by anna saini
Everything started out fine between White Feminism and me. I grew up Brown in white suburbia. I learned to speak English. I sang “O Canada” and pledged allegiance to the Queen of England. I earned A’s and five stars and Student of the Month and teacher’s pet. I was a young lady (of color) in the making, a testament to second-wave feminist ideals of empowerment through education, opportunity, and self-actualization. It was decades later that I came to understand what Feminism meant, but White Feminism already set her site on me.
It was around 1988 when the problems with White Feminism began. I worshiped my older brother and that year he discovered Public Enemy. Not a particularly rebellious child, he bumped “Don’t Believe the Hype” and “Bring the Noise” so it resounded through the house.
White Feminism couldn’t understand why I was convinced It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back had anything to do with my seven-year-old self and my Punjabi immigrant family. When Public Enemy says “hold us back” the US is not YOU, dear. They’re talking about the Blacks!
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Much to the chagrin of White Feminism, the love affair of hip-hop shifted in full force from my brother to me. Through it, I developed a language to describe oppression and power dynamics. I recognized these concepts as relevant to my life, even if I couldn’t fully articulate it and even as the experiences described weren’t a direct reflection of mine.
White Feminism insisted it was all in my head. You see, when the Blacks make music, they cannot stop talking about this thing called Slavery, for which they have an infinite memory. While it is deeply important to commemorate Slavery as a sad part of our history, this has nothing to do with YOU, little girl. Your people are far superior to the Blacks at moving forward and not dwelling on the past. Young lady, this is part of the reason why you are so well-equipped to take advantage of the opportunism that is White Feminism.
As my hip-hop repertoire expanded, so did White Feminism’s criticisms. It wasn’t just Public Enemy anymore it was Tupac, Biggie, NWA, and Wu Tang. At least the critiques made more sense in the 90’s when many of the songs were political, though hip hop, with its “fuck bitches” and “cop killer”, was steeped in the violence of misogyny.
How can you listen to music that doesn’t respect you? What is it about this “Juicy” song? “This album is dedicated to all the teachers that told me I’d never amount to nothin’?” If I remember correctly, all of your teachers were overwhelmingly supportive of you. What is this “It was all a dream” business? Have you even ever read Word Up Magazine?
White Feminism thought I needed to be saved. Tipper Gore waged a war on hip-hop. White mainstream media reached out to bell hooks for help, asking for her stance on gangsta rap, pitting her against Ice Cube in Spin Magazine. The expectation was that she would skewer him as a misogynist and talk sense into young women like me. Surely you’ll listen to bell, White Feminism implored.
Circumstances did not unfold as planned. When given the opportunity, bell placed the blame of gangsta rap misogyny squarely on white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. She wrote, “It is useful to think of misogyny as a field that must be labored in and maintained both to sustain patriarchy but also to serve as an ideological anti-feminist backlash. And what better group to labor on this ‘plantation’ than young black men.”
We understand where you’re coming from, White Feminism responded, but does everything have to come back to Slavery? It’s not the Oppression Olympics, bell.
Even the brilliant feminist mind of bell hooks could not grasp the tragic struggle of White Feminism. The depths of the White Feminist experience was too much for her to fathom. White Feminism had no true allies in her crusade to right the oppressions meted out by Black male patriarchal hip-hop. White Feminism took on the mission alone, with only the vast resources and privileges of whiteness to rely upon.
Despite her most fervent efforts, White Feminism and I grew apart. Riot Grrrl happened. White Feminism created and then revived Lilith Fair. She didn’t care when we complained that it was overwhelmingly white, that it did not represent us. White Feminism told us India.Arie was there, how could it be racist?
When you made plain your assault on trans women in our communities by publically excluding them from the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, you compared your transphobic crusade to the defense of women of color only spaces. Lisa Vogel, co-founder of the festival, explained, “I feel very strongly that having a space for women, who are born women, to come together for a week, is a healthy, whole, loving space to provide for women who have that experience. To label that as transphobic is, to me, as misplaced as saying the women-of-color tent is racist.” It seemed like the whole time we were trying to explain women of color only spaces to you, you weren’t listening at all. Then you took what little you heard and twisted it into a justification for your transphobia.
White Feminism was officially irrelevant. Kanye stormed a Video Music Awards stage in defense of Beyoncé, White Feminism wouldn’t even dignify him with a response. We all knew he was right: “Single Ladies” was one of the best videos of all time.
As White Feminism stopped paying attention, something happened in hip hop. Beginning in 2010, a woman spit the flagrant machismo of gangsta rap. Sure, we had seen femme rap icons in the past – Lil Kim, Trina, Queen Latifah – but this was about creating a femme hip-hop dynasty on her terms; a Black woman rivaling Jay-Z, Suge Knight and Dr. Dre in her visions of corporate empire. In the absence of representations of women that matched us in the mainstream media, her swagger emerged as an anthem for the legions of feminist voices that you call ‘oppressed’. Minaj told the world what we already knew: “You could be the king, but watch the queen conquer.”
We tried to go about our business, to revel in the flipped script of hip hop in peace, but last year your animosity became harder to ignore.While we mourned the loss of Trayvon and reeled from the absolution of his killer, you responded to our pain by telling us that Questlove, and by extension all Black men, really ain’t shit. You hated on Beyoncé for flaunting her magnificent breasts in a sheer bodysuit. You hated on Rihanna for everything including the endangerment of the Slow Loris. Miley Cyrus twerked her way into epic cultural appropriation to the applause of white feminists and the horror of the Smith-Pinkett family. Lily Allen and Lordecame out with racist, shit-show “critiques” of hip-hop. By the time Ani Difranco publicized, cancelled, and issued her faux-apology for attempting to host a music retreat at a slave plantation, the message was clear: White Feminism had nothing to do with me.
White Feminism, it’s 2014 and it’s time to admit that for many contemporary feminists, making it rain on strippers, performing a lap dance for a business partner, and giving your husband a public BJ is what empowerment looks like. It also looks like honoring work and the werkin girls’ hustle that got us here, singing freedom music for CeCe, and lamenting our struggles and sacrifices as our own brand of gangsta.
That young lady (of color) that you once knew, she’s all grown. She’s a Woman of Color and she wasn’t raised on White Feminism. She came up under Hip Hop.
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Brown and proud, a femme-crip-working-class survivor, anna is a community organizer and author currently building grassroots power to expand access to medical marijuana for seriously ill and dis/abled New Yorkers while also writing her first book-length memoir. Her writing appears in various journals and anthologies, Bitch and make/shift magazines, her self-published anthology Colored Girls, and her blog Hersight.