No Shortcut to Confronting Racism

Article excerpt

BY INVITATION: No Shortcut to Confronting Racism.

Ever since the national conference on violence in Banff a couple of years ago erupted over the reading of poems by a black poet from Toronto, I have followed the growing overt tension between white and non-white women in the women's movement with some concern. Concern turned to pain with the accusation of racism and the ousting of a dear friend, June Callwood, from the board of Nellie's Hostel in Toronto, which she had founded.

I was filled with hope when the National Action Committee on the status of women (NAC), the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres, the Congress of Black Women and the DisAbled Women's Network decided to protest the failure of the federal government to include women of color and disabled women on its Panel on Violence Against Women. The action of these four national women's groups signals a willingness to reject the traditional government process which consciously or unconsciously has perpetrated the myth that in matters concerning women, white women can, and do, speak on behalf of women of all races, cultures and creeds.

The question of race is masked in so many of women's struggles that some of us have fallen into the trap of believing that, in the same way that sexism would be exorcised through the process of raising our consciousness and shedding our sexist attitudes and behavior, so too a shedding of racist attitudes and behavior would occur automatically and at the same time.

Before we made the decision to become active participants in the women's liberation movement, women of color had to first address our distrust of white women and our historical and ingrained rage at their role in the economic exploitation of the members of non-white races. We also had to confront and deal with our own conflicts around racism and feminism.

Indeed, if white women had been more observant they would have noticed the very slow and reluctant way in which non-white women entered the struggle, and they would have sought to find out why. Their failure to do so, even as they failed to examine the reluctance of poor women to join the movement, was one of the signals which women of color picked up about the self-centred nature of the early liberation struggle. THE DRIVING FORCE

The truth is that women of color were driven into the women's liberation movement, not by a love of white women or a desire to be part of their struggle, but by the oppressive sexism, which to an even greater degree that with white women is the reality of the daily lives of non-white women. Certainly black women concluded that no matter what our color, culture, religion or ethnicity, our gender was so dearly at the root of our oppression, that eliminating oppression based on gender was imperative to any other struggle in which we were, or hope, to be involved. …