Ignoring White Privilege Harms Feminism

By Lovisa Fhager Havdelin, +SocialGood Advisor

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

On March 21,we observe the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The day marks the anniversary of the 1960 Sharpeville massacres in South Africa, during which 69 people were shot to death and 180 others were injured while demonstrating against apartheid laws. The day is also a crucial moment to reflect on and take action against the racism and discrimination that still persists in our world today. I would like to take this opportunity to draw attention to how ignorance about white privilege risks harming the feminist movement.

I have spent large parts of my life working to advance human rights, including through my role as Secretary General of the Swedish anti-racism organization Teskedsorden . In addition to this work, I am also a member of the feminist movement in Sweden, which has been an important source of support and inspiration for me. However, sometimes, I find it difficult to stay focused on the goal of advancing gender equality when I know that this movement is not necessarily inclusive of everyone’s differences. I find myself wondering: does the feminist movement I am a part of and represent offer all women the same breathing space and understanding? The same rights and opportunity to speak?

If I’m honest with myself, the answer to these questions is not always ‘yes,’ and I’m the first to admit when I’m wrong. For example, I have previously recruited people who remind me of myself because it felt safe and familiar. I have talked instead of listening to people with experiences different than mine. I believe that the feminist movement can become better at taking advantage of and, above all, making room for the diversity that exists within it. We all carry with us different baggage and experiences, and we should make a more concerted effort to recognize our individual needs and wants. Talking about how to become a better feminist is a tricky, sensitive topic, but I have some insights that I am convinced can create better conditions for a more successful, inclusive feminism.

Be aware of your privilege

Privilege is not always something that is easily seen or felt — especially not for the ones who have it. As a white, straight middle-class person, I do not walk around without any problems or worries I have my own unique issues and challenges, however I know that the difficulties I have encountered in life would be completely different if, for example, I had a different skin color. By being aware of my privilege, and acknowledging the benefits that I have, I have become better at understanding and empathizing with other people.

Acknowledging that experiencing oppression does not make you immune to oppressing others

As a woman, I have been subjected to oppression and sexism. I know how bad it can be, and how angry, helpless, and frustrated it can make one feel. I do not want anyone to have to experience it. At the same time, I know that the experience itself is in no way a guarantee that I myself will not become an oppressor. Ignorance or carelessness can, for example, make the best feminist an unwitting accomplice to racism . To be more aware of this, we should work on being more open to learning and growing from our mistakes so that we do not feed the vicious cycle of oppression. .

A movement for many needs to create space for many

I’m exposed to sexism because I’m a woman. A Black person is exposed to racism because of their skin color. A Black woman is oppressed both because of her gender and her skin color. Should she then turn to feminism to pursue her one struggle and anti-racism movements for her other combat? What intersectionality teaches us that different oppressions can exist in parallel, and this is something we need to acknowledge and make room for in feminism. Feminism requires a multitude of experiences and perspectives, and the movement cannot afford to exclude people because of ignorance. Only then can we move forward in breadth.

Lovisa Fhager Havdelin,+Social Good Advisor

Podcast host ”Can we talk about whiteness” (Can we talk about whiteness in Swedish)

Secretary General Teskedsorden (the Order of the Teaspoon)

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