Feminists in Dialogue: race and feminism

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The first Feminists in Dialogue event on 9 September 2013 brought together a small group of Black and White feminists for a discussion on race and feminism. The discussion centred around two broad questions shown below, along with a summary of points made in relation to each.

What do Black feminists need in their allies?

  • White women who have the privilege or the platform to be heard need to shout with their Black sisters and assist them and find a way  to share platforms
  • Recognise that Black women don’t need to justify their existence
  • Listen, don’t be dismissive/defensive;  It’s not a personal thing about you;  Be open to the discussion.
  • Understand institutional racism and that feminism isn’t exempt from that
  • Don’t use one Black feminists words against another
  • Think about how you are depicting Black women
  • Go to Black feminist events and help, don’t just invite a Black feminist to your event
  • Black women need allies in political structures that are attacking Black women e.g. the Go Home van. Be involved in the activism off-line.
  • Understand that for Black women, the issues that face the Black community are important – White women need to be involved in that
  • Expand your conception of the feminist movement and what the feminist movement’s issues are e.g. immigration
  • Engage in the dialogue with empathy
  • Don’t assume that you know what we need
  • Check your politics – find out/learn what is helpful

In being challenged, what do White feminists find constructive?

  • Remember that Black women who challenge are up against the system
  • Black feminists don’t have a monolithic point of view
  • Some issues may be difficult for white feminists to take a position on e.g. FGM, ‘honour’ killings
  • Don’t assume that white women haven’t thought about the issues
  • Black women shouldn’t bear the whole burden of educating white women – but try to explain with patience
  • It’s important to have the time to process a challenge
  • Being allowed to be vulnerable: admit “I didn’t know”, need more info
  • Avoidance of the assumption that having a platform means a woman’s life is perfect
  • Understanding that a woman that has got something wrong is maybe trying to get it right
  • Remember that white women are not all thinking the same thing
  • Centre on the issue rather than the woman
  • Remember that oppressions are part of the status quo
  • If you accidentally collude with them that doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person
  • Being challenged by friends makes it easier for them to hear
  • Being accused of racism is not the worst thing that can happen to you
  • To sometimes just have a private discussion – perhaps with a view to sharing learning later
  • Start from the premise that change can result from engagement

Women present at this discussion agreed to make these points public, for comment and discussion, and to share the format of the event for others to use. Women also agreed that these discussions should not be limited to race and feminism, but about intersectionality more widely.