic-neo-imperialist (visual or textual) discourse of people of color is tantamount to using gasoline to put out a fire; it's stupid and it won't work. But then, I expect that if the New Yorker cover image chided whites who believe themselves progressive — whites who self-identify or believe themselves to be anti-racist (etc.,) — THAT COVER IMAGE would have provoked the animus of the bulk of their audience — the very people upon which the New Yorker's economic survival depends: middle and upper-class white liberals.

For more discussion on this topic, please visit this blogger site:

Bloggers at analyze the way in which race and pop culture intersect.

Blog terms defined**:

1) When I say neo-imperialist, I am referring to new imperialism, i.e. the U.S.'s new way/method of colonizing overseas territories since the early 1970s. More specifically, the term neo-imperialism refers to the particular way (or specific and unique way) in which the United States government and its large corporations establish control and/or dominance of overseas/foreign governments and economies as well as dominate the commercial mainstream of overseas cultures. Since the U.S. government's effort to colonize Vietnam failed miserably (to the tune of 100s of 1000s of people dead -- most of them Vietnamese civilians), the U.S. government -- under the Nixon Administration -- pursued a new policy they called "Vietnamization" -- that is, according to Nixon, "using Vietnamese boys to fight Vietnamese wars" (emphasis mine). Prior to the U.S. governments' loss in the Vietnam War, the U.S. government often practiced outright imperialism -- that is, it entered countries without the consent of the people and overthrew the existing leadership in order to establish control of the region (Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Philippines provide just a few examples). In other cases, the U.S. government would assassinate leaders of foreign countries they deemed "unfriendly" or uncooperative -- that is, leaders that insisted on governing as they wanted (or as their people wanted to) rather than bowing to the will of a greedy, self-righteous, racist/white supremacist U.S. government that used the justification that the "darker races" were too savage and ignorant to govern themselves -- they needed the strong, civilizing hand of the U.S. gov't -- which would then permit the U.S. businesses to exploit the labor of foreign peoples' and exploit the foreign country's natural resources for profit. But in the wake of the U.S. government's defeat in Vietnam, it would no longer use the lives of U.S. Americans to fight their dirty imperial battles; they would, instead, remain at arms length from the fighting by funding, equipping with weapons, and training indigenous people to fight a war that would benefit U.S. neo-imperialists (i.e., the federal government and corporate "America") and indigenous elites willing to cooperate with U.S. neo-imperialists, and thus, sacrifice the social, economic, and political well-being of the poorest indigenous people. Since "Vietnamization" policy, the U.S. would engage in what many people refer to as "indirect colonization" -- that is, the movement to establish economic and political power in a foreign territory without overtaking the government outright I do not mean to imply that the U.S. government and its large corporations control every aspect of these overseas economies, politics, and social/cultural life. Oppressed peoples have always resisted total domination of their lives -- and they will continue to do so.

2) The term "xenophobia" refers to hatred of foreigners (the term neo-imperialism identifies the systematic, oppressive practice and institutionalization of xenophobic hatred.).

3) After re-reading bell hook's statement on the topic in her book Feminist Majority, I have come to believe that the term "racism" is insufficient for identifying, defining and describing the tradition of racist practices in the U.S. as well as the historical, systematic, institutionalization of racism or racist practices and racist ideologies/thinking. In the United States, people of color and white people live under white supremacy -- a term that refers to the social, cultural, economic, and political domination of an excessively wealthy and powerful white upper class -- an elite class of whites whose domination, or supremacy, benefits all whites (to varying degrees because of gender, class, sexuality, ability etc.,) and oppresses all people of color (to varying degrees because of gender, class, sexuality, ability etc.,). In a context of white supremacy, white people extract unearned and frequently unexamined privileges because of their race; they do so both involuntarily and voluntarily. In this sense, white people living in the U.S. can only be racist -- that is, they cannot help participating in the racist oppression of people of color -- because of the racial power and privileges they access (whether they want to or not) in a context of white supremacy. People of color, in this sense, cannot be racist -- that is, they cannot and do not access power and privilege because of the color of their skin (in fact, they are persecuted, oppressed, discriminated against, and targeted for violence by racist individuals, racist groups and a racist state). People of color can, however, absorb racist/white supremacist beliefs that might lead them to support the racist system that confers power and privilege onto white people -- simply because they are white -- and participate in their own oppression and that of other people of color. In other words, people of color can collude with white supremacy -- that is, they can think and behave in ways that uphold institutional racism, and therefore, their own racial oppression. While I believe people of color incapable of racism on an institutional level (or incapable of oppressing white people as a group or oppressing white people on an institutional level), people of color can be racially prejudiced -- they can hold prejudiced (or bigoted) beliefs against white people and other people of color.