Saturday, June 1, 2013

When White Lady Privilege Goes Unchecked: Hard Femme and Erasure

Source: Lena Newt

We are all aware that white women have a problem when it comes to truthfully connecting with women of color, and especially black women. In our societal context, although white women continually advocate for a seat at the table for equality, there are no qualms with being racist to get to that table; and so, when interacting with black women, there can be an imperialist gaze, brought by white men, but utilized in a different form uniquely for white women.

I've observed this when I was on tumblr and within femme circles on the internet. I don't participate, but I do belong to a facebook group called Femme Realness (a sort of safe space for femmes to interact and talk to one another, find deals, etc etc). I am not enthusiastic about it because although it refers to itself as explicitly anti-racist, anti-transphobic, all the antis and calls itself inclusive, I rarely see brown or black women participating except for big names in the femme community - that is not inclusive (Hollywood is not racially diverse if its just Will Smith and Denzel Washington and Kerry Washington and Zoe Saldana are all that are visible). That lack of visibility is incredibly troubling when terms like "realness" are being co-opted from non-cis queers of color to communities that value and prop up cis femme white women. It intensifies the imperialist gaze, which others people of color and turns their culture into commodified props. 

Considering white women are indoctrinated into viewing black women as the extremes of non-femininity because they are opposite to white women (pure | evil / soft | hard / light | dark / beautiful | ugly / quiet | loud / virginal | wanton), black women get pathologized*. Because femme identity is subverting femininity by allowing anyone who identifies as femme to use that identity as a hammer against patriarchy and patriarchal creations of femininity, it is only natural (if one lacks or disregards anti-racist learning) that white women see black women's existence as hard femme: if for 500 years black women have been regarded as overtly unfeminine, tough, hard as nails, subversive to white supremacy, yes, white women are going to co-opt that shit, consciously or not. This is why in the #hardfemme tag on tumblr, you can have cis black women doing absolutely nothing and living their lives, or in extremes, black toddlers wearing hairbows and accessories (because black children never just get to be children), and having it be tagged #hardfemme. In the process, black women who actually ID as hard femme rarely get their voices or opinions out in the front, because, largely due to the trend of "group uniform" (which a single group that should naturally have varied opinions gets categorized as a single entity because of the large amount of visibility a small group of people have; i.e., see read tumblr feminists, think "brightly hair dyed pit hair growing flower crown wearing abortion rights wanting capitalists"), erasure happens and they no longer exist or, rather, they exist as mascots and tools for the larger white movement and their needs. 

Of course, this goes beyond small movements on the internet. The show Girls, famous for its lack of women of color even as the show is set in NYC, has no qualms about not giving visibility to women of color, even as they play their exotic, "bad" music (Lady's Yankin' and Santigold's Girls), the white lead woc sidekick syndrome, and always being background in advertising, fashion shoots, and cartoons (again, unless they are big stars see Naomi Campbell, Devon Aoki, Alek Wek, etc).

It's no surprise that when the need for intersectionality is pointed out, it gets ripped to shreds, as anti-intersectionality feminists are actually white supremacists.

* It should not be misunderstood that other women of color can internalize racist imagery against black women as well. Everyone is capable of anti-black misogyny.

8 comments:

Rebecca Halff said...

I agree that white women who have had tons of exposure to black women--for example, who go to school with, work with, or live with mostly black women--may have encountered, understood, and possible integrated the view of "black women as the extremes of non-femininity." But white women who have had limited to no exposure to black women (there are millions out there!) do not feel this way. In reality, they are often jealous of darker skin, curlier hair, etc. When they finally do meet black women, they will be shocked at the degree to which they devalue themselves on the grounds of race. Your ideas here are limited and overly simplistic. It is clear that you have had very little real interaction with the group of people you are talking about.

k8 said...

dear rebecca: the only person who apparently has "had very little real interaction with the group of people you are talking about" is you, mama. also, i think you have very little real understanding of what is going on in this post, and may want to go back and read it a couple of times. additionally, in what all-white enclave did you live in where you had "limited to no exposure to black women"?? perhaps you did have exposure to them but were so busy seeing them as an object of fetishization--excuse me, you weren't fetishizing them, you were merely "jealous of darker skin, curlier hair, etc"-- to notice that you were encountering a real person and not a group of physical attributes you immediately identified as "other"........ next time try counting to ten and taking deep breaths before writing a comment instead of vomiting all ur defensive and embarassing anger on a perfectly innocent blog post c:

k8 said...

but anyway cassie imo u r totally on point with this.....also that ~fuck yeah hard femme~ blog is so ridic in general but are you seriously projecting like that onto /babies/, they are literally babies, theyre probably not even potty trained yet and you are calling them "hard" and "tough" and "fly" like that is....so gross

Rebecca Halff said...

Dear k8: I was commenting only on one of the blogger's ideas, namely that "white women are indoctrinated into viewing black women as the extremes of non-femininity." I remarked that white women are often jealous of black women's appearance to demonstrate that this is not the case. This is not fetishization--this is women being women--and more broadly humans being human: We find other humans beautiful, we oftentimes find fault in ourselves, and we sometimes find ourselves wishing we were born looking more like _____. When discussing race, it is important to separate what is truly racist from what is innocent. Manipulation or distortion of arguments we feel are threatening does not lead to further meaningful discussion. Just like everybody else in the world, my own experiences have informed my worldview, including my understanding of race, class, and gender. From my personal life, I can assure you that many non-black people have no REAL contact with black people. By this I mean--they may shop at the same grocery stores, but they are never forced into REAL contact. Obviously, this is a pity. By the way--like an excited little kid, I kept checking back here to see if anybody had commented back.. When I read your comment I was disappointed--as people who portend to think seriously (and hopefully fairly) about race, we should be able to have a thoughtful discussion. We should be able to listen to and try to understand each other.

Rebecca said...

hey rebecca, from another rebecca: you are being myopic. stop it.

cassie, great post.

k8 said...

dear rebecca: sry 2 hav disappointed u i guess i am not thotful enuf *tear

Rebecca Halff said...

how cute and well-intentioned the two of u are. u merrily toss insults and reject harmless and mild arguments but have no intellectual interest in presenting a well-reasoned opinion of ur own. neither of u have actually addressed anything i said. ...done with this comment war

auslassungszeichen said...

rebecca halff, the point is that both by regarding black women as extremes of non-feminity and by drawing on this whole topos of the natural beauty of blackhood, white women are othering black women. plus, you do see the link between regarding someone's body as 'naturally beautiful(ly female)' and calling her a hard femme as soon as there're some markers of femininity added to that body?

cassie, that was a great post, thank you!

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