The F-word…again

Jehanzeb at Muslim Reverie has just written another brilliant blog post. (I seriously want to marry this guy; if you’re reading this, yes it’s an official proposal :D)

I see all of these reactions as dismissing a disturbing reality about racial hierarchy, white “privilege” and power, interlocking oppression, power relations between the West and Muslim-majority countries.  Rather than challenging white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy, the society in which we live, the focus of every conversation shifted towards personal attacks against me.  The goal in each case, whether deliberate or not, was to silence anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-colonial, and anti-imperialist politics.

I’ve seen this happen time and time again; whenever someone who is not a racial/religious elite gets criticized, they fail to respond (since they know the attack is valid) and therefore have no choice but to simply insult the person who criticized them or the system they are a part of. I also find it interesting that anyone from the “third world” is usually brainwashed/impassioned/anti-west when they criticize the west, whereas someone from the west is always neutral/objective/unbiased. Right.

Jehanzeb also makes a great point about racism: it does not need to be in your face to be considered racist. You don’t have to be a member of the KKK to be racist towards black people. You don’t have to have voted for Geert Wilders to be Islamophobic. My time in Holland has shown me that many Dutch people are racist/Islamophobic in a more subtle, less-obvious way. This makes it even more difficult to deal with them, or to deal with racism/Islamophobia in general.

 I’ve heard so many discouraging stories in the past few weeks about movements that oppressed, excluded, marginalized, or even discriminated against other groups of people.

This is a serious problem within many movements. I saw this in Greece last week, where more than one feminist organization was very discriminatory towards migrants, and made quite racist comments. I was also talking to another friend a few days ago who pointed out that Turkish gay men in Germany were not accepted in the mainstream gay movement for a long time. I always expect feminists to be open to all kinds of differences, and homosexuals to be open to diversity, but this is clearly not the case. In fact, the main LGBT organization in Holland approved of and supported Geert Wilders!

When we say “men and women,” which men and women are we talking about?  White men and women?  Black men and women?  Brown men and women?  Homosexual men and women?  Disabled men and women?  And if homosexual or disabled men and women, are they white or of color?  Using general language about feminism and gender only ignores the other significant factors like race, class, sexual orientation, religion, etc. that determine our experiences.

I think a major problem with “feminism” is that it rarely takes intersectionality into account. There is NO WAY we can talk about women as though they are a homogenous group. What about class, race, religion, sexuality, political views, legal status, etc? For too long, feminists acted as though there was one problem and therefore one solution for all women. An excellent critique of this has come from Chandra Mohanty (her work is amazing, a must-read!)

Islamic feminists, for example, must constantly fight a battle on two fronts: against patriarchy within their communities, and against racism/Islamophobia from feminists outside their community (as well as others outside their community).

Generalizing about Muslim/Arab men is a serious issue in the blogosphere today, and unfortunately when these generalizations are made by Muslim/Arab women or women of colour, they hold even more value and are often used by the Orientalist/imperialistic project. They absolutely love it when a Muslim or ex-Muslim criticizes Islam/Arab/Asian culture. What more could they want? This is not to say that we shouldn’t be self-critical; but generalizations are never the way to go. It is not true that ALL Muslim men are patriarchal, violent, misogynistic, or selfish.

I will quote from an article Jehanzeb also posted on his blog, which I found touching and unfortunately, still true today:

Your racism is showing when we are invisible to you; an afterthought solicited to integrate your white organizations.

Your racism is showing when in frustrated anger, you don’t understand why we won’t do your racism work for you. Do it yourself. Educate yourself. Don’t ask another Black woman to explain it all to you. Read a book

Your racism is showing when you pay too much attention to us. We resent your staring scrutiny that reveals how much we are oddities to you.

Your racism is showing in your cowardly fear of us; when you send someone else to talk to us on your behalf, perhaps another sister; when conflict resolution with us means you call the police. When you ignore what the police do to Black people and call them anyway, your racism is showing.

Your racism is showing when you eagerly embrace the lone Black woman in your collective, while fearing, resenting, suspecting and attacking a vocal, assertive group of Black women. One Black woman you can handle, but organized Black women are a real problem. You just can’t handle us having any real power.

Your racism is showing when you comment on our gorgeous “ethnic clothing or ask us why we wear dreads when we are perfect strangers to you. Would you do the same to a white stranger wearing Ralph Lauren and a page boy? These are also ethnic styles.

Your racism is showing when you demand to know our ethnicity, if we don’t look like your idea of a Black person. We are not accountable to you for how our bodies look. And we don’t have to be “nice” to you and tolerate your prying.

Your racism is showing when you insist upon defining our reality. You do not live inside our skin, so do not tell us how we should perceive this world. We exist and so does our reality.

Your racism is showing when our anger makes you panic. Even when we are not angry at you or your racism, but some simple, ordinary thing. When our expressed anger translates to you as a threat of violence, this is your unacknowledged fear of retribution or exposure and it is revealing your guilt.

Your racism is showing when YOU, by your interference, will not allow us to have our own space. We realize you never expected to be denied access to anything and any place, but sometimes you should stay away from Black women’s spaces. You do not have to be there just in case something exotic is going on or just in case we are plotting against you. In these instances, you are not just uninvited guests, you are infiltrators. This is a hostile act.

Your racism is showing when you cry, “Reverse discrimination!” There is no such thing. Only privileged people who have never lived with discrimination, think there can be a “reverse.” This means thatyou think it shouldn’t happen to you, only to the other people it normally happens to — like US.

Your racism is showing when you exclaim that we are paranoid and expecting racism around every corner. Racism inhabits this society at a core level. Ifwe weren’t constantly on our guard, we, as a people, would be dead by now.

Your racism is showing when you daim you have none. This economy and culture would not have existed without slave labour to build it. The invasion and exploitation of the Americas depended upon the conviction that people of colour were less than human. Otherwise, we could not have been so cruelly used. You grew up in a racist society. How could you not be racist? You cannot simply decide that racism is “bad” and therefore you are no longer racist. This is not unlearning racism. Black people could not afford to be this naive.

Your racism is showing when you think that all racists are violent, ignorant, card-carrying Nazis. You are fooling yourself, but not us, if you think that racism refers to the unconnected, isolated, “just-plain-meann actions and attitudes of bad people. Most racists are nice folks, especially in this country. Racism is systemic and cannot be separated out from this culture.

We do not want to witness or dry your tears. Yes, racism hurts. It hurts you, but please do not entertain the notion that it hurts much as us. Racism kills us, not you. Your tears will not garner our sympathy. We are no longer your property, therefore we will no longer take care of you. We don’t want to see your foolishness, so take your racism work to your own place and do it there.

TO WHITE FEMINISTS, BE YOU LIBERAL, RADICAL, SEPARATIST, RICH, OR NOT-YOUR RACISM IS SHOWING. YOU CAN EXPECT TO HEAR FROM VOCAL, ORGANIZED BLACK WOMEN WHO WILL BE IN YOUR FACE ABOUT IT.

– Carol Camper, “To White Feminists” Canadian Woman Studies, 1994

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7 thoughts on “The F-word…again

  1. Haha, I’m really flattered by your comments! Sadly, marriage seems so many years away from me. 😦

    This is a great blog post. The point about women not being homogenous is so important. There are so many other factors that contribute to their experiences. A recent experience made me reflect on how people of color often get asked if they could explain certain “cultural practices” about their culture, as if every person in their group is exactly the same. I remember one time I was asked if I could “explain” why the Afghan woman on the front cover of TIME magazine had her nose cut off. I guess that made me the person’s local Taliban nose-cutting expert.

    I completely agree with you about being self-critical, but also being conscious of the dangers of generalizing and perpetuating Orientalist stereotypes about Muslims.

    Unfortunately, I see it happening a lot on the Muslim blogosphere, too.

  2. I think the reason why the LGBT group in the Netherlands (not “Holland”) supported Geert is that Geert was standing up for gay people against homophobic Muslims.

    Islam is a homophobic religion.

    http://www.johannhari.com/2011/02/25/can-we-talk-about-muslim-homophobia-now

    “Last autumn, mysterious posters began to appear all over the East End of London announcing it is now a “Gay-Free Zone.” They warned: “And Fear Allah: Verily Allah is Severe in Punishment.” One of them was plastered outside the apartment block I lived in for nearly ten years, next to adverts for club nights and classes at the local library, as if it was natural and normal. I’d like to say I’m shocked – but anybody who lives there knows this has been a long time coming.”

    http://www.pinknews.co.uk/news/articles/2005-7856.html/

    “Gay people in Holland have been shocked by a public attack on a gay man in Amsterdam.
    Model Mike Du Pree was taking part in a fashion show to promote tolerance towards gay people when a gang of ten Muslim youths dragged him from the catwalk and beat him.”

    http://www.newsrealblog.com/2011/03/24/homophobic-barbarians-10-reasons-every-gay-american-needs-to-support-the-war-against-islamofascism-1/

    “Homosexuals living in Muslim countries suffer dire consequences for coming out including whipping, banishment, humiliation and even death by stoning, hanging or familial stabbing in accordance with Islamic law. Homosexuals in the Muslim culture are encouraged to commit suicide rather than bring shame on their families.”

    http://europeson.wordpress.com/2011/05/08/british-muslims-fear-of-homosexuality/

    “Britain’s awakening to Muslim homophobia and anti-homosexual violence might have occurred when Oliver Hemsley, 20, a fashion student from Cambridgeshire, was viciously attacked by a Muslim gang after leaving a well-known gay pub in London, the George and Dragon, in 2009.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_and_Islam

    “Homosexual relations are a crime and face punishment in some Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia, or Islamic Republics such as Iran. The death penalty is currently in place in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Mauritania, northern Nigeria, Sudan, and Yemen. It formerly carried the death penalty in Afghanistan under the Taliban, but subsequently has changed from a capital crime to one that is punished with fines and a prison sentence.
    The legal situation in the United Arab Emirates is unclear. In many Muslim nations, such as Bahrain, Qatar, Algeria and the Maldives, homosexuality is punished with jail time, fines, or corporal punishment.”

    Why should gay people support an ideology that wants them dead?

      1. There are some Muslims which aren’t homophobic, but the homophobic ones dominate. There’s no sense letting in a flood of homophobic Muslims run riot on the grounds that “other Muslims aren’t homophobic”.

  3. Haha! If only Jehanzeb knew how many bloggers want to marry him (I know a couple more, Jehanzeb 🙂 ). Great post Sara with which I fully agree.

  4. Wow, I am not quite sure how to take that Carol Camper piece except to realize my racism is showing. Is there any solution? Or it ingrained in me because I live where I do and was raised the way I was raised? Is it as much a part of me as the color of my skin? I felt that way after reading her words. Any hope? Or just the realization that my racism shows whether or not I can see it?

    Very thought-provoking post.

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