Check your privilege, white people

Yesterday, over at ye olde blog, I wrote a quick post about #solidarityisforwhitewomen, a hashtag-turned-movement launched by Mikki Kendall. 

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You can read it here, but a quick refresher: Kendall, a noted black feminist, has absolutely had it with mainstream feminism and its exclusion of women of colour. The catalyst for #solidarityisforwhitewomen was the Twitter breakdown of Hugo Schwyzer, a “feminist” who was given a platform by high-profile, high-traffic feminist blogs despite his treatment of women of colour as well as a whole garbagey laundry list of offenses.

So when Schwyzer started receiving sympathetic post-tantrum tweets, Kendall got angry.

But #solidarityisforwhitewomen isn’t about Schwyzer, not really. Kendall’s aim is to start a productive dialogue about mainstream feminism which is, honestly, BLINDINGLY white. She wants to get people listening — really listening — to women of colour. Because her experiences, and those of so many others, have been dismissed and discounted for too long by flawed feminist rhetoric that suggests the movement is only about gender, not race.

As I wrote in my original post, feminism is not for middle-class, educated, heterosexual, cis white women by middle-class, educated, heterosexual, cis white women. When other women’s voices are excluded, dismissed and silenced, the movement fails. Enter intersectionality.

#solidarityforwhitewomen is about getting white feminists to listen and check their privilege. Because, speaking as a white person, we’ve got some. And we benefit from it every day.

And just as men don’t get to decide what is or isn’t misogynist, white people don’t get to decide what is or isn’t racist — which brings me to a particularly infuriating Letter to the Editor I came across in the Winnipeg Free Press, regarding the outrage directed at H&M for its faux feather headdresses, which offended many Aboriginal people.

This is what Winnipeg resident Patricia Medgyes wrote in response to this piece.

Really, Kim Wheeler? You find faux feather headdresses offensive to Aboriginals?

C’mon. I’m of Dutch descent and many stores across Canada, and throughout the world, sell wooden shoes, windmills, genuine Delft Blue pottery, and even imitation Delft Blue.

I view it as a celebration of my culture and I’m honoured by it. Similarly, Aboriginal art and crafts are a wonderful compliment to your culture, not a mockery. Rather than being offended by them, you should be quite proud Aboriginal artistry has finally made its way into mainstream fashion.

What I personally see as a mockery of Aboriginal culture is more than just a few of your people passed out on city sidewalks with sniff rags stuffed in their mouths, openly drinking alcohol on the streets, and the once majestic Thunderbird House on Winnipeg’s Main Street turned into a derelict encampment for substance abusers.

Many of your own people are living amid filth, and you’re offended by faux headdresses?

HOLY SHIT, Patricia, your privilege is showing. First of all, no, Aboriginal artistry has NOT made it to the mainstream, because that shitty plastic headdress was not made by an actual Aboriginal person — quite unlike the genuine Delft Blue pottery you describe. Secondly, you’re of Dutch descent, which means you descend from a historically oppressive colonial empire. Third, I CAN’T EVEN with your last two paragraphs.

If people took more time to LISTEN, perhaps they’d stop writing hilariously ignorant letters to the newspaper because they’d UNDERSTAND why an Aboriginal person might be offended by a gross appropriation of his or her culture.

White feminists: go read #solidarityisforwhitewomen. Discover some new blogs. Get inspired by the work that so many writers and activists are doing. Let yourself be challenged. Widen your worldview. And check your privilege.

Jen Zoratti blogs about feminism and pop culture at Follow her on Twitter @JenZoratti.