Book Review: Criticizing White Supremacy – “Against White Feminism”

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By Marina Manoukian

Against white feminism is informative and thought-provoking read for all feminists.

Against White Feminism: Notes on Disruption by Rafia Zakaria. WW Norton, 256 pages.

While writing one of his graduation papers for his graduate studies, Rafia Zakaria cited the works of Asifa Quraishi and Amina Wadud, both of whom discuss how Islamic law and religious doctrine can be reframed “as a tool for empowering women rather than oppression”. After reading his essay, his teacher was appalled. None of the class-assigned Eurocentric readings, which only dealt with sexual pleasure as liberation, were published in the journal. And that was Zakaria’s point of view: she sought to reject “the premise that sexual pleasure should be the centerpiece of feminist agitation.” This story is familiar to those who have had to navigate the hegemonic grip of white feminism, a feminism that is interested in maintaining whiteness, “with all its assumptions of privilege and superiority.” But what brought white feminism to its current state?

Against White Feminism: Notes on Disruption is Zakaria’s attempt to answer this question. In it, she interweaves her personal experiences with historical and contemporary examples of feminism rooted in the colonial mentality. Zakaria’s argument not only calls for the self-implicated trajectory of white feminism, but also seeks to shift the reader’s understanding of “woman” so that it does not refer only to “white woman.” Her review focuses primarily on white feminism in terms of how it constructs itself in relation to brunette women, but her observations are incredibly relevant to any form of feminist thought that sees itself as “a zero-sum game, with a kind of knowledge supplanting the other. “

The collusion of white feminism with colonialism and imperialism began early. Zakaria points out how “the very first experiences of freedom beyond the home and hearth of white British women were overtaken by the experience of imperial superiority.” The “white feminist savior complex” has been with us for a long time, with white feminists quick to take on the self-proclaimed task of speaking out for their “colonized sisters.” This mentality eventually became the farce that was “the women’s liberation part of the war on terror”. “White feminists decided that war and occupation were essential to liberate Afghan women,” Zakaria notes in her Nation trial “White feminists wanted to invade», Published as US troops were withdrawing from Afghanistan in 2021.

In the book, Zakaria lays out an origin story for white feminism, providing numerous examples of white feminism in various contexts. She demonstrates the negative influence she has had on international discussions on women’s empowerment. The chapters focus on themes such as global neoliberalism, sexual liberation and domestic violence. For example, honor killings are compared to “ego killings” and are shown to be “identical in their motives for disciplining and destroying women”. In another section, Zakaria juxtaposes scenes from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (dubbed the White City) with a “world bazaar” in the 2000s. Both become shows in which stereotypes about dark or dark women are reaffirmed “and the conversation was only occasioned by the possibility of a transaction”.

Given the book’s subtitle, however, questions may arise as to who this book is for, what is being disrupted, and who is supposed to be disrupting. In the last section of her text, Zakaria writes that she fears that “many of those whom I love and respect might read my words as an accusation of themselves as” white women “as opposed to their own. friends, colleagues and family members “. In this light, the text seems less about disruption and acts more as a precursor to disruption, serving as a guide through history and the present for those who see no difference between feminism and white feminism. In this final section, Zakaria also speaks to women of color, stressing that “it is easy to be immersed in paranoia that no sincere solidarity is possible and to fall back on our own racial categories; it is much more difficult to let go of the feeling of having been wronged and to work on coming together. Hope we can do it. Unfortunately, there are fewer examples of this in the text. And yet, for those familiar with the concept of white feminism, Zakaria’s text may spark an expansion of this conversation.

In less than 300 pages, one cannot expect Zakaria’s text to examine in depth all of the pernicious aspects of white feminism. Still, there are a few notable shortcomings. Zakaria’s investigation of gender and race focuses primarily on brunette women with little nod to how class and economics also have an effect, despite the fact that the text relies on an understanding. of intersectionality. This does not mean that economic insecurity and dependencies are not mentioned in Against white feminism: one of the chapters develops in a thoughtful way how neoliberalism has co-opted the idea of ​​“empowerment” to be synonymous with an “individualistic notion of power”. But it would have been interesting to also have a look at how women of color defend white feminism, especially when doing so from a position of financial security.

Zakaria’s text also lacks a look at how white feminism fits perfectly into TERF thought. As Professor Sunny Singh noted: “Imperial white supremacy has always made femininity – and humanity – conditional on all, except for a very narrow definition of upper / middle class, heterosexual, white, and conventionally attractive cis women,” who can then serve as servants to his cisheteropatriarchal regime. There is a brief mention that transgender individuals existed in India prior to British colonization, but this occurs in the context of sex and fails to explore how maintaining the gender binary was (and is) an integral part of the colonialism. For example, a recognition of how the life of Indians hijras were disturbed (via a “a radical change”) After colonialism began to impose cisgenderism.

Which brings us back to the question, who is this book for? Against white feminism does not define a theoretical framework and Zakaria is not there to push for revolutionary action. Instead, the book is presented as an introduction that invites readers to broaden their thinking.

However, the missed opportunities to Against white feminism, rather than undermining the text, making it the very text it claims to be; one who invites and provokes criticism. This is how it can really be disruptive. Zakaria’s book does not claim to be the final text on white feminism and it openly asserts a desire to inspire conversation. In doing so, Zakaria’s argument actively rejects the white feminist tradition of claiming to know for sure. Zakaria notes “how the subordinate now has some chance to speak but is not heard because the foundations of white supremacy (better represented by colonialism and neo-colonialism) have not been dismantled”. In a world against white feminism, the feminism of brown, black, African, native, immigrant and postcolonial women will never be a monolith, and with this volume Zakaria has made a thoughtful contribution to a conversation that has gone on for hundreds of years. ‘years.

At the beginning of the book, Zakaria writes admirably about the women in her family: “Their resilience, sense of responsibility, empathy and capacity for hope are also feminist qualities, but not those that current feminist arithmetic will allow. Against white feminism asks readers to step outside of the restrictive framework prescribed by white feminism. As Barbara Smith noted in a 1979 speech, “Feminism is the political theory and practice of liberating all women: women of color, working class women, poor women, women with disabilities, women of color, women of the working class, women with disabilities, women with disabilities. lesbians, older women, as well as economically privileged white heterosexuals. women. Anything less than that is not feminism, but simply female self-glorification. With this message in mind, Against white feminism is informative and thought-provoking read for all feminists.


Marina Manoukian is an Armenian diaspora writer. A reader, writer and collage artist, she currently resides in Berlin, Germany. His writings have appeared with Yes Poetry, Grunge, and Full Stop Review, among others. Find more of his work on marinamanoukian.com or on Twitter / Instagram at @crimeiscommon



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