“Problematic:” Racism in Feminism’s Past

“Problematic”: Racism in Feminism’s Past”

By: Dion McNeil

One of the things that many of us may notice is how some people can view heterosexual “cis-gendered” white men as problematic based off of history. Now while it may be true that many people who happened to be straight white men did some rather horrible things it appears that there is an outright denial of atrocities committed by those who don’t fit that description. Of course it is almost too easy to spot the nonsense suggestions made by the very same people who make these claims. That is low hanging fruit. A more fruitful endeavor is discovering just how “problematic” certain ideologies are when it comes to being guilty of the same labels and accusations made at straight white men.

Racism is an “ism” thrown at people and sometimes it appears that label of racist is put out at random. Funny thing is that when it comes to some people, especially those who subscribe to modern day feminism, a little bit of educating is required to show the utter despicable racist ideals and actions perpetuated by those who did or would have easily integrated into that movement. For this idea we’ll be focusing on one of feminism’s earliest trail blazers in Susan B. Anthony. It’s not a secret that Susan was guilty of racist words. In fact, according to women’s history over at About.com we find that Susan B. Anthony was described as such:

“She sometimes argued that educated white women would be better voters than “ignorant” black men or immigrant men.

In the late 1860s she even portrayed the vote of freedmen as threatening the safety of white women. George Francis Train, whose capital helped launch Anthony and Stanton’s Revolution newspaper, was a noted racist.”

Someone could easily say, “well, that was a reflection of the times and lots of people were racist then!” Oh, we see that you’re willing to make an exception for Susan B. Anthony but hold the racist cloud over the heads of all white straight men? Do we need to discuss what a double standard is? But you see we aren’t done with Susan yet. Honestly if all she did was say some racist things that’d be one issue but she took insult to injury with some of her other actions. One action in particular is something she is partially responsible for and something that many in the minority community still feel the effects of.

To those saying that what Susan was doing was just a reflection of the times really needs to “educate” themselves as so many feminists love to tell others to do. Because according to Encyclopedia Susan B. Anthony and even Elizabeth Cody Stanton performed some rather despicable acts. For example:

“Some women’s rights activists, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, turned to the Democratic Party, portions of which supported white woman suffrage in order to stop black men from securing the vote.”

How are those who would act as apologists for this particular brand of feminism going to explain that one away? The outright demonizing of men of color, black men in particular, is disgusting. Quite frankly this wasn’t just a belief that was held during that time but something that brandished deep conviction. Even if someone wanted to argue that they were simply taking those actions because black men would get the right to vote over white women that defense would make no sense. One doesn’t solve a problem with equality by upholding a standard of inequality and one would have to engage in some heavy duty mental gymnastics to suggest that black people, male or female, had more privileges than white women at that time or any time for that matter.

In a book written by  M. J. Cosson entitled, “Affirmative Action” there is a description of the word, “minority” as it applies to affirmative action can become “problematic.” This is from Chapter 6 in the book:

“The term ‘minority’ in regard to race means many things. In general, it applies to anyone who is not Caucasian. For example, a person could be all or part African American, Native American, or Asian American and still be considered a minority.”

Doesn’t sound that bad, right? Well the same part of this paragraph should spark some serious questions. Take a look:

“It is becoming more difficult to use race as a factor in determining who qualifies to be a recipient of affirmative action.”

Let’s not pick on Susan B. Anthony so much. Her running mate in Elizabeth Cady Stanton also made some pretty asinine statements. If we were to glance over Phillip H. Rubio’s book entitled, “A History of Affirmative Action” we’ll find this following statement from Elizabeth Cody Stanton:

“Prejudice against color, of which we hear so much, is not stronger than that of sex.”

If that doesn’t demonstrate just how delusional some of these first wave feminists could be nothing will. Mind you, according to Mr. Rubio’s book and according to all available sources at least 4 million black men, women and children were slaves at the time that she made this statement. That isn’t to suggest that some of their ideas weren’t good ones and some of their actions weren’t justified. But for some people to sit around and suggest that there isn’t a serious problem of historical and even current racism located within the feminist movement is absolutely ridiculous. Some of the suggestions and even direct statements made by these feminists were far worse than what some straight white men would have said. It’s almost as if the suggestion is that we are supposed to ignore all these clearly racist ideas and focus only on the ones certain feminists want us to develop tunnel vision upon.

That can’t be right. Affirmative Action, in every meaning, was meant to be originally for those who were slaves (namely African Americans) to reverse the damage that Jim Crow laws and slavery inflicted. After all it was drafted shortly after very troubling times in the United States. So then how did women (as a specific group) end up being qualified for affirmative action if those women may have been Caucasian? We know there were white female slave owners. We know there were white women who said some pretty nasty things about African American men with Susan B. Anthony being a shining example of this. We know that there were plenty of white women who participated in the violence against, marginalization of and general misery directed towards people of color. So then how in the world did we end up in a situation where women were added when minority people in general, be they man or woman, would have sufficed in the definition?

We know how we ended up there. According to Terry H. Anderson’s book entitled, “The Pursuit of Fairness: A History of Affirmative Action” we learn how we ended up in such a situation. We all know it was John F. Kennedy who put affirmative action into play but rarely do we get to see some of the decisions that led up to gender being apart of affirmative action. In Terry Anderson’s book we learn that in the U.S. House of Representatives Martha Griffiths made the following statement:

“You are going to have white men in one bracket, you are going to try to take colored men and colored women and give them equal employment rights, and down at the bottom of the list is going to be white women with no rights at all.”

Shortly after one of the most powerful act of law would change the landscape of the country. But analyze the above statement. Again, it was “white men”, “colored women”, “colored men” and then “white women.” It is almost as if not only did this person hold white men as the most powerful but at the same time it is as if they were suggesting that if people of color actually got rights that would somehow lessen the rights of white women who were by far more advantaged than what any black person could historically claim at that time. So, if it was clear that was the case just why did she want gender added? Could it be that she sensed that this would later benefit white women more than minorities in general? We can’t say for sure.

Piggy backing off of the above paragraph while we can’t say for sure what was the aim we certainly have the results of today. According to Sally Kohn’s piece over at Time Magazine affirmative action disproportionately benefits white women than any demographic of people of color. That may be some distressing news to hear considering that piece of legislation and eventual executive order by President Kennedy was intended for those who had a legacy of being slaves and were marginalized in ways white women could never attest to in the United States. If we want to be exact affirmative action benefits white women at a 6% higher clip than any minority group including minority women. That doesn’t sound that high until you consider just how many white women are in the United States.

Now that we have explored some of the ridiculous racism located in feminism’s history we’ll leave you with a wonderful list created by Toast. Enjoy! Click here for the Toast’s list.

Sources:

A History of Affirmation Action (Phillip Rubio)

About.com (Women’s History)

Time Magazine

Affirmative Action by M.J. Cosson

The Toast

dionsbc

Dion McNeil is a writer for the Soap Box Corner. If anyone wants to be featured in the SBC Perspective series or have stories that should be covered by the Soap Box Corner email us at SBCPerspectives@yahoo.com. Thank you for reading!

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