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How White Feminism Threw Its Black Counterpart Under the Bus | tnewst.com Press "Enter" to skip to content

How White Feminism Threw Its Black Counterpart Under the Bus

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Schuller, a white historian and feminist scholar at Rutgers University, clearly understands the political import of this transfer of labor. From the start, she lays bare how white feminism, rooted in binary, dated understandings of womanhood, “is a political position, not an identity,” and has no interest in disrupting the status quo, or in a reallocation of power. Instead, she writes, “it approaches the lives of Black and Indigenous people, other people of color and the poor as raw resources that can fuel women’s rise in status.”

Credit…via The New York Public Library

The most adept historian is one who can transform carefully mined nuggets of archival material into compelling, if not piquant, prose. Schuller is a gifted storyteller, her counterhistory equal parts writerly craft and scholarly diligence. Each chapter pairs a popularly idolized white feminist with a Black, Native American, Latinx, transgender or lesbian feminist, many of whom are lesser known. The suffragist icon Elizabeth Cady Stanton, whom Schuller credits with having ignobly “invented white feminism,” appears alongside the poet, novelist and early Black feminist theorist Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. Schuller places in conversation the abolitionist writers Harriet Beecher Stowe and Harriet Jacobs, the birth control activists Margaret Sanger and Dr. Dorothy Ferebee, Betty Friedan and the civil rights leader Pauli Murray, Sheryl Sandberg and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But Schuller’s mission is not merely diversity and inclusion: “The trouble with white feminist politics is not what it fails to address and whom it leaves out,” she writes, but “what it does and whom it suppresses.” Schuller’s writing is strongest when locating the precise historical moments in which these feminist figures intersected. Each transgender, lesbian and nonwhite feminist provided mainstream white feminism with an opportunity to choose a more equitable, moral path, and Schuller elucidates the very real consequences of each white feminist’s refusal.

Schuller takes care to render these women not as heroes and villains, but as studies in complexity, contradiction and nuance. Sometimes, though, the balance between the two subjects can feel off. For example, despite Schuller’s acknowledgment of the Yankton Sioux organizer Zitkala-Sa’s “literary talents” in “prestigious” journals like The Atlantic and Harper’s, without enough of her own written prose in the text, her perspective feels far more ephemeral than that of Alice C. Fletcher, a white advocate for Indigenous women and families. And Schuller fails to adequately support her charged assertion that Ferebee’s birth control advocacy “incorporated eugenics,” noting only that she was less of a eugenicist than Sanger was.

However, when Schuller does strike the right balance, as she does between the anti-trans feminist Janice Raymond and the trans theorist Sandy Stone, the result is mesmerizing. “The Trouble With White Women” is a welcome addition to the feminist canon. Undertaking the kind of critical labor necessary for engendering a truly liberatory feminism, Kyla Schuller is doing the work.


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