Against White Feminism
Notes on Disruption
by Rafia Zakaria
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Pub Date 17 Aug 2021 | Archive Date 31 Jul 2021
A radically inclusive, intersectional, and transnational approach to the fight for women’s rights.
Elite white women have branded feminism, promising an apolitical individual empowerment along with sexual liberation and satisfaction, LGBTQ inclusion, and racial solidarity. As Rafia Zakaria expertly argues, those promises have been proven empty and white feminists have leant on their racial privilege and sense of cultural superiority. Drawing on her own experiences as an American Muslim woman, as well as an attorney working on behalf of immigrant women, Zakaria champions a reconstruction of feminism that forges true solidarity by bringing Black and brown voices and goals to the fore.
Ranging from the savior complex of British feminist imperialists to the condescension of the white feminist–led “development industrial complex” and the conflation of sexual liberation as the “sum total of empowerment,” Zakaria presents an eye-opening indictment of how whiteness has contributed to a feminist movement that solely serves the interests of upper middle-class white women.
About the Author: Rafia Zakaria is author of The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan, Veil, and many essays for the Guardian, CNN, and the New York Times Book Review. She is a regular columnist for Dawn in Pakistan and the Baffler in the United States.
"This necessary book is a critique of how whiteness (not white women) has infiltrated feminism and how it should be razor-bladed out of the current form...Zakaria is a warm-hearted and sharp-eyed writer that brings compassion, intelligence, and a steady drumbeat of change to redefining term—feminism—a word that is old and soggy and full of white ladies yelling about things. This book is going to light fires everywhere, so if you are prone to combust, get right the hell out of the way." - Kerri Arsenault, Literary Hub
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 12 members
"Against White Feminism" by Rafia Zakaria is about how the feminist movement, with its primary focus on white women, has historically excluded women of color. From Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman" speech during the women's suffrage movement to white, female-led NGOs, white, upper-middle class women have both willingly denied a voice and decided what is best for women of color in the United States and around the world. While there is not 100% equality between white women and white men, there are privileges afforded nevertheless, and it is from this privilege that white women have shaped and defined what we are taught is feminism. The feminist ideals of capitalist-influenced sexual freedom, an emphasis on women's empowerment, and the disruption of cultural practices deemed unsavory have had severe, irreversible consequences on black, brown, and Asian women across the globe. This book also forced me to think critically about some of the female journalists, authors, and photographers that have profited off how they exposed women in other countries. I really hope that all white women who consider themselves feminist will read "Against White Feminism."
In Against White Feminism, Rafia Zakaria pens an informative narrative of how whiteness is embedded into the very foundation of American (to some extent even global) feminism. Since it’s conception in the 1800s, feminism has sought to improve the lives of women global, but at the fault of doing so through a predominately white, Western lens. Despite its cries of and for inclusivity and solidarity, it is the elite white woman who have left their lasting marks on the movement at the expensive of silencing the Black and brown voices they claim to help. Highlighting her own experiences with exclusion from feminist forums, as well as exclusion of Black and brown global voices, Zakaria calls for a re configuring of feminist discourse to highlight common ground issues faced by women global, not just those that affect the white narrative.
Zakaria highlights early on that eliminating white feminism is not the elimination of white women from feminism but removing centuries of white supremacy and capitalism from the common spaces of feminism, such that Black and brown voices can carry equal weight in their narratives. This book forces all those who consider themselves feminists to truly consider the voices that carry weight and the harm being done to marginalized communities by perpetuating the current form of feminism in today’s society.
This is a must read book for every feminist, years too late in its making but crucial to the movement going forward.
In Against White Feminism, Rafia Zakaria investigates White Feminism, or feminism steeped in white supremacy and capitalism that centers on the needs and existence of white women.
Zakaria brings the reader alongside a thorough examination of the pitfalls of White Feminism, primarily through historical and contemporary examples. Zaharia highlights a patronizing and dangerous trend in which white women are presumed experts in liberation, despite lacking the knowledge and cultural competency to be effective, too frequently resulting in more harm than non-action.
I learned so much from Zakaria’s intentional research, and I found her analysis to be both accessible and engaging. I really enjoyed this work, and I highly recommend it!
This book is an important take on the state of feminism in the United States, though it can also be applied to the global feminist movement, as well. Despite the inflamatory title, Zakaria isn't trying to exclude anyone from feminism. Rather, the intent of this book is to expose how whiteness has detracted from the ultimate goals of feminism while also silencing the voices of feminists/allies of color. "White" feminism is the movement of feminism built upon the same power structures that have restricted the rights and voices of people of color and the LGTBQ communities. White feminism is less about the race of feminists, and more about the ignoring of the power structures that allow white scholars, activists, and politicians to be the de facto spokespeople for the feminist movement because those avenues are more easily accessible for non-POC. Overall, an interesting, eye opening, and potentially inspiring read addressing the possible futures of feminism.
What a provocative and searing read! White folks tend to think that as soon as other voices are elevated, it means that their White voice is being erased (not true). This read brings to the forefront what everyone needs to be reading; it is challenging and defiant and oh, so needed. Deconstructing and dismantling white feminism does not mean erasing whiteness and it doesn't equate whiteness with being bad or inherently racist - it just means that we need to be aware of who we are, our identity, and if white voices are to be heard - whose voices is it stamping out?
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