Feminists Must Heal the Wounds of Racism

June 9, 2008

Addressing the wounds between White feminists and feminists of Color

Dear Sisters ~

I’m writing self-identified second wave and third wave White feminists, who have expressed a commitment to ending sexism and racism, about their public uncritical support of Hillary Clinton. Granted my letter could be perceived as a moot point because she conceded on Saturday, June 7, 2008. However, for me, a hard core unapologetic third wave Black feminist lesbian (who’s the daughter of a second wave Black feminist), it’s not a moot point because while it is about Hillary Clinton’s campaign, for me it’s about my deep and profound betrayal that I’ve personally and politically experienced during the primaries, especially the last few months of the campaign.

I was appalled by the fact that when the going got very rough and tough, that Clinton and her campaign became blatantly racist. I was very alarmed when White feminists (not to be confused with women who supported Hillary Clinton) who supported Clinton didn’t publicly critique her racism, while continuing to support her campaign. I’m not talking about the pundits who didn’t support her and critiqued her. I’m not talking about feminists of all races who supported Obama who critiqued her. I’m talking about White feminists who supported Clinton critiquing her in a way to encourage her to be the best candidate that she could be, which I hope would mean not to run a racist campaign.

It’s important for me to share that in the beginning of the primaries I supported two white men – Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards – based on their political platforms which radically spoke to those issues which are near and dear to my Spirit and Soul. I share this because it’s important to note that I didn’t run to the primaries supporting either the (White) woman candidate or the African-American (man) candidate because I thought their platforms were too centrist, based on how I view the world. If I could have my way, based on the candidates running in the democratic primaries, I would’ve put Kucinich in the Oval Office. When the last two Democratic candidates standing were both Clinton and Obama, I supported Obama.

I don’t want to get into why I ultimately, whole heartedly supported Obama and why folks whole heartedly supported Clinton during the Democratic primaries. That for me is not the issue, in this letter, per se.

The concern for me is that I longed to hear from progressive, anti-racist White feminists who publicly supported Clinton but also publicly took stands against her and her campaign’s racism. I felt and feel many of her supporters (who know the vicious hertories and contemporary realities of the intersections of race and gender in this country) were complicit as she and her campaign fanned the fires of racism, which like sexism, is deeply entrenched into the very fibers of the founding of this country.

I was also struck by the fact that there wasn’t much (if any) anger/outrage/public critiques expressed, by White feminists who supported Clinton, when Fox News Commentator Bill O’Reilly said he didn’t have enough information to go to a lynching party for Michelle Obama, just yet. I was struck by the fact that in all of the justifiable and critically needed conversations and fact finding on sexism in the media, that not too much was documented, by White feminists, about how Michelle Obama has been (and continues to be) treated, which is both sexist and racist. To paraphrase the infamous words of the great African-American suffragist and abolitionist Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t Michelle Obama a woman too?

It appeared to me that the desire, on the part of so many White feminists to have a (White) woman in the oval office superceded anything, including racism. It really felt like a repeat of the racist (White—because as we should all know there were Black ones too) suffragists.

The painful irony about all of this is that those of us who support Obama and challenge sexism pay the awful price for bringing ants to the party. One clear cut example is with Salamishah Tillet, a hardcore unapologetic third wave Black feminist who supports Obama. In spite of her concrete financial and foot soldier support of Obama, her allegiance/loyalty has been ridiculously questioned and challenged because she dared to talk and write about the critical importance that sexism and the non-negotiable need for gender equity be key components in Obama’s platform and talking points. (Read some of the sexist and racist comments following her two essays All the Men Are Black, All the Women Are White, and Some of Us Vote: A Remix and Obama and the ‘Women Question which are featured on and

Salamishah Tillet, like too many feminists of Color who precede her and who are her contemporaries, walked and walks that tightrope of both literally living at and challenging the intersections of race and gender in a White and male supremacist society without the support from other marginalized groups – men of Color and White women. For me the primaries really magnified this reality. I was so tired of and enraged by any real analysis about the intersections of identities. I was deeply pained by both too many (not all) men of Color and White women’s lack of concern about the lack of intersectional analysis in the media. I was beyond frustrated that if we, feminists of Color, critiqued sexism of men of Color, our race loyalty was called into question and if we critiqued racism of White women, our feminism was called into question.

I’m struck by the fact that in 2008, woman is still equated with White and African-American is equated with man… In the infamous words of Barbara Smith, Gloria (Akasha) Hull and Patricia Bell Scott timeless anthology “But Some of Us are Brave

My herstory has consistently shown me that too often feminists of Color have literally taken risks that men of Color and White women haven’t dared to take because they thought it wasn’t in their interests while not understanding that if we centralize all of the margins, then all of us will be free from oppression.

I try to envision what it would’ve meant during the Democratic primaries if those of us who supported Clinton or Obama compassionately privately and publicly challenged and encouraged both them to address racism and sexism in the United States.

I thought the goal for feminism was to work towards creating a world where there is equality for all not just White women.
When I heard Hillary Clinton’s speech on Saturday, June 7, 2008, I literally said to myself and to my inner circle “Oh my Goddess, where was this Hillary Clinton months ago?” I know for a fact that it would’ve been a lot harder for me to be so adamant in my support of Barack Obama had Hillary Clinton’s campaign actively used the language that she used on Saturday, June 7, 2008. For the first time, in a very long time, she articulated the her/history and cotemporary reality of millions of Americans. And, equally as important, she projected a future America that I hope we will all live to see.

As we all know truth-telling is never ever easy and more often than not, truth-tellers pay the price literally and/or figuratively.

There are some serious wounds that need to be healed and I’m not talking about Clinton supporters who have to be “convinced” that voting for McCain is voting against their self-interests. Though the aforementioned is most critical, I’m talking about healing the wounds between many White feminists and feminists of Color.

No One Is Free While Others Are Oppressed.

In Sisterhood and In Struggle,
Aishah Shahidah Simmons

Aishah Shahidah Simmons is an award-winning Black feminist lesbian documentary filmmaker who produced and directed the internationally acclaimed documentary NO!, which unveils the reality of rape, other forms of sexual violence and healing in African-American communities.

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5 Responses to “Feminists Must Heal the Wounds of Racism”

  1. Aria on June 10th, 2008 11:39 pm

    Thank you so much for writing about the lack of attention and inappropriate attention paid to race and gender during the election so far. I, too, was supporting Kucinich for his policies, but now that Obama is the only electable option I’ll deal with it. Hopefully this experience will help white feminists like myself better understand the racial dysfunction of our political scene and daily lives.

  2. Ron on June 11th, 2008 12:22 pm

    I agree with you that there were many instances of appeals to implicit racial bias made by the Clintons and some of their supporters. It would be helpful to make up a list so that people will be able to know exactly where they failed by either acts of omission or comission. Perhaps you can ask people to write in and list some examples.

    One very obvious one involved a key Hillary surrogate and spokesperson in Texas, Adelfa Callejo. Among her numerous racist statements was that Obama’s problem is that he’s black, and that’s why Latinos won’t support him (see Daily Kos article:

    Rather than denouncing, rejecting her support, and removing this woman from her post, there was a very tepid response – and this after Hillary pressed Obama to denounce and reject Farrakhan, whose support Obama never sought, nor was Farrakhan ever a spokesperson for him More importantly, Clinton did not use this as a teachable moment to make it clear that the problem does not reside in Obama – that he’s African American – but in the hearts of those who won’t vote for him because of that. She NEVER said that. Rather, she actively courted that sentiment to support her!

    Now is the time for Hillary to engage the racism of her Latino, White, and Asian supporters (and the media) who feel like Adelfa Callejo, that the problem is not with their racism, but with Obama, because he’s Black. He can’t change that, but these people can change their racist beliefs, hearts, and biases.

  3. Black Feminism | Are Black Women Being Ignored In The 2008 Election on June 11th, 2008 9:46 pm

    [...] Well Simmons’ had had enough. She wrote an embracing, yet authoritative open letter to the White feminists supporting Clinton. To read the letter in it’s entirety, check out Simmons’ blog. [...]

  4. Whose Feminism? at Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture on June 13th, 2008 5:58 am

    [...] the wounds between White feminists and feminists of Color,” activist Aishah Shahidah Simmons outlines the grief and anger she felt when White, third wave feminists did not critique the racism in Clinton’s campaign: The [...]


    [...] Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)LEST WE FORGET: AN OPEN LETTER TO MY SISTERS WHO [...]

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