This week in my Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Senior Seminar we started reading an anthology of essays called Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today's Feminism (2002). The collection is edited by Daisy Hernandez and Bushra Rehman, with a foreword by Cherrie Moraga - it is a response to and an expansion of both This Bridge Called my Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981) and Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation (2001). The essays featured in Colonize This! are all written by women of color, and highlight their individual experiences with white, middle-class feminisms that live in the academy, as well as their experiences negotiating their multiple identities, honoring their mothers and re-defining feminism, and creating new communities around these conflicts and realities. I have to say that so far, I absolutely love this collection, because it is not only radical and relevant, but utilizes accessible language.
That being said, in my class today, we discussed the complications of being a white reader of a book that is intended for a "women of color" audience. While there is an immediate emotional connection that I made with these essays (as a woman, as a feminist, as a budding activist), I have to acknowledge and interrogate my position of privilege, and be careful to not consume these real material experiences of women of color. We talked about the importance of acknowledging one's personal contributions to theories of feminism like this: what genealogies went into making me, as a white feminist? How did these layered histories contribute to/demand the formation of theories of difference and women of color feminisms? How can I use this text to inform the ways I want to complicate and move away from these histories of colonization, oppression, privilege, and white feminisms?
Oftentimes, I personally find women of color feminisms and third wave feminisms to resonate with my life more than second-wave, white, middle-class feminisms. But it is problematic for me (as a white woman) to claim then that I am a women-of-color feminist. Is it my responsibility, through recognizing my privilege, to claim these dark histories of white feminism and commit myself to being critical of them from that within that community of privilege? How can I incorporate women of color feminisms into my feminism without appropriating experience, consuming culture, or ignoring the power dynamic that continues to exist between white women and women of color?
We also talked about how often the solution for a person in a position of power privilege (white people) is to just listen quietly and politely. This, however, runs the risk of isolated conversations that are not participatory or seeking to change these dynamics of power. It also results in further exoticization of the other, of putting them on a platform from which they can do no wrong (and therefore are not part of a critical discussion). Our concerns with being "politically correct" become an excuse to remove ourselves from the messy, important work that I think most if not all feminisms claim to seek.
Therefore, I think it is just as important and necessary to critique a book like Colonize This! as a white reader, as it is to praise it. As I continue to read this collection of in-your-face, bombastic, fierce, and intellectually badass essays, I will try to keep tabs on my postion as a white feminist. Too often, race is something we talk around rather than about, when in reality it is a huge part of feminist discourse and community-building.