Solidarity Might be for White Women, but it isn’t for Feminists
By Nikita Hamilton
In early August, the hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen sparked an internet-wide conversation about feminism, intersectionality and inclusion after Mikki Kendal coined the term in her response to tweets that were to and from Hugo Schwyzer, a professor at Pasadena City College. Schwyzer had just gone on an hour-long Twitter rant in which he admitted to leaving women of color out of feminism, and later apologized for it. He then received sympathetic Twitter responses that moved Kendal to tweet “#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen when the mental heath & future prospects for @hugoschwyzer are more important than the damage he did.” She felt that women of color were, and are, continuously left out of feminism and that Schwyzer was another example of that exclusion.
Though this is a necessary discussion, what is most interesting about it is that it’s a conversation that started decades ago and has just never come to a resolution. The inclusion of women of color has been an issue from the very beginnings of first-wave feminism and we are simply at another iteration of the same discussion. When white middle-class women wanted to fight for the right to go out into a workforce that Black, Asian, and Hispanic women had already been a part of for decades, if not hundreds of years, they all realized that there would be a continued disconnect. How could there not be when some of these women came from generations of working and slaving women or generations of woman that had been working side by side with the men of their race?
In a recent NPR Code Switch article, Linsay Yoo asked about which women were included in the term “women of color,” and advocated for the inclusion of Asian and Hispanic women. Her inquiries and points made sense since Asian and Hispanic women are also marginalized and often left out of feminism. However, in addition to noticing the continued omission of Arab women from the term “women of color” by each other these commentators, I was left with the question, “what do people mean when they say that they want solidarity?” Furthermore, what would this solidarity look like and what are its desired consequences? I believe that this is the question that feminists are really failing to answer.
Mikki Kendall wrote, “Solidarity is a small word for a broad concept; sharing one aspect of our identity with someone else doesn’t mean we’ll have the same goals, or even the same ideas of community.” Kendall’s definition sends feminists in the direction that they need to go undoubtedly, but the word “solidarity” itself is the problem. Solidarity implies equality and that is not present in the feminist movement or society at large. We live in world that stratifies people by their gender, race, sexuality and class. It is quite possible that expectation of equality that comes from a word such as “solidarity” that is the snowball, which then turns into an avalanche of problems and disagreements. Therefore, it is time to find another label and it is time to have a very honest conversation among all feminists, both those who feel included and excluded from the movement, about how structural inequalities based upon on color, sexuality and socioeconomic status have to be taken into consideration along with gendered issues.
Of course there are some key issues that are affecting all women because they are biologically female. The attack on women’s bodies by the government, women’s healthcare, violence and sexual assault are all topics that feminists can agree need to be at the forefront of the women’s movement. However, depending on the race, for example, the order of those topics importance shifts. For example, the 2000 US Department of Justice survey on intimate partner violence uncovered that inter-partner violence was particularly salient for Hispanic women because they “were significantly more likely than non-Hispanic women to report that they were raped by a current or former intimate partner at some time in their lifetime.” For black women, sexual assault is a leading issue. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), the lifetime rate of rape and attempted rape for all women is 17.6% while it is 18.8% for black women specifically. There can be consensus on what the issues are, but there also needs to be acceptance of differences, inequalities and the desire for differing prioritizations. Why can’t feminism be a movement of consensus on the overarching issues that affect women that also houses Third World and black feminists’ respective prioritized concerns? Why can’t each group be a wall under the roof of feminism that provides support, but consists of different activities in each room of the house?
The Women’s Movement is still needed, but as history has exemplified over and over again solidarity is not what can, or needs to be, achieved presently. Solidarity is defined as a “community of feelings, purposes, etc.,” and the idea of “community” connotes an equality that is not yet present among all of the women of the feminism. A better word may be “consensus,” which means “majority of opinion” or “general agreement” because feminists can all agree that there are some overarching feminist issues. Either way, the point is that we set ourselves up for failure every time we sit at the table and come to realize that once the initial layer of women’s issues is peeled back there are too many differences left bare and unacknowledged in the name of a non-existent “solidarity.” Solidarity IS for white women, and for black women, and for Asian women, and for Hispanic women and for Arab women. Consensus is for feminists. Let’s finally move forward.
Nikita Hamilton is a doctoral student at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Her research interests include gender, race, stereotypes, feminism, film and popular culture.