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  • Elisabeth Okunrobo

The relation between Black and white feminism

Expressions like "white feminism" and "critical whiteness" can be more and more often heard in recent years. These terms are actually so "critical" because they refer to white feminists and their often non-inclusive feminism.

Because these terms are in fact ignoring the mechanisms of oppression by patriarchy. Women, after all, were not only white, but also black. So, what is the relationship of Black feminism to White feminism?

Many people might say that we cannot speak of two different feminisms, because feminism has only one goal: the liberation of women from patriarchal norms. Others would say that everyone is equal and that they don't see any colour, the so-called colour blindness, which is more than counterproductive and problematic.

Because if you don't see skin colours, you are also ignoring the problems and realities of life, such as racism in the form of everyday racism, “positive” and negative racism and discrimination that marginalised people face every day. Each of these forms is based on a systematically racist system and has serious consequences on individuals, their lives, behaviour, opportunities, how they see themselves and their families, friends and communities.

Fundamentally, all forms of racism are negative. Everyday racism is about racism accompanying affected people (non-white people) in life on a daily basis. This can include inappropriate questions such as, "Where are you really/originally from?" or comments like, "But you look exotic" or even the use of the N-word, which is clearly racist.

Positive racism, which still very few people know about, describes a conscious or unconscious preference for minority groups.

However, positive racism only refers to the preferential treatment, because those affected are not seen as individuals, but as representatives of a certain category. Affected people must represent the ideology of the dominant group. Companies, series, films and the like try to appear "diverse" but often simply aren’t, and if they are, then only at the lowest level. Racism manifests itself in various forms and the dimension is immense, especially systematic racism, which is about racist structures being anchored in the system, e.g. the education system, the health system or the justice system. This is about the attitudes of civil servants, decision-makers, teachers or employers, which have a decisive influence on the lives of those affected. The NSU trial is only one of many examples.

Besides black and white feminism, one can also speak of Muslim feminism and indigenous feminism. In the following, however, we will focus on the relationship between Black feminism and white feminism.

First of all, it should be made clear that feminism in general can only be real feminism when it is intersectional, i.e. when different mechanisms of oppression are viewed differently and play a role.

The areas in which women are oppressed are not the same everywhere in the world, which is why there must also be different feminist movements.

White feminism reproduces structures of white supremacy and patriarchy from the very beginning. These demands benefit individuals, but not the totality of women.

The notion of white feminism reflects the failure within the feminist movement. The failure of women who are more privileged not to listen to their marginalised peers, to override them and to direct their struggle according to their own issues.

Whether it is the much greater media presence of white women (although women’s representation is generally far too low) or the even greater wage gap for Women of Colour, which illustrate how strong the difference and therefore inequality still is.

The significantly higher likelihood of police violence to which Black women are exposed also underlines and confirms this criticism.

Black women, because they started from a different position, have always had these structures in mind because they simply did not belong to the norm.

Black feminism demanded that in addition to race, gender, class, ability, disability, geopolitical determination and sexual orientation were important.

Two women, or women in general, are never really the same, because they can hold different positions and be privileged in completely different ways. Of course, a white woman will always be more privileged because of her skin colour, because she belongs to the norm, but among both white women and black women, different levels of privilege occur.

Something that often happens in white feminism is the fact of appropriating concepts from Black feminism, often actually trying to be anti-racist. This appropriation, and thus often the pulling out of context, ensures that Black womens concerns, and thus themselves, are made invisible. White women not only take over and speak for them, but they are then no longer part of the discourse. Our entire society and culture is shaped by racism and much of the wealth of our country comes from the enslavement and colonisation of others, especially black people.

Many people believe that they are looking at and evaluating the world in a neutral way and often they are not aware of how much colonialism and enslavement influenced and still influence this image. The very fact that Africa is shown much smaller on the world map than it is has to do with who created the world map and thus the borders. Colonial and racist continuities are still anchored almost everywhere and reproduced over and over.

Black women and women of colour, who make this clearly justified criticism, teach us all – especially those who are not affected by racism – that we need to break away from certain given structures and behaviours that reward in particular white people in a racist system.

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