I’m leading a group discussion circle on “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla F. Saad. I’m taking the journaling challenge daily throughout February even though I’m not white. If you happen to be white, why not take the challenge? If I can do it, you can do it too.
Day 22 Questions (from the text):
1. To what extent has your idea of feminism been under the issue of gender only?
2. How has your feminism neglected or minimized the issues of BIPOC?
3. How has your feminism rejected, discounted, or simply ignored BIPOC leaders?
4. How has your feminism been white-centered?
5. If you are someone who has called yourself an intersectional feminist, in what ways have you been centering BIWOC?
I was tempted to start today’s entry by prefacing that this chapter, like the chapters on allyship, didn’t necessarily apply to me, as I a cisgender man. However I realized they do, because feminism isn’t limited to women.
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When I was a newlywed, my now ex-wife and I hosted my cousin and his friend for the weekend at our home in Philadelphia. The two of them were in a touring band based in Chicago, and wanted to spend time with us and see our corner of the world. Our friend who lived a ways across town happened to be throwing a get together that same weekend. Being city dwellers, we didn’t own a vehicle at that time, and relied on public transportation to move about.
The four of us walked to the bus stop on the corner by the fire station on Girard Avenue. My cousin and his bandmate then asked whether the party was in walking distance, as they wanted to see and experience the city on foot. It was a long-ish walk, but manageable, and it was a beautiful day. I said I didn’t see any reason not to walk.
My ex, who was dressed up a bit for the party (heels and nice skirt), understandably did not want to walk. She asked me if I would wait with her at the bus stop if my cousin and his bandmate wanted to walk. I explained that they were not familiar with the city and would not know where to go (this was in the era before smartphones, let alone google maps). I told her we could just meet her there if she wanted to take the bus. We argued — she repeatedly asked me not to leave her there waiting for the bus, saying she felt scared. I mansplained to her that it was a summer afternoon in on a bright day with plenty of people about. What would there possibly be to fear?
As it turns out — the answer was men.
Once we met her at the party, she explained that as soon as the three of us (men) walked away from the corner, the firemen working that day began staring, shouting things to her, loudly saying things about her to one another, and basically harassing her. I was shocked. Because this was so different from my lived experience, I never thought that anything like that would happen in broad daylight simply waiting for a bus. I was also clueless — I know now that there are no places that men exist where a scenario like this is not possible, but back then this concept was foreign to me.
I was angry. At the firemen, at myself. My ex was plenty angry too. I realized then that all the times I had heard her and her friends bring up feminist concepts, that those concepts could apply to me too — if not directly, by way of wanting to do right by a marginalized population as an outsider.
Being conscious of the identities you hold as well as the ones you don’t hold is a part of the work. Being mindful of where you have privilege as well as where you lack it is essential to understanding the plight of those who may fall into the same category as you in one area, while having completely different lived experiences in other areas. It also behooves us to remember that often those who lack power or privilege in one sphere may be quick to claim it in others. Therefore, all real antiracist practitioners should be feminists. And all feminists should be intersectional. This chapter’s focus is on feminism, and how to best be intersectional with your feminism, but in reality intersectionality should apply to other areas as well as race and gender (ability, class, orientation, etc.).
The author mentions the ambulance analogy given by Kimberle Crenshaw. There was one other experience I had that reminded me of when I first encountered the concept of what we now refer to as intersectionality:
I was walking home from my gym back in my early twenties. It was early evening in winter. It was dark, I was bundled up and I had on headphones. I took a short cut through a gas station lot and didn’t see a white woman standing by the pump. She didn’t see me approaching either until I almost walked into her. She screamed so loudly that I heard it over my headphones, but in truth she scared me almost as much. We both jumped back — it was an awkward moment to say the least. After a moment she realized I was not going to harm her, and I realized she had merely been frightened by my presence.
I was quick to think that here was yet another white lady afraid of the black guy, like had legitimately happened so many times before. However as I continued my walk home it occurred to me that I’m a large man and it was dark. I asked myself — is it possible that she would have reacted the same way if I had been a white guy? To what degree did my blackness play a part in this? I’ll never know, but I can safely guess that it’s more than zero and less than one hundred percent.