Womanism and White Privilege: 101

So this is my first ever blog post. After a lot of researching on how to do this tricky part of starting a blog (actually writing) I’ve come to the conclusion that obviously the best thing to do with this post is to tell my readers what I actually plan on doing with my little allotment of cyberspace. I make a pledge to you readers that I, The Well Womanist, intend to use my blogging powers only for the greater good and that this space will be a safe, educational one both for myself and for you. But in order to make this a safe space in particular I understand that I will have to cover a few things so first things first – lets cover the basic foundations of both white privilege and womanism working with questions I’ve been asked in the past! (Rhyming is fabulous too).

What is white privilege?

“White privilege” is the term referring to a concept that white people benefit from privileges that are systematically denied to people of colour. This is not to say that white people can never suffer hardship – they can be denied other privileges if they fit into other minority groups such as the transgender community, the non-binary community, the disabled community, and white women can be oppressed by patriarchy etc. They can also be victims of poverty and homelessness, mental illness, sexual/emotional/physical abuse, the list can go on. White people can still be victims of racial prejudice but that should not be equated to racism.

White people can’t be victims of racism?

For a good few of you reading this, that will have been the first time you’ve ever heard this information and all I can say is don’t panic. The first thing white privilege teaches everyone is the notion that everyone on Earth is already equal in the eyes of institution and therefore reverse racism is a totally valid concept, right? Well, not exactly. Abandon the dictionary definition of racism for a moment which states “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior” and was most likely written by a biased white man. Yes, that is half of what racism is but what this definition conveniently fails to have given is the other half. Racism is the systematic oppression of an ethnic minority, meaning they are oppressed by the judicial system, the police, the media etc. This is called systematic or institutional racism and it is a real threat that is embedded deeply into global society. It goes far deeper than a few hurtful comments about a person’s appearance. Since white people are not systematically oppressed, they cannot be victims of racism (at least from the hands of people of colour). Why are we told we live in a post-racial society? Because a) it gives people a warm fuzzy feeling of togetherness which means b) people of colours’ vocalisation of their legitimate struggles are silenced by the words “but we’re all members of the human race”.

Don’t people of colour enjoy privileges because of their skin colour too?

Unfortunately, we do not live in a post-racial society and there are many privileges that come with being white, from being well represented in the media (i.e. film, fashion) to the point where they are considered a default and Eurocentric beauty standards become international beauty standards to not being punished for stereotypes (e.g. being less likely to be a victim of police brutality and racial profiling). And contrary to popular belief, affirmative action, in the sense that “they got that university place just because they’re a person of colour”, is a myth. Okay, people of colour have specific niches in media created for them (Ebony magazine, BBC Asian Network in the UK to name a few) but that is because as noted earlier, the issues that relate to their race aren’t properly represented in the mainstream media so people of colour create their own! If we were properly represented in the media then we wouldn’t need those niches.

Are you biased? Should white people feel guilty for being white?

Firstly, objectivity is a myth. Secondly, as a British Asian woman, causing shame about one’s race is the last thing I want to do to anybody – the information above is not intended to make anybody feel ashamed or guilty for being born into the race they were. However, it is important to openly acknowledge people’s races and the unfair privileges/denials of privileges that come with them! It’s our duty to fight against them so we really can have the post-racial society we are disillusioned into thinking we live in. Acknowledging your own privileges – whether you’re cisgender, heterosexual, white, rich, able-bodied, allistic – should not equate to feeling shame because you fit into the privileged group. It does, however, mean you have a social responsibility to society to educate your fellows in that group (in my humble opinion).

What can I do to solve this problem?

Educate as many people as you can. Educate your siblings, your friends, your parents and your children. Read up on how racism affects both people of colour as a group and individuals both locally and internationally and how it affects white people in the same ways. Learn about other cultures but do not appropriate from them as this is also oppressive in nature. If you are white, the process of “checking your white privilege” will be a never-ending one but it will make you a more enlightened individual and help make the world a better place for the generations to come.

What is womanism?

The majority of people who have ventured onto the Internet today will have heard of “feminism”. As a whole it is a movement that strives to create social, economic and political equality focusing on women but can also liberate men from patriarchy too. In fact it can help everyone. However, mainstream feminism has been criticised as it has had a focus, since the Suffragette movement in the early 20th Century, on middle-class white women. Womanism focuses on women of colour, primarily black women, and the term was originally coined in 1979 by Alice Walker in her story “Coming Apart”. Of course, since the movement was originally founded by a black woman it would be ridiculous to not include them in my discussions of equality – in fact it would be anti-black of me to do so.

“A Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.” – Alice Walker

What is anti-blackness?

Anti-blackness is pretty much what it says on the tin – it is racism specifically aimed at black people. As a non-black woman of colour, I have to acknowledge that the society I live in has caused me to internalise notions of anti-blackness and it is my responsibility to unlearn these notions and encourage others to do so too.

Who can be a womanist?

Women of colour can be womanists as long as they continue to acknowledge their anti-blackness – the term for inclusive white feminists (not Clueless White Feminists™) would be an intersectional feminist. Remember, the point of womanism is not to be divisive but to deal with the issues that all women (women of colour in particular) face as mainstream feminism does not do this for them.

What’s a Clueless White Feminist™ and how can I avoid being one?

Clueless White Feminists™ (surprisingly not always white but usually) like to praise white women’s feminist triumphs yet be derogatory about womanist triumphs and often condescend to women of colour. For example, they often try to “liberate” (read: Westernise) women who do not fit their ideals of a strong woman. They are the same people who patronise Muslim women for choosing to wear a hijab/niqab/burkha, ignorantly coming to the conclusion that Islam is a horrible oppressive religion that forces women to cover themselves (which are of course, lies). In order to avoid becoming a Clueless White Feminist™ I would recommend that people listen to the experiences of transgender women and women of colour. Remember: as a white person you have less authority over what constitutes as racism, do not try to tell people of colour about their own experiences.

What’s your name and where do you “really come from”?

My name is Dhruti and I was born in Watford, just north of London. If you mean my ethnicity, I come from Gujarat, a state in the north-west of India.

Image

Why did you want to start this blog?

There’s actually a part of this blog I haven’t addressed yet! The “Well” part of The Well Womanist will be dedicated to wellbeing, which encompasses healthy living (I’m a vegetarian, apologies to my carnivore readers) and fitness. I’ll be reviewing fitness apps, sharing my own healthy recipes and tips and tricks to nourish your body all whilst giving a critical womanist analysis of the society we live in today! I wanted to start this blog because over the past year and a half I’ve realised I’ve learnt so much about how the world works and I know that the Internet is a fantastic podium for sharing information. I’ve heard from so many voices all around the world sharing stories of their own personal struggles thanks to social media like Twitter, Tumblr and Reddit and I thought if I have any kind of power to change the world for good then I want to use it. So, here I am!

What kind of authority do you have for writing this blog?

This section acts as a disclaimer of sorts: I have no specialist degrees. I’m just a girl with a passion for equality. I’m also no dietician or physician etc. so please don’t take any medical advice from me and always consult your doctor before making any changes to your lifestyle.

Please remember I love to learn and if I have said something to offend you or have misinformed my readers, then please let me know at thewellwomanist@gmail.com and I will do my best to either amend the blog post, apologise, or take it down.

I’m gonna leave you, reader, with some thoughts from the late Dr. Maya Angelou who only passed away this week. It was a tragedy to lose such a beautiful, brilliant soul but she left the world in a better place than she once found it. Rest in peace, Doctor.