*BIWoC- Black, Indigenous and Women of Colour (including everyone who self-identifies as a woman).
“therapy-lady liked to compare my life to refuges from war-torn countries who hid their kids in closets when airplanes flew over their houses. this was her limit of understanding on colonized intimacy. she wasn’t completely wrong, and while she tried to convince me none of us had to hide our kids anymore, we both knew that wasn’t exactly true. i knew what every ndn knows: that vulnerability, forgiveness and acceptance were privileges. she made the assumption of a white person: they were readily available to all like the fresh produce at the grocery store.”
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson in Islands of Decolonial Love.
I see you out on the streets wearing pink-pussyhats in solidarity; I see you holding signs featuring uteri to claim the right to your bodies; I see you lining up to get a flag hijab; I see you using the word “intersectionality” over and over again without crediting anyone; I see you coopting our histories and celebrating the lack of arrests when you protest; and in all this, I see you asking us, Black and Indigenous women, as well as Women of Colour, to join you, to accept your solidarity and to thank you for your efforts.
Welcome, you are late, and we owe you nothing.
Over the past few weeks, I have been constantly asked about my views and engagement (or lack thereof, rather) with the Women’s March. I have repeatedly heard how inter-feminist solidarity is necessary to crush the evils sweeping America and trickling through the American-Canadian border. I have also been told how BIWoC should do this or that, support this or that, or believe this or that. Make no mistake: We do not have to do anything, support anything or believe anything that does not consider us, respect us, include us (in our terms), make us safer and recognize that we have been in resistance for over 500 years.
We do not need saviours and we do not have to support those who believe we do.
White feminists are rediscovering feminisms. Many of you are being faced, for the very first time, with the realization that white women have failed many of us. Some of you are discovering that you are not welcome in some of the spaces created by and for BIWoC, and that if you are welcome, you will be expected to sit back and listen, while having discussions about race with your fellow white women. You are also being told to “stay in your lane” and not take spaces that are not yours. And you are being reminded that if you cannot accept the terms of Black, Indigenous and Women of Colour movements, you are more than welcome to leave.
This is a time of learning and discovery for many white feminists.
But this is only new to you. Indigenous and Black women have been in resistance for over 500 years across the continent. We know that the evil that white feminists are pointing at and attributing to the most recent American election, has existed in this continent since colonization. Our beloved “America” and our adored “Canada” are places of violence. They were built on the slavery of Indigenous and Black peoples; on the attempted extermination of Indigenous nations; on the slavery of East Asian peoples, tied to what you call “development;” on white supremacy; on the imposition of the colonial political order, caste systems and all; on the adoption of capitalism; on the gendercide against third-gender and Two-Spirited people; and on the use of heteropatriarchal norms, which until this day justify the rape, murder and disappearance of Indigenous and Black women across the continent.
If you are Black or/and Indigenous in the “Americas” you carry a long history of colonial violence and trauma in your blood. Yet, you also carry the ancestral strength that has permitted our survival.
For centuries now, BIWoC have had to be in conversation, some of which have been incredibly difficult. As Indigenous nations and communities, for instance, we have had to redefine our relationships with settlers, mestizos, immigrants, refugees and Black communities. This has entailed not only claiming our rights to sovereignty and self-determination, but also recognizing our role in anti-Blackness. We have also had to negotiate our relationships with mestiza women and Women of Colour, some of whom have been incredibly violent towards us and some of whom refuse to accept that they are on Stolen Land.
We have also had to listen to the asks and wants of different groups and fight to protect the small pieces of land that we are “allowed” to call our own these days. And sometimes when non-Indigenous communities talk about reparations, some of us get nervous, not because we do not think they deserve it, but because reparations often come from our lands (which are not the government’s to give away, for starters), which are essential to our sustenance and some of our identities. But above all, over 500 years of experience have taught us that reparations have been used to silence and erase our communities to the point where governments have tried really hard to eliminate our identities as “Indigenous nations” by throwing money and “rights” at us.
Most recently, we have engaged in conversations regarding what it means to be an Indigenous person who has been displaced from their territory? We have become settlers in other nations’ lands because of the ways in which Settler-States conduct imperialist business in Third World countries, particularly around resource extraction. When we are displaced and settle in places like Canada and the US, no one recognize us as Indigenous… we become “Latinx” or “Caribbean” or “African” or “Asian…” We lose our Indigeneity to the Settler-State because it has always been in the best interest of the State (settler or not)- the multicultural State- to erase Indigeneity.
But despite the challenges, we have been busy having conversations, organizing against white supremacy, fighting capitalism, negotiating rights for each other and caring for one another. The engagement has not always been easy and it has not always been fruitful; but it has been ongoing for centuries. And this is an engagement that many white feminists have always feared. They have feared it so much, that when they claimed the right to vote, they excluded BIWoC; when they fought for reproductive rights, they made sure Trans-Women, particularly Trans-BIWoC, were not considered “women;” when they lobbied for equal pay, they conveniently forgot to ask the most marginalized, particularly Black, Afro-Latinx and Latinx communities what their experiences are; and when they mobilized around “women’s rights are human rights,” they were very careful to draw the line between “citizens” and “illegal” women.
So, excuse us, if we are skeptical of your presence. Personally, it will take me years before I can trust you and I can welcome you completely. But can you blame me? Your feminism has had long-lasting effects on my Indigenous family, it has heavily influenced my immigration experience and it has always been a space where I have been told that as an Indigenous-Latinx Muslim woman, my needs come last. You can have the best intentions in the world and still do pretty shitty things.
And I am not telling you that everything you do is useless… if there is something many of us BIWoC recognize, is that white feminists have been given a space within institutional frameworks that the rest of us will simply never have. Thus, you have a role to play in that space and an opportunity to make (some) things right. First, get your facts straight. White women were not the first ones to do everything you can think of. In fact, you did not invent feminism; case in point, when you discuss “intersectionality” be aware that many Indigenous women have always practiced intersectionality in their cosmologies and epistemologies and that academically the term was coined by a Black woman. More pragmatically, help dismantle the system that has benefited you at the expense of the rest of us.
Do not help create laws that criminalize BIWoC. Hold the police-industrial complex accountable for the daily criminalization and murder of Black, Afro-Latinx, Latinx and Indigenous individuals. Understand that when you challenge a Trans-woman’s “womanhood” you are perpetuating patriarchal violence. Stop pushing sex-workers to the margins just because you are morally against their trade. Challenge bills that criminalize Muslims, immigrants and refugees. Push back against border laws that deem us “illegal.” Fight the gentrification of our neighbourhoods. Do not let the State take our children. Demand ethical economic practices from the businesses you engage with… your diamond engagement ring is by no means “ethical.” Mobilize the justice system against extractive and pipeline companies seeking to taint our territories. Make sure the media calls out white supremacy, hate crimes and State-sanctioned terrorism, when we are killed. And stop invading and occupying our countries (and their fictitious borders)- do not vote for people who support militarism and do not fund it… Occupations are State-sanctioned terrorism.
But above all, get out of the way. Let us do what we have been doing for 500+ years. Do not be a barrier to our movements, to our protests, to our survival. We know best what works for us. We have been fighting for our survival and rights way before you realized that there is more to feminism than the white/middle-class/cis/hetero/Western standard. And remember, we do not owe you a “thanks;” we only owe thanks to the BIWoC before us… Those who were enslaved by your ancestors; those who were almost exterminated by them; those whose lands have been invaded and occupied by your grandparents; those who made it to Turtle Island after your families took away their livelihoods; those who have been called “oppressed” by you and your mothers; those who have been called “barbaric” by you and your friends; and those who despite all this, find it in their hearts to still engage with you.