On Tuesday I attended an event organized by the National Organization for Women NYC chapter in response to the hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen. The hashtag, as I understand it, incorporates a variety of complex, interrelated issues, but perhaps this interview with the hashtag’s originator Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia) is a good place to start.
The event itself has already been briefly summarized by panel member Lori Adelman (@Lori_Adelman) on Feministing, so please read it and check all the links to get the relevant information on the speakers. I would just like to mention a few points that I gathered from the debate:
- First of all, let’s talk about blogging: Panelists Patricia (@Besito86) and Nicole (@thehotnessgrrrl) seemed to agree that blogs are beautiful platforms to talk about your issues, to get your voice out and to create a space that is both personal and public. Sadly, hateful commentary and trolls are, of course, part of the experience, but seemed to have no silencing effect. Silencing is much more of an issue, when we look at more “mainstream” feminist blogs and news sources – the ones that are meant to represent feminist women, but all too often choose the usual “known” names as writers, rather than actively seeking out more diverse perspectives. Lori stressed that the experiences of women of color should be at the center of the movement, and that includes bloggers asking themselves whether the topics they address include and are relevant for women of color. I didn’t get the chance to ask whether she meant group blogs and aggregated blogs, or individual bloggers as well. I don’t mean to exclude anyone from reading my blog, but I also wouldn’t presume to know and be able to talk about what concerns women of color. The solution, for blog collectives and journalistic websites alike, is of course always to engage and hire more writers of color.
- One recurring topic that emerged as central to the debate was the inclusion of immigration. It is remarkable how an issue that is so central to social justice, feminism and human rights could be ignored by mainstream feminism for so long. Olivia (AF3IRM) talked about the role of Filipino women who come to the U.S. as care workers, facilitating the careers of white women, who will then perceive these careers as empowering. Tiloma (Sakhi) tied the delay of VAWA to the states’ hesitation to address the needs of immigrant women and, yes, blatant racism. Major feminist organizations’ “inclusion” of migrant women’s needs often seems to begin and end with supporting anti-human-trafficking laws. On the other hand, immigration debates must start including the gendered perspective in their analyses as well.
- Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” was discussed. Nicole (The Hotness) stated that the message for women of color can only be “Lean On” each other in order to be stronger and get ahead. Help from “outside” cannot be expected, however, white feminist allies should take away from this debate that it is time to “Lean Back” and let the voices of women of color be heard, even when that means turning down a speaking gig. It’s the right thing to do, certainly, but how many women – and men – can afford to step away from an opportunity in a field that is so contested and so highly competitive as the access to a public arena? Very few, I imagine. The same goes for the current job market. That should not be read as an excuse, but merely an explanation. The sad truth is that economic instability certainly does nothing to enhance solidarity among people. However, on that particular night, solidarity among women of color was very strong, and hopefully the debate will not end here, but concrete actions will be taken. NOW has already invited all participants to join a Google group to discuss the next steps.
There were many more issues that were discussed that I could have mentioned. I tried to live tweet the first half (that is, before my battery died), but to get all the details of what was discussed, you’re probably better off checking out #NOWwomenofcolor on Twitter.