Dear Intersectional Feminists: Signed, Ethnically Ambiguous
Guest Post by Nicole Sbitani. Nicole is an adult convert, a non-Black woman of color, and a professional diplomat. She blogs at nandm.sbitani.com and writes microfiction @nsbitani on Twitter. The content of this post does not represent the views of the U.S. Department of State or any other U.S. Government agency, department, or entity. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and in no way should be associated with the U.S. Government.
Dear Intersectional Feminists,
I know many of you are trying your best. There’s a lot of oppression and injustice in the world, and it’s impossible to be all things to all people in all places at the same time. I see you, following new antiracism educators on Instagram, supporting BIPOC businesses, and having difficult conversations with the people around you. Your efforts are appreciated, because allyship is key for the enormous progress we still need to make.
However, as a non-Black, mixed-race woman of color, I often feel erased by your words and actions. Many of the discussions about race in intersectional feminist spaces are painfully binary. Conversations that seek to separate everyone into neat, discrete categories–oppressed and oppressor, those who are racist and those who are victims of racism–are themselves exclusionary. I know this first-hand as an often white-passing, mixed-race Asian American. People like me are marginalized, but we can also perpetuate marginalization of others and weaponize the privilege we do have. It’s not always black-or-white only, and the pretense that it is not only hurts people but is untrue.
An example of this is playing out in multiple Facebook groups I’m in, including the Exponent II Discussion Group. There is (correctly) enormous pressure on administrators and moderators of feminist spaces to ensure that those spaces are safe for BIPOC, LGBTQ+ folks, and other marginalized groups. Historically in the West, many so-called “mainstream” feminist spaces advocated solely for the concerns of white women, often to the detriment of women and men of color. Avoiding repeating these mistakes and harms is a noble goal. But in an effort to ensure the onus is firmly on those with privilege to bear as much of the burden as possible while still centering the marginalized, some well-meaning feminists unintentionally marginalize others by forcing us to choose: do we only have privilege or are we only marginalized?
In reality, virtually everyone has some privilege and some marginalization. I have been dismissed and marginalized in ways that only a woman of color or a mixed-race person could possibly know and understand. Like many mixed-race people torn between two cultures and racial experiences, I have been told I am too white to be Korean and too Korean to be white. While I pass as white, some have dismissed my words because of my perceived race. Others question if I can really be American because they see me as “brown” or just not white enough. For one of my previous Exponent blog posts, I was asked by an editor to be more clear about whether I was Black and did not need to do the work of anti-racism or white and did. (For the record, my answer was “neither and also this framing doesn’t work for me”.)
As I looked for a Scriptural reference for this blog post, I came across reminder after reminder that many verses consider mixed-race children like me a sin or even an abomination. Some of those same verses were used to justify laws and court decisions banning interracial marriage and the resulting children many believed were better off never being born. But I draw strength from Galatians 3:28-29: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
I think I would feel a lot more comfortable in intersectional feminist spaces if they accounted for people like me who are never going to fit a racial dichotomy, especially not somewhere like the United States. If you’re new to this topic, I included some reading material below to get you started. Let’s do this vital work together.