M. Leblanc has a candid, thoughtful post on white feminism and the criminal justice system over at Dr. Bitch’s website. The whole thing is worth reading, but this really stood out.
So much of White Feminism, especially the kind I have engaged in for most of my adult life, is excessively personal. In particular, the white feminism that dominates the feminist blogosphere tends to be very inward-directed. …
This work is undeniably important. But I can’t help feeling that for a lot of us, it’s pretty self-indulgent. Would that women of color whose communities have been ravaged by the flip side of “safety” that White Feminists seek to bring to our own neighborhoods could have the luxury of worrying about whether the guy at the corner store calls me “sweetie.” Or that poor women who are paid shit wages to clean up after rich people could have my luxury of obsessing over whether my boyfriend expects me to do the dishes, instead of being expected to, without question, do all the household labor for your own family as well as another’s.
Indeed. This is a frequent criticism of feminism, and one that a lot of women of color who are dismissive of white feminism have aired. It’s a shame, because as M. Leblanc points out, this work is not just feminist, but anti-racist. I don’t think people of color concerned with chipping away at the economic marginalization of poor communities of color consider their concerns feminist per se*, but the incarceration/criminalization of black/Latino men has tremendous consequences for the women in their communities with whom they have children and who are expected to “hold them down” while they’re locked up (to say nothing of how it normalizes/masculinizes incarceration which erodes any threat jailtime may have a deterrent).
She also highlights a commenter’s thoughts:
I am not going to say that (white) women should never use the legal system because the legal system in the U.S. disproportionately affects minority men, or because it is used to destroy communities of color. But if the main focuses of the feminist movement center on reforms through legislation, or the court system, or better police protection, etc to reduce sexual assault- if the movement is centered around the authority of a legal system that so often works against people of color and protects white privilege, then not only are we unintentionally supporting a system that is racist, but we are also ignoring the needs of women of color who, for several reasons, may not feel comfortable or safe going to the police if they themselves are raped or living with domestic violence. Would someone in a community that is often terrorized by the police then want to call the police to come settle her domestic problems? Even if she wanted to see the perpetrator punished, would she want to expose her brother/son/friends to police brutality as well? Even without any of these concerns for her community, would she feel as confident as a white woman that a police officer/judge/media would be serious and sensitive about her claims of rape? (And we all know that even white women have good reason to be suspicious of the legal system treating ANY claims of rape seriously and sensitively.)
I think that if feminism, as a movement, is not seeking ways to address sexual violations outside of a racist legal system, it certainly is ignoring the needs many, many women. (Not only women of color, but any women who might be ignored or persecuted by the legal system- including poor women, trans women, queer women, women in the sex industry, and probably others.)
As an alternative to the legal system or vigilante justice (or doing nothing), I’ve heard some pretty great things about community justice/restorative justice programs. One of the really positive aspects of this, I think, is that the needs of the survivors of the crimes are discussed and hopefully met, as opposed to in a court room where the punishment of the perpetrator is the only thing that matters- the survivor’s needs are nonexistent.
*If I had to guess, I would say a lot of Cosbyite concern over the absence of black fathers is a informed by conventional Big-Piece-of-Chicken patriarchy, which holds that women just should not be heading households in the first place, and that things would be better if men were calling the shots.