Exploring Better Feminism Part 3: 5 Easy Intersectional Feminist Steps To Take

If you feel like Intersectional Feminism can be hard and confusing, then don’t worry because you’re not alone – I used to feel the same way!
My first brush with intersectional feminism was in a women of colour group on Facebook. And it was intimidating. There were a whole ton of rules (very few of which made much sense to a new person), and if you made a mistake you had to issue an apology with a “self-critique” to ensure that you understood your mistake. It was a crash course in intersectional feminism, but it was a toxic environment, where people were quick to post aggressive rants about staying in your own lane, not making people do emotional labor, not using African American Vernacular English, and a whole ton of other things. And when a new member would comment and ask what these terms would mean, the only assistance they would get is being told to go look it up. I was simultaneously aggressively educated and policed about cultural appropriation, and supporting my black sisters. I also watched as a woman of colour of mixed race got chased out of a thread about bindis by my Indian/South Asian sisters, even when she kept repeating she was half Indian on her mother’s side. It left me feeling disheartened. It can be hard to learn to be a good intersectional feminist. Goodness knows, I’m still learning. I understood the women in that group – they were tired and frustrated. But I also feel like that anger can sometimes turn readers away from wanting to engage and learn – and I don’t want to give you, reader, a taste of the same experience I went through. So, I’m going to try and give you some of what I learned there in a much easier to digest form!

  1. Don’t use African American Vernacular English. Period. Regardless of who you are and where and how you grew up, AAVE terms are terms we’ve inherited from the black community. It’s not our vocab, and we’ve stolen it. We are not shook, we are not on fleek, don’t tell someone to “go off, sis”. We are doing something very harmful when we culturally appropriate language, so I often try to really think about what words I’m using and why.
  2. Stay in your own lane – and go talk to your cousins! You’re allowed to listen to people talk about their struggles. For example, imagine two black transwomen discussing their life and perspectives with each other on Twitter. That’s probably an amazing, rich thread that you can read and learn from, but! Don’t add yourself to that conversation and tell them about your own experiences, unless you’re a black transwoman! That’s what staying in your own lane looks like. Another example is when a person not of a particular community speaks on their behalf. For example, a cis white woman speaking on behalf of the black community, or the trans community is definitely not someone who is staying in her own lane. If you’re concerned about something someone else is doing, it’s totally okay to say “hey, I’m not the expert in this situation, but I think you might be (insert thing such as cultural appropriation here), I’d suggest you consult with (insert someone they can contact that is a good representative of the community here)”, rather than stepping in and saying, “hey, you’re appropriating from (insert a community that you do not belong to here), and you shouldn’t do that. Stop this at once!”, because it’s not actually for you to dictate that. And instead of trying to correct and police people of other races and cultures, correct the people in your community that are doing harm. Right now, the thing I feel intersectional feminism needs the most are people who are willing to speak to their “cousins” – the people of their own communities who have not yet learned or fully understood feminist concepts. We need to build more allies, and that was what actually inspired me to create The Desi Vibes, because no one that I knew of was educating my cousins on subjects like safer, happy, consensual sex and healthy kink.
  3. Ditch the ableism and transphobia. Intersectional feminism is for all! Make sure you’re respecting other people’s preferred gender pronouns, and normalise the use of preferred gender pronouns by also sharing what yours are (for example, hi! I’m Irene and my pronouns are She/Her). Furthermore, consider your choice of words in your metaphors. Saying things like, “that’s crazy/retarded”, “I’m so bipolar right now”, “I sprained my ankle and now I’m a cripple,” are incredibly hurtful things to say because they’re offensive to people with disabilities and implies they hold a lower status. Instead, you can say “that’s unbelieveable”, “I’m really moody right now”, and, “I’ve sprained my ankle and it’s really hindering my ability to get around”. Your words can oppress and put people down!
  4. Listen to underprivileged communities, even when they’re criticising yours. It may be hard sometimes to be feminist and realise your feminism still needs work, but feminism isn’t about communities tearing each other down, but rather about calling out the racism still at play so that we can all continue to work to improve our worlds. By not listening, we play right back into the exact things we’re trying to work against. Audre Lorde is famously quoted as saying, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”. Similarly, if we uphold patriarchy, racism and so on in our interactions with underprivileged communities, we’re not being intersectional or feminist. Marginalised communities have perspectives that may be vastly different from yours – but that doesn’t mean that their experiences aren’t true. Listen to them and work with them towards change.
  5. Seek out diverse opinions. Similarly to the last point, we can’t possibly consider every single perspective, intersection, and viewpoint. Ask around! There are intersectional feminists in every community that are happy to help share their thoughts and perspectives with you when you’re stuck on how to deal with an issue.

I want to leave you with some more amazing wisdom from Audre Lorde’s piece, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” Written in 1984, her words are still relevant today. Lorde addresses the willful ignorance of white feminists who say that they didn’t know who to ask for advice by saying:

“That is the same evasion of responsibility, the same cop-out, that keeps Black women’s art our of women’s exhibitions, Black women’s work our of most feminist publications except for the occasional “Special Third World Women’s Issue,” and Black women’s texts off your reading lists. … How come you haven’t also educated yourselves about Black women and the differences between us – white and Black – when it is key to our survival as a movement? … Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to educate white women – in the face of tremendous resistance – as to our existence, our differences, our relative roles in our joint survival. This is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought.”

Let’s work together, intersectional feminist sisters and allies, to make sure we’re smashing the patriarchy while lifting each other up! Did you find this list of 5 things you can do helpful? Leave me a comment if you’d like more lists like this, or lists that go into more detail!
References (as always!)
Lorde, A. (1984). The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House. In Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (pp. 110- 114). Berkeley, CA: Crossing Press.
Weiss, S. (2015). 6 Ways To Be A More Intersectional Feminist. Retrieved from https://www.bustle.com/articles/119061-6-ways-to-be-a-more-intersectional-feminist-because-feminism-is-all-about-inclusion

Exploring Feminism Part 1: Whiteness and White Privilege

So: You want to be a better feminist, a better ally, or basically just more aware of social issues, and you don’t know where to start? Perfect! Here’s the series for you. I’ve put together a couple blog posts that are baby steps into a couple areas of feminism and intersectionality that I hope will help expand your horizons a little – I know that in creating them, they certainly helped expand mine!

Step one of this journey begins with examining whiteness. In my personal experience, white is considered the “default” race – as a person of color growing up, I never really saw anyone that looked like me on TV, and the Indian characters I did see were all deeply stereotypical. I’ll never forget the moment when I was watching Quantico, and as Priyanka Chopra’s character cried on my TV screen about her personal tragedy, I cried with her, because I was finally able to see someone that looked like me, dressed like me, talked like me, and that I could truly connect with in the media I consumed. I know a lot of people nowadays are familiar with the concept of privilege, and how we can have and not have privileges, but I want to focus specifically on unpacking white privilege and whiteness. I think this is something we focus a little less on, and I hope unpacking this will be a refreshing take on privilege for you! As always, I’ve brought some helpful scholars from academia and their perspectives to help me out with this!

Let’s cover some basics: whiteness is a social construct and an ideology, just like how race and gender are social constructs that we have prescribed meaning to. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an impact on our daily lives. Stuart Hall in 1995 wrote that ideologies can seem like a “given”, so, if whiteness feels like the norm, or like it’s a “given”, then it’s an ideology. But, the problem with whiteness as an ideology is that it’s elusive. Raka Shome writes, “whiteness always becomes something that is about someone else, about something else, but never about itself. … [Whiteness is] that sense of material and cultural entitlement that is enabled, and the sense of social agency that is produced, when we see the world constantly constructed in our image, through our needs, and through our frame of reference.” To put it simpler, whiteness is a way of describing the ideology behind white privilege – it’s an entitlement to a certain world and way of life.

This sense of whiteness as the default can be incredibly confusing for people of color, as explained by W.E.B. DuBois: “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” DuBois’ double consciousness means that not only does he see the world through his own eyes, but also through the lens of how he is perceived in whiteness. People of color have to navigate through this double thinking, conscious and subconscious, on a daily basis, whereas people who are white don’t have to do that because they are considered the norm. So, white privilege isn’t just about the opportunities you’re getting in life, it’s also about how much easier or harder it is for you to navigate your daily life because of this constant consciousness (or lack of, if you’re white).

So how do we deal with this? How do we check our white privilege and see how deep it goes? And ultimately, if you’re white, what do you do about it? Robert Jensen, in his book “The Heart of Whiteness” talks about white fear and white guilt, and I think these are two aspects to whiteness and white privilege that we don’t often think about. First, he talks about guilt. White people say they often feel guilty about slavery, but guilt implies responsibility. It’s impossible to be responsible for something that happened before you were born. But, he says, by focusing on guilt in this abstract way and centering it on something that happened before their birth means that they don’t have to feel guilty about specific cases, which is a convenient way to avoid accountability. Also, this abstract guilt means they don’t have to take action, because it makes them feel paralysed and like there’s nothing they can do.

White readers, do you feel so guilty about white privilege that you can’t seem to do anything about it? If so, you’re stuck in some pretty abstract guilt. Instead, Jensen says, you should feel guilty for the racist acts you’ve committed in your lifetime, and your failures to do all you can to resist white supremacy and work against it, and feeling enough guilt to make sure you won’t repeat those mistakes. This makes your guilt actionable – you can work to reduce your guilt, rather than be overwhelmed by it.

Next, Jensen talks about white fear. The first two fears of white people are the fear of facing the reality that some of what white people have is unearned, and that if racial equality suddenly happened, that white people would lose what they have and the things they own. This redistribution of wealth would absolutely be a good thing, but when your life is comfortable, having to give that up can be scary for white people.

Third, he says, white people fear a world in which non-white people may gain significant power. I think this is perhaps one of the easiest fears of whiteness to spot – for example, Donald Trump and his infamous wall with Mexico is a blatant example of how white people fear “they” are all going to keep “coming here and taking our jobs”. Amidst all of this, subconsciously, there’s also a fear that non-white people might treat white people just as badly as they have been treated for so many years.

Lastly, Jensen says white people fear being “seen through” by non-white people. We all carry some traces of racism – maybe it’s from our upbringing or the stereotypes we’ve heard. White people fear that despite their antiracist vocabulary, that they might say the wrong thing, make a mistake and reveal some accidental inner racism and be exposed as a fraud. In response to this, Jensen suggests that you recognise that fear publicly, and let it go.

Do you see yourself or the people around you in any of these ideas about white guilt and fear? If so, great! It’s okay to feel guilty and scared, but you also need to do something about it, and Jensen has a helpful suggestion for that too: people of color need you to channel your guilt and fear into productive anger. Jensen says you need to get angry, stay angry, but don’t let it swallow you info self-righteousness. Let your passion for justice fuel your work but don’t let it overlook your own flaws and failures. Recognise your white privilege, your guilt, and your fears, but work to improve the world you live in.

I’d love to hear from you – what surprised you in this post? What resonated? Do you feel like this helps you make a little more sense of how whiteness and white privilege works, and also what to do about it? Let me know!

 

References

DuBois, W. (1994). The Souls of Black Folk (pp. 7-15). Dover Publications.

Hall, S. (1995). The Whites of Their Eyes: Racist Ideologies in the Media. In G. Dines & J. Humez, Gender, Race and Class in Media: A Critical Reader (pp. 18-22). Thousand Oaks: Sage Press.

Jensen, R. (2005). The Heart of Whiteness (pp. 45-65). San Francisco: City Lights Publishing.

Shome, R. (2000). Outing whiteness. Critical Studies In Media Communication, 17(3), 366-371. doi: 10.1080/15295030009388402

Introducing The Desi Rant: Tea Tea

Remember, my loves, when I promised you a rant?

It is now time for that rant. Oh yes. Welcome to The Desi Rant – a place where we tear apart really stupid and frustrating things!

First up, deservedly so, is this Inc.com article, because ignorant white people like to ruin everything – including chai. So grab yours, and let’s break it down piece by piece.

Bollywood 2 GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

The title reads: “On a Whim, This Hippie Founder Packed Her Bags for India. Now, She’s Made $35 Million Selling Chai Tea”
…Okay, stop. Stop right there.

There is no. such. thing. As chai tea. Because “chai” means tea. So by calling it “chai tea”, you’re a redundant idiot. And don’t give me some bullshit excuse about, “oh, well we’re calling it that because it is Indian and is boiled with milk and masala in it, so we must distinguish it from other kinds.” Although that is technically correct, if you really need to call chai anything other than tea, call it masala chai. That’s it. It’s that simple. It’s not a chai latte, or a chai tea latte (what the fuck? “Tea tea with frothed milk”? Are you fucking kidding me? It’s only saving grace is that it’s kinda good…), or chai tea or masala chai tea. Let’s make your life simpler, redundant person: call it masala chai, or call it chai, or just call it tea.

Accha? Yes? Good. Let’s continue.

“Brook Eddy founded Bhakti Chai after falling in love with India’s favored drink.”

…A white woman founded “Faith Tea”. Because that’s literally what Bhakti Chai means, she’s just swapped out English for Hindi to sound all fancy and yoga-like. You could also make an argument for Devotion Tea as a translation, but it’s still not very creative. We’re not even into the actual article yet and this is already a fucking mess.

“Brook Eddy is America’s own 21st-century master chai wallah (Hindi for chai merchant). She founded Bhakti Chai, a B Corp with projected 2018 revenue of $7 million, whose cold-drink product can be found on Whole Foods, Costco, and Target shelves across the U.S.”

I don’t just call bullshit, I call blasphemy. Chai is drunk hot, regardless of whether it is winter or summer. Iced chai is a North American invention. She’s also not a chai merchant – she’s a thief profiting off of my culture for a whopping 7 million dollars. 7 million. That could pay for my entire degree!

“In 2002, after listening to an NPR story on Swadhyay, a social change movement originating in India, Eddy packed her bags for South Asia. ‘Swadhyay seemed like this really cool movement that 20 million people were practicing but no one had heard of,’ says Eddy”

…Um, 20 million people have heard of it and are practising it. So who exactly do you mean when you say “no one” had heard of? And who invited you to crash the party??? Let’s think about that for a moment… But wait – there’s more!

“Her research brought her to villages across Western India, where she quickly fell in love with the flavors and aromas of the country’s favored drink: chai. She soon became an aficionado, able to distinguish one varietal from another, noticing no two cups were the same.”

Fun fact, that’s because even though the basic ingredients are the same, the amount and order that they’re put in differ from place to place and family to family.

“Back home in Boulder, Colorado, she formulated an original chai brew when she was unable to find an authentic version at her local cafés.”

So she did all this research and went to India, then went looking in local cafes run by white people for “real” chai and expected to find it? That’s not how logic works. I am certain there must be Indian people in Boulder, Colorado that know how to make chai in the comfort and privacy of their own homes.

“Now, 26 employees brew, package, and market chai concentrates, which are natural, organic, and fair trade. All the ingredients come from outside the U.S., including her “special sauce”– 300,000 pounds of organic ginger delivered annually from Peru.”

Wait – is it tea, or is it a concentrate? Because a concentrate isn’t real chai. There is no “concentrate” version of authentic masala chai. What the fuck? Also, who the fuck says “special sauce” anymore? Ew. Did the writer just want to try and sound cool? Because that…totally…worked. Not.

“And in 2015, in keeping with the company’s original mission, Bhakti Chai launched a social-change initiative called GITA (Give, Inspire, Take Action) to award financial grants to causes that range from feeding the homeless to providing access to clean water.”

…No. No. Stop. Could you be any less fucking creative and any more fucking offensive? First of all, “Give, Inspire, Take Action” is an incredibly uncreative and boring as fuck name for a social change initiative, second of all, the Bhagvad Gita is an essential holy scripture in Hinduism. So, you think you’re being cute by being a “devotional tea” company that isn’t even making real tea and referencing a religious item for your social change initiative? Why haven’t I heard of a social change initiative called BIBLE yet?!

Red Label India GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

…Okay, deep breaths. Moving on!

“India continues to be Eddy’s muse and she returns frequently for fresh ideas. “I’m a white girl born of hippie parents in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, and then raised in Michigan, right? I shouldn’t really have this pulse for India, but I do. I love the chaos and vibrancy. Every time I come I’m introduced to something new. It’s just real.”

Correction: India continues to be where she steals things from like a tomb raider of ideas. Look, If you’re a hippie, and you fall in love with India, that’s cool until you start stealing it. Don’t steal. Don’t be a cultural appropriator. That’s the lesson of this rant.

Now, rather than going out and buying this overly gingery bullshit concentrated nonsense, here’s how to actually make masala chai, if you can get your hands on some of the correct masala tea blends (or, find the teabags that have the tea and spices all in a bag!!):

  1. Start with your water in a pot on the stove. Add your teabags and masala. One or two will probably do. Go easy on the masala if it’s your first time.
  2. Bring it to a boil. Let it boil for a minute.
  3. Now, add your milk. Equal parts to the water, or slightly less than the amount of milk (it may or may not be very challenging to create only one cup of chai for this reason – also why a “concentrate” is bullshit).
  4. Bring this back to a boil again, and watch your pot like a hawk to ensure the milk does not boil over, because that’s always a total mess. As the milk and tea come to a boil a second time, the tea will take on a rich golden colour.
  5. Now, strain and serve!

And that’s how you make real masala chai! So, not only did you get an entertaining rant, you also got a recipe! #Bonus! Once you drink the real thing, you’ll never want to go back to Tea Tea ever again. 😉

 

And that’s a wrap on our very first Desi Rant! Did you love it? Did you learn something? Anything else you’re frustrated about? Leave all that good stuff in the comments! ❤
p.s. Leave a good idea for a social change initiative that we can acronym BIBLE! 😉