"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Monday, November 26, 2007

bell hooks Monday: Race, Class and Feminism

I am always fascinated when I discover yet another way that feminist concerns intersect with concerns of racism and of class. Continuing our look at Teaching to Transgress, we find hooks giving us some of her students' insights around some of the difficulties with being a black feminist, including some of the difficulties specific to being a black man who is also a feminist:
"Throughout the semester, there was more laughter in our discussions--as well as more concern about negative fall-out exploring feminist concerns--than in any feminist course I have taught. There were also ongoing attempts to relate material to the concrete realities they face as young black women. All the students were heterosexual and particularly concerned about the possibility that choosing to support feminist politics would alter their relationship with black men. They were concerned about the ways feminism might change how they relate to fathers, lovers, friends. Most everyone agreed that the men they knew were grappling with feminist issues were either gay or involved with women who were 'pushing them.' Brett, a close partner of one of the women, was taking another class with me. Since he was named by black women in the group as one of the black males who was concerned about gender issues, I talked with him specifically about feminism. He responded by calling attention to the reasons it is difficult for black men to deal with sexism, the primary one being that they are accustomed to thinking of themselves in terms of racism, being exploited and oppressed. Speaking of his efforts to develop feminist awareness, he stressed limitations: "I've tried to understand but then I'm a man. Sometimes I don't understand and it hurts, 'cause I think I'm the epitome of everything that's oppressed." Since it is difficult for many black men to give voice to the ways they are hurt and wounded by racism, it is also understandable that it is more difficult for them to 'own up to' sexism, to be accountable."

Some similar blinders are in place, I think, as regards some of my peers, who aren't burdened by racism the way hooks' student is, but who are burdened by class issues--once one begins to understand issues of class, and one's own position within those issues, it's sometimes hard to see things through a race-theory lens, or through a feminist-theory lens. My intuition (and it's just an intuition) is that this is one of the reasons that there are often conflicts within, say, liberal politics, between men in power and those of us with feminist interests at the forefront of our goals. (I wonder how much of The Pie Fight Incident over at DailyKos is to blame for this tendency, for instance.)

The lesson isn't that one frame of reference is better than the others, but that movements need to understand intersectionality. Kos may think that ignoring feminist concerns won't matter to his cause(s) in the long run, but I think that's doubtful, given that class issues, feminism and race issues (among others) are inextricably intertwined.

Bonus Poetry on Intersectionality: Stacyann Chin
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