I'm not certain how to approach this. This post may disappear, I guess I should warn you up front, because if asked to remove it I won't hesitate to do so. And someone might well ask me to remove it, because I'm going to talk about another post that disappeared, but which I can't get out of my mind all the same.
And I guess I should throw up one other caveat: This post might be guilty of the white feminist habit of taking an issue important to women of color and making it all about What the White Feminist Thinks About That. Because that's very important stuff to know, and there's a real dearth of white feminist opinion out there!
No, it's like this, though: I can't write with any competence about anything except what all goes on in my head. And it's a white feminist head, so there you go. What I don't want it to be is an overbearing, oppressive white feminist head that tells the brown or the black or the any-other-tinted heads to shut up. That's what I'm trying to avoid here.
Brownfemipower is on vacation. One of the items she posted about before taking a break was the Cinco de Mayo party hosted by some students at the University of Delaware. You can read about that in more detail here, but for right now I think this is one of those times when a picture is worth a thousand words--though not the words on the backs of these shirts:
Here I have to paraphrase from what I recall of this missing post I wanted to yak about: Brownfemipower pointed out that the women at that party doing their best "spicy Latina" impressions weren't "the patriarchy." And this was said in a larger context of, white feminists tend to blame everything on the patriarchy, when meanwhile women of color are just as likely to have the feet of other women, white women, stomping all over them as they are to have any man's.
Brownfemipower was a little fed up with this, with the whole blame-patriarchy-not-me business, and speaking of blame, I sure as hell don't blame her for being angry about that, because who could? She's right.
Yet my defensiveness kicked in, because it always does, so that on first read of this, I thought, "No, no, that is CLASSIC patriarchy--the internalized version." And it is, you know, because patriarchy's whole gig is pitting women, all women, against each other. So one of the socially-encoded numbers you get whipped on you all the time if you're a white woman is the paradox that (1) it's not okay to be sexually provocative, because that makes you a filthy whore, but (2) it's not okay to be sexually demure either, because if you get too content in that role, your man might leave you for someone more enticing. Someone more naturally sensual. Someone with a more voracious sexual appetite. Someone more . . . exotic.
And this is a swell one-two punch, really, because it reinforces racist stereotypes and sexist ones, intertwining both, and it can be flipped right back around for men to wield against women of color: Don't flaunt yourself, don't act so ethnic, why can't you know your place/be gentler/button up more like a white woman, blah blah.
Given all that, it doesn't completely surprise me that some particularly stupid white women would welcome the chance to revel in racist stereotypes like this, because they're getting a stale, crusty, but nonetheless real benefit out of it: They're getting to try on a sexual persona that they believe permits them to act like a whore without actually being labeled a whore. That is precisely why they can't be reminded often enough that they're only escaping the "whore" label by earning the "racist" label instead. They are earning a few hours' sexual liberty on the backs of women of color.
So, deservedly--racists. I'd like to know: Is it worth it now, white female students, to feel so sex-ee, so spicy, so exotic? You know, you're in college; you're supposed to be learning things--including how to recognize and fight against the bullshit standard that says white-heterosexual-female-desire dances like this, but Latina-heterosexual-female-desire dances like this. And that bullshit standard is the stock in trade of Ye Olde Patriarchy, which loves having so many flavors of sexy to choose from.
But here is the thing:
Alcoholism is a disease, or like enough to one to be thought of that way.
If you have dealt with alcoholics at all, you know that sometimes they're total fucking assholes. They're total fucking assholes because they're drunk, and they're drunk because they have this disease, and having that disease isn't their fault, so maybe nonalcoholics shouldn't blame them for being total fucking assholes, but--
--but, when someone is in your face being a total fucking asshole, yelling at you, insulting you, maybe even attempting to get physical with you, you do not see an amorphous blob labeled "ALCOHOLISM." You do not see a cartoon bottle of Jack Daniels before you. You do not see The Big Book. You do not see "a disease." You see a total fucking asshole, in your face and no more than five seconds away from gettin' clocked--by you, because you hate that person just then.
The rage you feel is so deep your bones threaten to snap from it. A disease called "alcoholism" doesn't get drunk and get abusive; a human being does that. Yeah, it's a human being in the throes of a disease that will destroy her eventually, but you don't see that! You see the human being, the person who at the moment you'd almost prefer to see dead.
One thing I will not ever, ever accept is that anyone has a right to shut down the nonalcoholic partner in a relationship with an alcoholic by telling him or her, "Oh, don't get so mad at him/her. She/he has a disease." Listen, the nonalcoholic knows that, and probably a ton better than you do. You don't need to remind them, and you aren't entitled to tell them not to get pissed off, because it's a very pissing-off kind of disease.
And that, I realize, is more or less how I've been feeling about the color divide within feminism lately--like a lot of us need to quit telling women of color to don't get so mad at us, we have a patriarchy. The analogy is flawed in many respects--racism doesn't suddenly sober up and come home with a gift for you, ready to kiss and make up and swear off the hate forever--but it works to illustrate the title. You can't hit what you can't see. I can't hit "alcoholism," not literally, but I can sure as hell hit the jerk trying to drag me down with him, and I have done so, and I'm not sorry, because the jerk hit me first, and hitting him back was unbelievably satisfying.
This is why I say that when Brownfemipower says, "That wasn't the patriarchy," she's right: Some amorphous blob labeled "PATRIARCHY" didn't dress up stupid for a Cinco de Mayo party and have big laughs over racist stereotypes; white women did that. Asking women of color to ignore or excuse that is asking them to ignore whose heels are on their necks. White women, and white feminists especially, we who are supposed to be a little more sensitive to this oppression business, are not entitled to tell women of color to quit being pissed off about their realities, nor are we entitled to "helpfully" correct women of color about what they should really be pissed off about, namely, the patriarchy. You know--"We'll get to your pet issues later! But first--patriarchy."
Look, I don't know Brownfemipower personally, but I know her writing is sharp and I figure from that that she's sharp and so guess what?--I'm pretty sure she knows about patriarchy. I don't think she needs any well-intentioned reminders.
And white feminists know about patriarchy, and we say so all the time, but we don't always acknowledge our own participation in it. Sometimes, I am realizing, I am the drunk fucking asshole. And a breezy "I blame the patriarchy!" isn't going to heal the damage I do when this is so.