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The Problem with “Privilege”

August 15, 2013

From the brilliant scholar-activist, Professor Andrea Smith:

andrea smith's blog

The Problem with Privilege

by Andrea Smith

For a much longer and detailed version, see  my essay in the book Geographies of Privilege  

In my experience working with a multitude of anti-racist organizing projects over the years, I frequently found myself participating in various workshops in which participants were asked to reflect on their gender/race/sexuality/class/etc. privilege.  These workshops had a bit of a self-help orientation to them: “I am so and so, and I have x privilege.”  It was never quite clear what the point of these confessions were.  It was not as if other participants did not know the confessor in question had her/his proclaimed privilege.   It did not appear that these individual confessions actually led to any political projects to dismantle the structures of domination that enabled their privilege.  Rather, the confessions became the political project themselves.    The benefits of these confessions seemed to be ephemeral.  For…

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white messiah

November 21, 2012

white messiah

by Jen Meunier

the white messiah came to town
when nobody worshiped he got let down
smile as sharp as a thorny crown
there was solidarity all around
    until we talked of power

and whose land their nice homes are built upon
whose dead lie restless under manicured lawns
and where did all their wealth come from
     until we questioned their power

 the ivory cocks on indian lane chant
“we’re all treaty people, so sign our land claim!”
their windigo profits are hungry again
for a peace bought and kept with white power

they came again the other day
but nobody wanted to hear what they say
(not till they burned down their jails, anyway)
        there is peace in the ashes of power

The Moral Limits of the Law: Settler Colonialism and the Anti-Violence Movement by Andrea Smith

August 8, 2012
The Full article can be found here as part of the most recent  issue of Settler Colonial Studies: Karangatia: Calling Out Gender and Sexuality in Settler Societies


Anti-violence advocates in the United States often find themselves working with the contradictions of struggling for a vision of justice within the constraints of the US criminal legal system. Perhaps the greatest contradictions may be felt by many Native advocates who understand the US to be a settler colonial state. This article explores these contradictions and the limitations that this framework imposes on genuine attempts to address injustice. It also proposes a possible way out of a constraining paradox

Why indigenous and racialized struggles will always be appendixed by the left, by Zainab Amadahy

August 1, 2012

Re-blogged from:,

by Zainab Amadahy (originally published  July 19th, 2011)

Inspired by artists, academics and activist colleagues who have rolled their eyes at the spiritual beliefs of their Indigenous counterparts as well as protested the inclusion of prayer and ceremony into political, academic and artistic activities, I have decided to share my thinking on some fundamental differences in values and knowledge ways that impede relationship-making across our communities.

While I can’t generalize about what Indigenous or other racialized peoples mean by the words “decolonization”, anti-racist or “anti-colonial”, I can certainly observe how SOME philosophies and action strategies employed in leftist movements relegate anti-colonial and anti-racist struggles to the periphery.

Furthermore, concepts of “decolonization”, as they are talked about in many Indigenous and other racialized communities, are not always compatible with what are essentially Eurocentric philosophies and actions strategies.

The following are issues for all activists to keep in mind when working to build relationships.

At its heart, socialist-, Marxist-, and anarchist-informed activism centralizes the class struggle and workers rights. These are considered the core of “the struggle” all other struggles get “included” into that framework. This has required people from a variety of social locations (women, people of colour, differently-abled people, Indigenous folks, etc.) to function within a worldview that is not always intrinsic to or based in their cultural identities, community values and historical or personal experiences — even when they are resisting colonization.

Nor does this framework always address the aspirations of racialized communities, which in the case of Indigenous peoples involves recovering a specific Earth-informed, spiritually-infused culture and worldview. In this sense, leftist philosophies are like a one-size-fits-all dress that only a very small minority feel comfortable wearing. This doesn’t mean that such frameworks can’t be useful but they are not our historic starting place and that matters.

Leftist philosophies are theoretical frameworks that were initially developed BY MEN in Europe. European-descended women and racialized peoples from the rest of the world took up that central philosophy, critiqued and developed it. While we honour the works of many who have added to the body of theoretical work, we still need to understand that these theories basically started with a patriarchal, Eurocentric, colonial-minded framework. That framework informed everything that came after. Much like in the pages of a colouring book, you can colour outside the lines, select unconventional colours, draw your own illustrations elsewhere on the page, etc., but the book’s drawings dominate and, to a great extent, define whatever appears at the end.

Struggles of Indigenous and other racialized people (as well as those from other social locations) become adjectives or appendices in a feminist, anti-racist, green, anti-colonial class struggle that (sometimes) includes differently abled people. While we can acknowledge that there are various approaches to “inclusion” (and some approaches work better than others) we will never get away from the necessity of having to be “included”. We will always be the recipients of accommodations or adjustments to theory and practice. (Even though indigenous and other racialized peoples together comprise the majority of the world’s population.)

Marxism, socialism and anarchy do not address relationality, that is the inter-relatedness and inter-connectedness of all life — past, present and future. Such theories still operate under the assumption that we two-leggeds are separate, differentiated individuals. As a species we are still considered to be superior to rather than inherently part of the other life forms on this planet and beyond. While lefties (and others) are increasingly shifting towards understanding that the “environment” is part of our bodies, that we cannot harm another without harming ourselves (based, in part, on emerging scientific knowledge), new analyses are still being tacked onto or integrated with or assimilated into larger leftist frameworks. Relationality is inadequately understood and still seen as an appendix to existing theory, rather than a legitimate and viable worldview in and of itself.

Some leftist philosophies are antagonistic to, uncomfortable with, or otherwise look down on Indigenous cultural beliefs and practices. Many activists who attempt to respect those cultures would still like to see spirituality as separate from political work; something to be done “over there” rather than to be infused into or inform our work. They often generalize about their negative and oppressive experiences with colonial/imperial/institutionalized religions and apply them to belief systems that are Earth-informed and relationship-centred. This rationalizes their desire to compartmentalize spirituality and deny how it infuses and informs Indigeneity.

Decolonization is often seen as a process in which only Indigenous and racialized people need to engage. Many lefties do not understand the need to shift their frameworks, change their mindsets and alter their actions. They do not always see that we are all in this together, impacting each other in a web of life processes that inter-relate. Remarkably some lefties see decolonization as a process whereby Indigenous and racialized groups simply shed one Eurocentric framework only to adopt another. Consequently, lefties can also become “missionaries”, encouraging or requiring assimilation into their own worldviews.

Indigenous and other racialized peoples have their own cultural and/or spiritual and/or wisdom traditions in which two leggeds are neither “centralized” nor “included” but are, instead, interwoven into a complex set of relationships with the Earth and all the life it supports, past, present and future. These frameworks of relationality inherently provide a critique of both capitalist and left-wing ideologies. If the aim of decolonization is to rid ourselves of colonial mindsets why not centralize our own wisdom traditions and use class analyses or other frameworks if and when they enable us to think and act in ways that support our communities (including Mother Earth, Our Relations and the Great Spirit)?

Relational frameworks served Indigenous and other racialized peoples for millennia before colonization. Remarkably, these ideologies and life ways are still alive and evolving, despite brutal colonizing efforts. Idealizing pre-colonial cultures and assuming that life was problem free before the coming of Europeans is neither true nor helpful. However, pre-colonial knowledge and values were and are perfectly viable and sustainable in these times. In fact, they might be crucial to getting the human species out of the mess we now find ourselves in on Mother Earth. Besides, don’t we all need to connect with who we are and where we come from before we can successfully move forward?

Taking on someone else’s ideology is like wearing someone else’s eyeglasses. If they aren’t made for your specific vision problems they can do harm. As indigenous and racialized peoples our eyes have been damaged, our worldviews stolen from us through the process of colonization. But in our case, the glasses we choose can either promote our healing or they can leave us dependant on lenses crafted by others.

That isn’t to say that glasses can’t ever be useful. No one philosophy or worldview is going to enable us to see everything that needs seeing or explain everything that needs explaining in our lives. One single worldview cannot inform ALL of our strategies for change. It might be necessary to wear bi or tri-focals from time to time and use the part of the lenses that provide us with the clearest view of what we want to see. But of course, the best of all options is to heal our eyes so we can see clearly for ourselves.

Zainab Amadahy is a mother, writer and activist. Her publications include the novel Moons of Palmares (1998, Sister Vision Press) as well as an essay in the anthology Strong Women’s Stories: Native Vision & Community Activism, (Lawrence & Anderson, 2004, Sumach Press). Most recently Amadahy has contributed to In Breach of the Colonial Contract (Arlo Kemp, Ed. 2008) by co-authoring “Indigenous Peoples and Black People in Canada: Settlers or Allies?”

SEX, RACE & SACRIFICE: Union Organizing

July 21, 2012

Although this article doesn’t address Labour organizing’s relation to colonialism specifically, it is an insightful analysis of the dynamics at play in Labour organizing spaces or spaces of the Left more broadly. It speaks to and validates many of the concerns which precipitated the creation of this blog space.    Colonial relations of power are not isolated issues, these dynamics and relations of domination  are very clearly perpetrated “in your face” across Turtle Island and beyond. Many thanks to Patricia Chong for her work and her words.

Re-blogged from:


Union Organizing

By Patricia Chong

The union cry to organize the unorganized has again become a rallying cry for the labour movements in both Canada and the United States, and it’s not surprising. In both countries there has been an explosive growth in traditionally union-weak areas of the economy, such as in private service work, and in union-weak job classifications such as part-time and contract work.

This has been matched with a decrease in union-strong sectors and job classifications. Another challenge for the labour movement is that women, racialized peoples (people of colour) and youth, who are over-represented in the growing number of casual, part-time and low-paid jobs, have been historically under-represented in unions, though this is changing. Thus, organizing these people is crucial to the labour movement’s future.

Recognizing this, some unions are expanding their organizing departments by hiring people who mirror their target membership. Still, such hires remain in the minority according to Jonathan Eaton’s analysis of an Ontario Federation of Labour organizer survey done in the late 1990s, with over 85 per cent of organizers being white, almost three-quarter male, and most over 40 years of
age. What, I wondered, are the experiences of the small number of racialized and white women as organizing staff? How does gender and race affect the experience of organizing? And what can these experiences tell us about our labour movement and its future?

To get an idea, I interviewed three racialized and three white women organizers from three unions about any differences they’d seen between the treatment of male and female organizers, and compared their experiences to the existing research on organizers, which is largely about
white men.

In interviewing these women, what became apparent is that they face the same challenges as other organizers, such as extensive travel, long hours of work and high emotional demands, as explored by American academic Daisy Rooks. However, the ways workload is an issue for all organizers, the women felt that they had to work harder to receive the same credit as their male peers. Said one, “I remember… feeling overworked and overwhelmed and, working with male
co-workers, it seemed they were always so relaxed.” She added, “It took me a little while to realize that they were so relaxed because they didn’t have to work as much as I did, or they didn’t take on responsibilities or the assignments I gave them to do.”

The racialized women felt that they had to work even more to receive the same recognition that both men and white women received. “You do have to work twice as hard as a woman, especially as a woman of colour, to prove that you’re capable of doing the work.”

Not only did the racialized women feel that their work was not equally valued, but some felt that they were given the “grunt work.” One racialized woman said that when the hardest work was being assigned, such as duties to be done in the early morning, late at night, or in bad weather, she would get it. Another added: “I think that if I weren’t a young [racialized] woman, I wouldn’t necessarily be taken from campaigns that I had started and developed that were sure wins [and see them] handed over to a white woman to win. I think I’ve been discriminated against in that way.”

Organizing work has multiple dimensions that are valued differently. For example, union-vote victories are recognized and rewarded, whereas much of the less visible work, such as establishing strong worker committees and conducting corporate research that helps to achieve these victories, are less valued and rewarded. Thus, discrimination can occur as the organizer who starts a campaign may not be the one to finish it.

Organizing is even more difficult for women with children. One interviewee went so far as to say that “being a woman organizer and having a baby will end your career.” However, as another interviewee with children pointed out, it is the inflexibility, not necessarily the number of work hours, that creates problems. She recalls being told, “If you work late, then you can start late.” But being told you can start late after working late the night before doesn’t translate for mothers with young children: “I can’t wake up at one o’clock and start my day. I wake up when my kids wake up,” she says. Not surprisingly, these women have to rely on external support such as family, neighbours and paid help. Added to these difficulties is the social stigma attached to working mothers. “I think there is gossip about women who are organizers: how they aren’t spending time with their kids and that they’re bad mothers.”

These gender stereotypes also negatively affect how women are perceived to deal with the stresses of union campaigns, and thus their ability to lead campaigns is questioned. For example, one organizer recalled derogatory comments made about “female behaviour” and women being

While the call to organize the unorganized has largely focussed on precarious work and workers, some unions are replicating these inequalities within their own staff. The women spoke about organizing positions with long probationary periods and some that were contract positions. One interviewee worked as a contract employee for three years. Thus, in this sense, organizing itself
is precarious work. As one woman put it: “Organizers are workers. We are the bottom feeders. We are the most precarious employees.”

Racism and sexism also come into play in terms of the precarious nature of organizing work. One woman discussed how, in her experience, all organizers were hired on contract, but those who become permanent illustrate a race and gender bias. She recalled a staff conference where the contract staff who had become permanent staff were asked to stand up and identity themselves. Six people stood up and they were all white men. She commented that it was “blatant” and “in your face” that there was “no consideration of gender or equity balance.”

Some unions appear to be quite happy hiring young organizers (defined by the Canadian Labour Congress as 30 years of age and under) because they are seen to be meeting diversity expectations, even when they hire a white man, because he’s young. However, isolating the identity of youth allows unions to sidestep other equity seeking groups and also to maintain unrealistic expectations in terms of workload, unpredictable work hours and extensive travel demands. This is because, more often than not, youth are without family responsibilities and have the physical ability to do this work.

Simply hiring women and racialized people as staff is not enough, especially when they are not in positions of power. While most of the interviewees feel that their organizing departments are diverse, all of them feel that the organization as a whole is not, particularly when it comes to leadership positions. Said one, “We are the people who recruit, but the people in the position of
power aren’t a reflection of the membership. If our membership is largely people of colour, then why isn’t our leadership? That poses really interesting, strong questions.”

Thus, the diversity that workers see when dealing with organizers is not necessarily reflective of the union as a whole. Furthermore, the ghettoization of women, particularly racialized women, in the organizing department, which is well-known to have high turnover and burn-out rates, is hugely problematic. This speaks to how women are brought into the labour movement on a platform of union renewal, only to leave rather than be nurtured into leaders.

The organizer model itself is exclusionary because it is based on a traditional white male (assumed heterosexual) worker model that took for granted that there was a woman at home to take care of domestic duties. Thus, union policies and procedures that seem fair actually exclude the very people that the labour movement wants to include, (as well as excluding white men who do not fit the model). For example, Australian academic Suzanne Franzway argues that union demands on time are more detrimental to women than men since women do the majority of domestic work. Women are faced with the double day of doing their paid work and then doing the unpaid work at home, or, in the case of union women, the triple day that includes their largely volunteer union work. As Canadian academic Linda Briskin says, sometimes being treated equally is not about being treated the same.

With some American unions losing about 50 per cent of their organizing staff annually and not having enough experienced organizers to run campaigns, change is necessary. However, rather than looking at the big picture and recognizing that the organizing standard is exclusionary, the response, often, is to individualize problems. Those who leave organizing are viewed as unable
to “cut it” and less committed to trade union principles.

This dishonouring is one aspect of what Rooks calls the “cowboy mentality” (and what I will call the “soldier mentality”) that she observed in some organizers. The soldier mentality is also characterized by viewing organizing as “movement work” that is “more than a job” and superior to other union work, such as servicing.

Lastly, there is a boot camp attitude, which encourages militancy, toughness, and sacrifice. The soldier mentality reinforces racism and sexism because, without understanding how the standard is exclusive and acknowledging workplace discrimination, one might conclude that women, and, in particular, racialized women, are incapable of the work because they leave.

In terms of how race and gender affect the experience of organizing, all the organizers agreed that diversity is important, because women and racialized people need to see themselves reflected in the union in order to identify with it. Speaking about race, several organizers pointed out that it is also the shared cultural background, the experience of being immigrants and how people “go
through the same things,” as well as the ability to speak the workers’ native language, that can serve as a foundation upon which to build a relationship that allows for a serious discussion about unions. However, the organizers also discussed how while organizing is easier when there is a match, this is not a guarantee of union support. One racialized woman spoke about how she is expected to get every card signed when dealing with workers of the same race, whereas if she is dealing with workers of a different race, the expectations are lower. Justifying the need for greater diversity in union staff is tricky because arguing that identity does matter, especially in organizing workers of the same demographic, can easily become an argument based on a racist belief of a fixed and inborn attribute that an organizer can tap into to acquire worker support for the union.

While both racialized and white women have dealt with workers discriminating against them based on their skin colour or gender, the white women organizers spoke about the uncomfortable position they are in when some white workers assume they can say racist things because they are the same race. Said one, “I get racist remarks and it’s because they look at me and they see this straight white woman and think it must be okay to say these things.”

In this sense, white organizers may be dealing with more racism, although not directed at them. This is not to say that racialized workers are not prejudiced toward other groups. The larger question is how organizers should handle this. “The hardest part for me organizing is sitting down and talking to someone who is racist and homophobic,” said one white organizer. “I’ve never felt satisfied with my reaction, which is usually to change the subject. You get torn between winning this campaign or trying to educate someone, which may actually turn them against the union because you’re challenging their belief structure. What’s worth more? And then a part of me is thinking: Do we want to organize these people anyways?'”

When she tries to discuss within her union how to best deal with such workers, she says she finds little support: it is “never dealt with.” However, drawing from other research, when racialized organizers bring up issues of racism, their commitment to the movement is questioned. More training is required to prepare organizers to deal with issues like racism, sexism and homophobia, but the problem needs to be recognized first.

In terms of matching gender, the organizers agreed that women workers are more comfortable speaking to women organizers. However, some of the women observed that male organizers are seen to be “in positions of authority,” and that workers tend to “trust what a man says more than what a woman says.” The women organizers also felt that not matching genders could be, at times, advantageous (i.e. women organizing men). Several organizers made the comment that male workers “don’t have to worry about being a man in front of another male organizer.” By this they meant that men, faced with a woman organizer, were given an opportunity to be vulnerable and emotional about the difficulties they faced at work because the woman was “not a competitor.” On the other hand, the women organizers talked about sexual harassment and health and safety concerns, especially when visiting male workers at home alone. These examples illustrate how diversity and identity are incredibly complex. However, these issues have only been handled superficially by the labour movement, and the banner of diversity has sometimes
been embraced for the wrong reasons.

Organizers often situate these experiences in a crisis environment that is especially popular in the United States and, to a lesser degree, in Canada. While the exact meaning of crisis varies, it is usually defined as a problem of declining union density rates, a problem which threatens organized labour’s power. However, if the problem is primarily about numbers, the labour movement’s principles of diversity, democracy, social justice and worker power are not necessarily included in the solution of increasing union density for four reasons.

First, diversity becomes only about gaining access to target membership groups and nothing more. Issues of democracy, diversity and social justice are sidelined. Second, union membership numbers are not direct indicators of worker militancy and power, and an increased union density rate can be achieved through cooperating with business (top-down) rather than engaging with, and
mobilizing, workers (bottom-up). Third, while declining union density rates should be taken seriously, we need to be cautious of the crisis mentality because it is used to shut down debate and justify undemocratic practices such as forced mergers. Fourth, when the crisis and soldier mentalities intersect, less powerful members are further marginalized, because it encourages self-sacrifice and self-censorship. In other words, racialized and white women organizers are asked to self-sacrifice and self-censor because the labour movement’s survival is at stake. To talk about union-based workplace discrimination now would risk being accused of not being in solidarity. Yet, in refusing to deal with these inequalities as experienced by the women organizers like those I interviewed, the crisis mentality is undermining the labour movement’s attempt at renewal.

While I hesitate to use the word “crisis,” we do face significant challenges as trade unionists. However, shortcut solutions, which are symptomatic of a crisis mentality, are self-defeating. Organizer burn-out matters little if the end goal is to raise union density. Diversity matters little, if sought only to access potential members also in order to raise union density. However, union density does not, in and of itself, equal union power. The labour movement, in its efforts to
transform and renew itself, may talk a good game about its commitment to worker power, democracy, diversity and social justice, but we must act according to these principles.

And this leads to the question: What happens after the workers have organized? This is a crucial issue, especially as more women and racialized people join unions and refuse to be used as pawns. We must actively deal with equality issues because they go far beyond the organizing department and are key to the labour movement’s future.

This is not to say that all labour’s problems are internal or that all problems will be solved with more representation. However, issues of equality are tied to issues of worker empowerment, which act as the foundation for a working-class movement. There may be many detours, but there are simply no shortcuts.

Patricia Chong is currently attending the Global Labour University ( She first became involved with the labour movement when she and her part-time co-workers organized their workplace, the University of Toronto Bookstore, and she subsequently worked as a union organizer for several years. Chong remains an active member of the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance (

This article is based on her thesis “Sex, Race & Sacrifice: Union Organizers in the New Labour Movement” for the Labour Studies MA program at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. The women interviewed were promised anonymity. Chong invites readers to respond to her article and to submit their own stories as well to Our Times:


Racism? Sexism? But What’s your Politics?

July 11, 2012

When victims of sexual assault are told that they need to provide evidence that they were indeed assaulted, those of us with some sense of social justice would hopefully recognize this as more violence being done to these women. Victim-shaming and victim-blaming, we think are practices that we in spaces of the radical left, at least, would recognize as being completely inappropriate and violent. However, when the abuse is not physical or sexual, when there are no physical marks to show, often women find themselves in these left spaces where white men, women and sometimes even women of color ask questions and make statements which delegitimize our experiences of violence, shame us (again) and make us (once again) wish that we weren’t even born.

After over two years of numerous racist and sexist encounters in white-dominant Indigenous solidarity spaces, when I, a woman of color, and other white women decided to send out emails on this particular listserv asking for some accountability from men who were either directly abusive towards us, or were abusive through being silent and supporting the perpetrator(s) in their own ways, we were told that perhaps we were hallucinating and making up stories. Of course, the responses of some white men, women (white and not) wasn’t that straightforward. Elite forms of racism and sexism are like abuses that more often do not leave physical marks on our bodies. It was couched in the language of “perhaps your political framework is different,” “your worldview is different,” “why are you bringing in divisive politics now,” etc, all indicating that we were naive women with no political vision. We became the lousy shit-disturbers!  To make matters worse, there were men who had the audacity to put my experiences of racism and sexism in quotes, writing the words and erasing their significance and my histories as a racialized woman having to navigate these white spaces every day. Their excuse for putting racism and sexism against our bodies in quotes? To differentiate them as “identifiable individual behaviour” as opposed to “larger structural and interpersonal behaviors”. Are you lost? If yes, then don’t worry.  I too am lost. The fact that this blatant denial of our experiences can come down to some offensively obscene differentiation between individual’s experience of racism versus that of the ‘larger’ ones (whatever that means) is astounding. Am I not part of the system and are my perpetrators not part of the system? Are bodies not marked for violence and eventually death through racial violence in the larger structural system this man was referring to?

As for worldview and different politics, well, all we were doing was naming racism and sexism by explicitly stating what had happened to us and what was happening to us in these activist spaces. Even my grandmother had the audacity to do so when they were fighting the vulturous East India Company. But, while those East India Company officials might have gotten what a woman speaking foreign language was saying, here, for us,  it was made into this issue of our politics (rather than bodies) as being different from that of the perpetrator(s).   Some tried to be better than us petty, good-for-nothing complainants. They said cheerful things like “there are enough commonalities in our worldviews  to allow us to work together”; others reduced our ‘complaints’ to our identity-politics politics, which apparently was supposed to have died with my mother’s generation of feminists.  If only those women had also successfully dismantled white patriarchy! Then, I would have left my identity politics under my bed.

If a man raping a woman is not okay under any circumstances, then why is a white man being intensely racist/sexist okay under some ‘worldview’. Sister, unless it’s the worldview of those scary tea party folks, I can tell you that racism and sexism in anti-oppressive spaces is racism and sexism regardless of which dead white man’s  politics you adhere to (or not). Don’t get me wrong. I agree that there are enough commonalities in our worldviews to allow us to work together. We have been part of same spaces. But, right now, I need you to hold my perpetrators accountable rather than remind me of these similarities in worldviews that feels more like you telling me to “move on”.

So, what I am saying is that yes, we can work together but not until and unless you are able to understand your complicity in upholding relations of white patriarchal power. The onus of working through racist and sexist spaces should not be placed on bodies most beaten in those spaces. Ask those racist white men for accountability. Ask them why they are so racist and sexist. Ask them about their politics. Do not tell me, white woman, that I am too angry and that without me in your space, there is otherwise an affinity between the people involved. As several anti-racist feminists have explained, these affinities are based on white racial identities into which people of color are welcomed but only on conditions set out by whites. You dare to call them out on their whiteness and their alarm bells go off. I feel your anger piercing my body like daggers. Ask yourself, not that one Indigenous woman or that one racialized woman who will take your side. Ask yourself how honest you have been with yourself about what you have been doing. Then demonize me for disrupting your haven of affinities.

In The Cancer Journals, Audre Lorde a powerful black feminist writes: “Looking on the bright side of things is a euphemism used for obscuring certain realities of life, the open consideration of which might prove threatening or dangerous to the status quo” (1997:76). Our political struggles cannot be about our happiness and affinities. When relationships are ethical and political, they allow us space for those ‘heavy’ conversations, they allow us space to sit with the abusive man and ask for accountability on behalf of us and those of us who can no longer be in those spaces. To threaten our world as it is for the purpose of working in some important critiques of ourselves and systems of oppressions which ground us is necessary. It is critical to our survival. Therefore, do not silence women who have been abused in political spaces that you now are a part of and of which they once tried to belong to. You owe this checking of desire to look on the “bright side” of things to them, yourselves and your future generations. Also, do not write the potentialities and transformative powers of your spaces on the backs of the most marginalized, those who you have dismissed as people without futures, while you claim to be in solidarity with people whose futures some of your ancestors had written off as non-existent.

51. You think women calling out sexism and racism within solidarity spaces are engaging in character assassinations and waging smear campaigns

July 10, 2012

Since posting “You know you are a Star White Indigenous Solidarity Activist If” we have received many positive responses, especially from women, people of colour and Indigenous people. Of course not all these responses were positive. As a group of women who came together to try and build a new space and new possibilities of engagement out of the violent experiences we faced, to carve out new space and new transformative possibilities where we, our voices, and our ideas are respected and valued, we have been further traumatized and attacked by the reception of this space and our first post. We have been accused of being  “anonymously” engaged in “smear campaigns”  and “character assassinations.”  We have heard much about how this list is an “ineffective”, “un-transformative” and “unproductive” way of dealing with our issues/the issue.   And have been accused of offering “veiled” criticisms of several white men involved in Indigenous solidarity organizing in several spaces. Indeed the timeline of our publication and launching of this site has been found “suspicious.”  It is a reaction that many of the women involved in this project have noted and are currently experiencing with it’s release. This is happening across spaces and in relation to many situations.  So again this is clearly an endemic colonial and patriarchal abuse pattern that can also be seen when women speak out about colonial and/or racist and/or sexual physical violences: it’s called victim-blaming and it is at the core of rape-culture. And our culture is rife with it. A racist sexual violence is how colonialism is done.  So we decided  we would add number 51 to our list and to clear a few points up:


1- We are not an “anonymous” or “secret” group. We are a new group, and you can read about our intentions for this webspace in the About section of our blog.

2-Names were demanded across several spaces and situations as to who is involved upon publication of this list. While some women are okay with naming themselves publicly, others do not feel SAFE enough to do so.  And for the women who have named themselves publicly, we validate our sisters reasons for not wanting to do so.  Those of us who have, have faced continued sexism and racism as a result, and attacks against our ‘weak’ political strategies, our choices to speak publicly about these issues, and have had our characters and intentions questioned. We have been told that we are being divisive and helping the “enemy” who will use this against us. Such a pattern is endemic to social movements and has been a problem in these spaces for decades. Instead of accusing and attacking women calling out these issues,  why don’t you call out and be accountable to the fact that it is oppressions within these spaces and colonial relations of power between us that are divisive and creating the problem? Indeed in very explicit terms these systems of oppression and violences are helping to support the “enemy”, aren’t they in fact the enemy? Perhaps it is time to do some work on the “enemy within” and stop attacking those who are trying to do this work. Because we thought we were struggling to undo, NOT uphold these systems of colonial power and excuses for them.

 3- We weren’t aware that most groups listed the names of their members on web-spaces, and find it disturbing that this is being demanded in this case.  We think it only further underlines the violences we experience in these spaces, and the consequences for speaking out.  Have we not experienced enough, you need to know who we are so you can attack us some more?  Is the further humiliation of women what solidarity looks like to you? Through this hostile reaction/reception it is made very clear  that when  women of colour and white women come together to stand with Indigenous peoples of this land, to talk about their experiences and to name them publicly, it is experienced as dangerous to white men. As Sojourner Truth said in 1851 “Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon.”

Character Assassination/Smear Campaign directed at specific men:

1-If you find that these behaviours/pattern/dynamics apply to certain men, then you have named them, not us. This recognition should tell you that the critiques and points in the list are poignant, and perpetrated across a variety of spaces.
2-Collectively writing this together we chose 50 points that spoke to/resonated with our experiences across a variety of spaces. They are in reference to no one man.  In fact we couldn’t list all the white men who exhibit these behaviours because there are simply too many to list even if we wanted to.
3- As white women involved in this project we also composed many of the points in direct relation to ourselves, to name our behaviours, and to call ourselves out. We did so as an accountable reminder of colonial, oppressive and problematic behaviours we are involved  and engaged in. Particularly  with respect to holding up the power of whiteness on Turtle Island. Are we engaging in “smear campaigns” against ourselves, then?
4- Many of the men who we are being accused of “smearing” have actually publicly made similar critiques of Indigenous solidarity organizing and spaces that are included on this list. So we are a little confused by the whole accusation.

1-We have been working together on building this project  for months.  We made a collective agreement to stop stalling and get the site up for July.
2-This coincided with various “flare ups” about colonialism, racism and sexism in a variety of spaces.  We decided collectively we would publish the list anyways, because we would no longer allow the behaviors of abusive white men to define the timelines of our political projects. We had done this for far too long.
3-Because of these various “flare ups” it seemed actually even more important to get our work out as soon as possible.
4-If as a white man or woman you find this suspicious, that’s not our problem. In fact this space wasn’t created to make you feel better about colonialism, racism and sexism or any other oppression or oppressive behaviour.
Transformation/Usefulness/Legitimate etc..:
1- As women we have  taken steps in a myriad of ways to deal with these situations,dynamics and behaviours to no avail. Let us tell you we racked our brains and were incredibly creative in our approaches.
2-Many of us were forced out of spaces or spaces became unsafe for us to be in, because we chose to have the audacity to name (hetero)sexism and racism and classism and ableism or just couldn’t handle it anymore.
3-We reached out to each other in order to build a space where our voices are heard and respected
4-We found it transformative and empowering
5-That we are being critiqued for not handling these issues in the ‘right’ way only casts the responsibility of white men’s colonial behaviours on to our bodies again.
6-Why isn’t the first reaction a critique of white  men’s behaviours and their political strageties for not being transformative/useful/legitimate, instead of critiquing women who are choosing to speak out?
7-While certainly there are limitations to lists like this, they are also important tools for social change.  Whether we look at “unpacking the white knapsack”, or even the usefulness of providing diagrams for cylces of abuse, offering an opportunity to reflect on the patterns of colonialism/oppression/violence in a generalized way and identifying these oppressive dynamics and patterns are incredibly important in being able to name and identify them when they occur and to allow an opportunity for reflection. For the white women involved in this project we find the list useful in reflecting on our colonial whiteness and practices in solidarity activism. We find it “suspicious” that YOU don’t. What is it that you are so defensive and hostile about? Perhaps the naming of colonialism, whiteness, patriarchy, and it’s power? Instead of accusing us of playing “identity politics,” perhaps you should look at what kinds of identity politics you are playing.
8-This will not be the only post we do, it is our first.  It won’t be the only way we engage in this project or  talking about these issues. This list does not encompass the totality of our vision for this space or how we are attempting to deal with these issues. It is hurtful to already have our very new space receive such a hostile reception. If only the white men who behave in these ways received this much hostility in relation to their behaviours and power that made the list necessary to us in the first place, then we might see some real transformation.
9- It is NOT OUR responsibility to do the work white men need to do in order to address these issues. And stop trying to make it OUR work!  We have already spent too much time, emotional labour and energy trying  to do this and we are done coddling white men as they hurl abuse at us. We are done cleaning up their messes, they need to be held accountable and do it themselves. So if you are a white man who doesn’t find this useful, then get to work and stop attacking us!!!