I recently set up my own feminist blog and community, A Mixed Race Feminist Speaks. There were numerous reasons why I did this, but one of the reasons was that I sometimes feel marginalized and/ or misunderstood as a multracial woman in feminist communities. I’m part of many online feminist communities and hope to start an offline community of my own in 2016. I’ve had some great experiences in online feminist communities and learnt a lot so far, but there have also been some difficult encounters that have highlighted that intersectionality still has a long way to go.
Just recently I joined a feminist community on Facebook which was managed by some women in the US. I was in shock when a post was shared which included a list of people of color who were described as having problems with internalized racism. Many of the people included on the list were people of multiracial heritage who chose not to identify as black, but instead chose to identify as mixed race/ biracial and so on. The explicit message within the post was that anyone of multiracial heritage who has black ancestry and doesn’t describe themselves as black, really only does this because they are self-loathing. When I complained that this post was problematic and disrespectful because it is inappropriate to police and make assumptions about how others identify, I was firstly asked if I was a troll, and then told that multiracial people who acknowledge the fact they have white heritage are just trying to access white power. This isn’t the first time in a feminist community that I have been made to feel I should denounce part of my identity as a multiracial woman of black Nigerian, Jamaican and white British heritage. Unfortunately it’s still fairly common to come across monoracial people in feminist communities who wish to speak on behalf of multiracial people about how they should live and/ or identify.
There are some great feminist communities which do make sure that they provide first-person accounts from people of multiracial heritage and that diversity is represented within the content they publish in this area. These are needless to say, some of my favourite groups. Some communities however rarely represent multiracial voices or only present specific perspectives which are less challenging for monoracial people to read.
Some feminist pages also fall into the trap of pitting multiracial women with lighter skin against women of color with darker skin. Now I know colorism is a real issue and I’m not saying people of color with lighter skin don’t access some privileges due to skin color, because we do. I think we need to start acknowledging colorism has a negative impact for all people of color however.
Lighter-skinned multiracial women can experience racial fetishism in romantic relationships because they have lighter skin, and also because they are often objectified for being multiracial. This can happen to multiracial women regardless of the race of the man we are dating. I personally have experienced this with white and black men. We can also experience hostility and rejection because we are automatically assumed to be ‘superior’ or ‘stuck up’ because of our skin color. This happened to me just the other day online, for no reason whatsoever, and is a real issue that light-skinned women of color can face.
There are problems with lighter skinned multiracial people being made to feel they are not ‘enough’ of a particular race. I’ve been made to feel like I am not ‘black enough’ more times than I can count, as though there is only one acceptable experience of blackness.
Multiracial people with lighter skin also frequently complain about being exposed to explicit racist comments because people are more likely to assume it is ok to say racist things in front of them. This has been my experience at various points in my life where people have thought it was ok to say negative things about black people in front of me, completely ignoring the fact that I have a black identity. Thinking about it now, I have actually experienced most of these issues in feminist communities.
I think people need to stop comparing the experiences of light-skinned multiracial people with darker skinned monoracial women, and accept that all women of color face difficulties because of white supremacy. We can’t support each other if there is tension between women of color.
There are still also some feminist communities and writers out there that fail to represent the issues of women of color well in general. It’s obvious that for some white feminists, racial issues and their impact on women are an afterthought. We see this in the media on a larger scale all the time from celebrities like Patricia Arquette, Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Winslet, who champion their own causes as white women and ignore women of color.
Overall I think it would be great to see more candid, first-hand stories from multiracial women being published online in feminist groups as I feel it is so important to raise awareness of issues affecting the multiracial population. We are a group often acknowledged only in superficial, physical terms. Our voices are still frequently silenced. Even when I apply to write for feminist sites I find that my message as a multiracial woman is often being over-edited, and I have heard similar complaints from other multiracial people.
It’s really pleasing to see lots of new online groups starting which focus on multiracial issues. Such groups have helped me to develop power and belief in my own voice so that when I do feel oppressed, either online or in society, I can feel more comfortable about speaking up. When multiracial people have more access to the open and honest narratives of other multiracial people, it gives us strength and helps us to accept our identities. I think things are improving for us and I am grateful that at least my own online community will always be a safe space if things get tough elsewhere.