Get it together, white feminists. Seriously.
Hilarious and well-informed YouTuber Franchesca Ramsey recently dropped a Snapchat video stream on her Tumblr recalling a frustrating and telling experience at a Q&A for a show screening she attended which was questionable, to say the least. And by questionable, I really mean racist toward Black men and Asian women. You can watch Ramsey's account here:
You can also catch the video along with the full transcript on Ramsey’s Tumblr page, but here is the main chunk of the post:
So long story short, I asked why a show that’s all about “championing feminism” ignores women of color and makes fun of Asian women? And then, while everyone was sitting there patting themselves on the back for how “progressive” this show is, like, the Black dudes are the punchline, in it?
So afterward, the moderator comes up to me, to whitesplain to me what it “really” was about. And this woman—whew! “We’re not fetishizing Black men because, you know, as a Jewish, plus-sized woman, men really love me, and I’m just speaking my truth!” When the punchline is, “I’m too fat for cute white guys, but Black dudes will fuck me because they’ll fuck anything,” you’re a fucking racist!
Ramsey then goes on to explain how the moderator of the supposedly feminist show along with Transparent creator Jill Soloway literally wouldn't let her leave after she declared that she couldn't handle the ignorance within the exchange. They continued to justify to her why their stereotypical and dehumanizing humor was okay in order to prove that they weren't racist, and Ramsey was fed up:
Jill Soloway’s ass had the fucking nerve to say to me, “Yeah, we should be intersectional. I think women and people of color need to work together!” I’m like, “Bu—but—women of color?!” You clearly don’t understand what intersectional feminism is if when I ask you why isn’t your show intersectional, your response is to separate women and people of color.
Ramsey soon gets tearful in the video after declaring that respectability politics are nonsense, because of how isolating and exhausting it is to feel like the only person who speaks out on issues like this, especially as a Black woman:
This is why respectability politics are not shit. 'cause even when I don’t curse, and I play nice and compliment your work, y'all still treat me like the fucking angry Black woman. It just sucks...I was really, really fucking upset that these women treated me like this. And I’m the one that has to be professional because I wanna work in this business, but I don’t wanna compromise my morals, but that’s what you have to do to fucking get a check.
Franchesca Ramsey reflects an ideal that a lot of people of color believe; quite simply:
I wanna be able to watch something and not be shit on. It’s 2016. There is no excuse. If some racist shit shitting on Asian women and Black men slips through your show, that tells me there are no people of color on your staff. You can throw a stone in any direction and see a talented person of color out here. Like, come on.
Ramsey’s frustration is completely justified and so relatable. It is infuriating when a so-called "progressive" figure thinks that because they aren't Donald Trump or a member of the Westboro Baptist Church that they can’t be bigoted. Newsflash: You can be. It's especially infuriating when feminists (white feminists in this case) are the perpetrator because one would think a person who fights for equality wouldn't be oppressive. But alas.
You might be wondering what the phrase “white feminist” entails. It’s probably not what you think. The term is not a condemnation of feminists who are white, rather feminists whose activism is exclusive to white, cisgender, middle-class women concerns. In other words, feminists who perpetuate oppression. Those feminists most often are white, however because white people do not think about race in the way most people of color do. Huffington Post has a great video that goes into depth on this topic:
Feminism itself has always had a race problem since its very inception. The phrase “white feminism” encompasses this ideology. Early pioneers like Susan B. Anthony were solely concerned with white women’s rights and continued to dehumanize and disregard Black civil right's concerns. Susan B. Anthony, while initially anti-slavery, became a staunch advocate of lynchings after Black men were granted the right to vote before white women. She would actually let out her classes on critical feminist theory early to go attend lynchings. Many other suffragettes shared this sentiment. In her article 'Suffragettes Who Sucked: White Supremacy and Women's Rights', Mallory Ortberg quoted the major white Suffragettes of the time who were paradoxically feminist and racist. Suffragette Rebecca Ann Latimer Felton (the first woman on Congress) said in regards to Black men voting:
I do not want to see a negro man walk to the polls and vote on who should handle my tax money, while I myself cannot vote at all…When there is not enough religion in the pulpit to organize a crusade against sin; nor justice in the court house to promptly punish crime; nor manhood enough in the nation to put a sheltering arm about innocence and virtue—-if it needs lynching to protect woman’s dearest possession from the ravening human beasts—-then I say lynch, a thousand times a week if necessary.
Yikes. I mean, Carrie Chapman Catt, the founder of the League of Women Voters, literally said "White supremacy will be strengthened, not weakened, by women’s suffrage."
Unfortunately, many feminists today reflect that flawed perspective whether they know it or not. Recently, Julie Delpy made the outrageous claim that "I sometimes wish I were African-American, you know, because at least people don’t bash them afterwards when they say something about a reality, which is that we live in a xenophobic environment — not just the Academy, obviously, just the entire world." Miss Delpy, in what world is a Black person not bashed for speaking out on inequality? Just read the comment section of any Black Lives Matter video for Christ's sake. Funnily enough, Delpy's words sound a lot like something Susan B. Anthony once said in regards to Frederick Douglass: "Mr. Douglass talks about the wrongs of the Negro; but with all the outrages that he to-day suffers, he would not exchange his sex and take the place of Elizabeth Cady Stanton." See? Oppression Olympics ain't nothing new.
History repeats itself. Separating race from gender dynamics is faulty activism. And yet many modern day white feminists, as Ramsey described, pat themselves on the back for dismantling the patriarchy while continuing to be fucking racist. For a feminist to be racist is for her to be just like the oppressive, white, patriarchal man she seeks equality with. You cannot dismantle the patriarchy whilst enforcing it. You just can't.
Even in articles written about Ramsey's video, we can see white feminism in action. Teresa Jusino from Mary Sue wrote an article that initially touts support of Ramsey in its first half, but then Jusino derails the conversation of intersectionality with a discursive, distrait segment explaining why she believes that Ramsey’s use of the phrase “whitesplaining” was problematic because one of the white women mentioned was a plus sized Jewish woman and “It’s difficult to think of Jews as white.” She then goes on about how antisemitism is "still a thing", and says that lumping Jewish people together into “white people” (which is not what Ramsey did at all) is like lumping white Latinos together (false equivalency, much?). It is very ironic that in describing a video condemning whitesplaining, this writer actually whitesplained! Blogger Cate Young of BattyMamzelle left a comment on this article that perfectly describes my feelings on this derailment:
It's hilarious to me that you literally whitesplained whitesplaining. Whiteness as a construct has never actually been about race or ethnicity, but rather about gaining access to the ruling class. The Greek and the Polish weren't originally white in America either but I'm sure you'd look at them sideways for saying they weren't white now and didn't benefit from whiteness. Whiteness is simply a set of privileges that some people enjoy and others don't. Jewish people do, unless of course they're black jews, in which case we just pretend they don't exist. And if you honestly don't think that Cameron Diaz and Demi Lovato (and Selena Gomez and Christina Aguilera and, and...) haven't benefitted from being white Latinas, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you.
The fact of the matter is, there is no excuse for racism in media. There is no excuse for your writing team not to have intersectional voices. If you're a creator and your work reflects bigotry, it's your responsibility to listen to the critiques and be open to change. It is not an invitation to gaslight someone and try to absolve yourself of white guilt like Soloway and her moderator did with Franchesca Ramsey. Intersectionality is essential to one's work as an activist, especially if you're a self-identified feminist.
Though Ramsey’s experience and much of the response to it is infuriating, it is heartening to know that many different content creators stand in solidarity with Ramsey. With support from the likes of The Read co-host Crissle West and Blavity’s Jessica Edwards as well as Clutch, not to mention the numerous Tumblr rebloggers and YouTube commenters on her various videos who constantly thank her for speaking out, Ramsey can rest assured she is not alone in her fight for justice. As she perfectly concluded her video, “We out here”. And we’re never shutting up.
For more on Franchesca Ramsey and her content, you can find her on YouTube and all social media platforms under the username ‘Chescaleigh':