Allyship and Intersectionality

Intersectionality is a term describing how gender inequality is impacted by racism and other forms of exclusion, leading to real-world consequences, such as multiple forms of discrimination in the workplace. Intersectionality is a framework for critical thinking; that means we use this as a lens to understand how individual experiences of disadvantage are impacted by social policies, social institutions, and other structural forces.

White women, including those who belong to minority groups, often leave out the race dimension from their use of intersectionality, and do not turn that critical thinking on themselves. For intersectionality to achieve change, all of us must be willing to be self-reflexive about the interconnections and impact of gender, race and other identities.

A White woman colleague responded to my tweets during the Women’s March which were critiquing White feminism. She said White women who see themselves as allies were being put off by women of colour’s critiques of the Women’s March. She said White women were feeling “cut down” because of the “tone” in the discussions by women of colour. She said that allies are just learning and needed patience and education from women of colour if they are to remain engaged on intersectionality.

I’ve previously discussed how tone policing was used before, during and after the Women’s March to undermine women of colour’s contributions and insights.

Women’s rights are limited by exclusionary forms of feminism. The gains of intersectionality can make gender equity a reality. For this to happen, White women need to keep showing up and doing their self-reflection on White privilege and structural inequalities.

Here are my responses to my Twitter conversation, with some editing for continuity.

After the Women’s March weekend, critical reflection and action is needed: how do we end White supremacist patriarchy? After this reflection, we do the work to end it.

The impact and solutions to racism have been publicly discussed by women of colour for many decades. Most recently in America, by Black Lives Matter activists and also by women of colour who critiqued the way they were alienated from Pantsuit Nation and from the Women’s March. The frustration expressed by women of colour is that there have been many opportunities for White women to have gotten involved earlier, and yet White people have pushed back repeatedly.

Allyship can seem tough to “newbies” without the full history of anti-racism issues, but being an ally means embracing the uncomfortable feeling that goes along with re-education about White supremacy.

The way women of colour’s frustration is expressed, especially by those with less power, is not the cause of White women’s discomfort. The discomfort is about confronting the reality about having privilege and how it benefits White women. White privilege includes not being aware of how racism works at the everyday level.

The ability to retreat from anti-racism issues, or to think that rescinding allyship is an option, is another sign of White privilege. People who belong to minority groups can’t retreat or stay unaware of biases and discrimination because inequity is part of everyday life.

There’s no nice or polite way to express justified anger, frustration or distrust in face of multiple oppression. Whatever discomfort an ally feels is nothing compared to the very real consequences of facing sexism on top of racism on top of homophobia and other injustices.

Being an ally is supposed to be hard. That’s why these discussions on intersectionality and being late to support women of colour need critical engagement if the Women’s March is to have continued positive impact.


[Photo: Crowd at the Women’s March Sydney. A White woman holds a sign with an Audre Lorde quote that reads: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” Another sign reads: Girl power vs Trump tower]

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