I didn't go to the Women's March - it was inaccessible, white tokenism

Image credit: Kevin Banatte/afrCHuBBZ

The Women’s March on London last Saturday was a reaction to the election of President Donald Trump in the US. The movement’s website called it “a catalyst for a grassroots movement of women to assert the positive values that the politics of fear denies”. Protests happened across the world and in some countries they happened with their own agenda, for example in India women campaigned with the hashtag #IWillGoOut to reclaim public space in response to mass sexual assault on New Year’s Eve. In others, people protested in solidarity. London was one of these events. In protesting Trump from across the Atlantic, London recognised that what happens in the US affects the UK, and that there is a certain degree of western homogeny when it comes to politics. 

I’m a sucker for the power of the people: old protest videos make me cry in hope. Yet I skipped this one. In the lead up to the weekend, my Facebook newsfeed was inundated with posts in various women’s groups, including the march’s event page, of signs and placards made by protesters. Over and over, the people championing rights were white. I am a woman. A brown cis-bodied, able-bodied, queer (but straight passing) woman with economic and cultural capital. I have various privileges; my brown skin too is a privilege relative to other people of colour, but I am not white. 

The march conflated womanhood with having a vagina. The march conflated being a woman with having a pink vagina. Pictures from the various events show seas of people in bright pink vagina hats. My vagina is not pink. 

In Atlanta, police high-fived white women on the march. In America in 2016 over 250 black people were killed as a result of policy brutality. The rhetoric of a ‘peaceful’ protest was lauded over and over in the posts from the day in stark contrast to the way protests about issues that affect people of colour are talked about as unruly and violent. Police were barely present at the marches, indicative of the fact that they expected protests to be benign, somehow safe in their whiteness.

By chanting ‘pussy grabs back’, what are you protesting? The people with power, in this case white women, need to help platform issues that affect people without. This means moving away from an ‘all lives matter’ narrative, and recognising that intersectionality is necessary. This means supporting undocumented people, native people, trans people, disabled people, and more. This means showing up to NoDAPL (the campaign against the Dakota Access Pipeline) protests and Black Lives Matter protests. This means acknowledging that cuts to Planned Parenthood will disproportionately affect trans people who require access to hormones. This means being present and consistent in your activism.

Not only implicit, there was also explicit racism at the marches. There are numerous incidents online of people of colour being told they’re being too provocative. A Twitter thread from an indigenous woman tells of how white women came and observed her and her fellow indigenous friends from afar, cooed over their ‘pretty outfits’, contributing to an othering of indigenous peoples. A New York Times article tells about brown, black and Muslim women speaking in Arabic at a restaurant in D.C. who were attacked and called ‘Taliban’ and ‘ISIS’ by a group of white people whilst white marchers from earlier in the day sat at a nearby table without standing up for them.

In the 1890s white American suffragettes actively excluded black women to make it easier for them to secure the vote (ironically, there were lots of people dressed as suffragettes at the various marches). This election, 94% of black female voters voted for Clinton, whilst 53% of white female voters voted for Trump. The parallels are uncomfortable: white women once again throw women of colour under the bus because their white supremacy is easier to cloak themselves in, than facing their disadvantages as women.

In response to anger online from those who didn’t feel represented by the march, white women said that we, the women of colour, had been ‘welcome’ and ‘invited’ all along. And this exactly is the problem – the notion of inclusion suggests that these spaces by default are white. This isn’t entirely unfair, because often spaces are by default white. But the point of protest is radical activism, to upend oppressive structures. The protest for this reason should not have had whiteness at its core. Love may trump hate, but it is far easier for middle class white women to feel safe from the repercussions right wing politics brings.

I support the agency and determination of non-men in reaction to what is a scary political reality, but these movements need to decolonise themselves first. Feminism in the political sphere has to move beyond white tokenism. I didn’t march in protest, my vagina didn’t seem pink enough.

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