Debating white feminism amidst white tears

On Thursday morning Vashna Jagarnath, a lecturer at the University Currently Known as Rhodes, Nelisa Ngqulana, communications manager at Activate!, and freelance journalist Louise Ferreira discussed white feminism with Eusebius Mckaiser on Talk Radio 702. Here are some of the main points that came out of the discussion. And yes – it was all kinds of fire.

There is no singular feminism

First of all, we need to stop seeing feminism as one whole movement. There are many different forms, types and waves feminism, which are in constant debate with each other. And in case it isn’t obvious, the dominant modes of feminism emanating from Europe or the United States tends to ignore the lived experiences of South African women.


One of these forms is white feminism

“It [white feminism] is a particular branch of feminism practiced by women that is not inclusive,” said Ferreira. It is a form of popular feminism that is self-absorbed and ignores issues of race, disability and class.

“It is a form of feminism that seeks to create a group of people that are more educated than others,” said Jagarnath. Actress Lena Dunham is considered the epitome of white feminism. But she is seen as one of the faces of feminism itself, which shouldn’t be the case because her feminism is very damaging.

ALSO READ: Why Lena Dunham is the epitome of white feminism

But white feminism is not only practised by white women

Black women can also be guilty of white feminism. “We use our privilege, our middle-classness, our education, that we don’t identify with black women on the ground. As black women we must also be aware,” said Ngqulana.

“For example, in India there is no white population, the colonisers have left – but it is now the upper caste women who are doing the oppressing. It doesn’t mean that as a black person you are free of this either, class plays a role in this. Class becomes an issue in white solidarity,” said Jagarnath.


We shouldn’t be caught up with the language

Do we even know all the terms used when discussing feminism?

“We need to use language that doesn’t exclude people,” said Ngqulana. This is where white feminism also comes into play as they use terms, such as intersectionality, that may not be known to most women, which excludes others from these discussions. “If I just say race, class and gender, it is not as alienating,” said Jagarnath.


And we shouldn’t worry about white tears

When debating white feminism, there will always be that one person who will be touched on their studio. In debates related to whiteness it’s like everyone needs to be cautious about whether we bring about white tears.

“This bleeds into discussion on racism, we have to constantly qualify what we are saying. Obviously, we don’t mean all white women. It’s not that we want to distance ourselves from white women. We have to continuously worry about the white audience,” said Jagarnath.


There are other things that are more important than your hurt feelings

There are many issues that can be said to affect all women. BUT as Ngqulana said, “as much as we are all women and there are certain issues that affect us, we can’t separate that from particular issues that affect black women.”

When these experiences and issues of feminism are discussed – put your feelings aside. “On Twitter especially. Your hurt feelings is not more important that the systemic pain experienced by other people,” said Ngqulana.

You can listen to the discussion here:

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons
  1. Jon Low says

    “White” — whether it’s tears or feminism, whatever — is being used as a derogatory pejorative, intended for scoffing contempt. That’s OK, provided you have shoulders broad enough to cope with others using “black” in exactly the same way — to signal sneering mockery. Don’t cry “racism” when it happens. If you want to dish it out, be ready to take it.

    1. Lee says

      Hey Jon. I think the point is that the tears coming from racism against black people are more justified than those from whites. The daily struggle that blacks, and particularly poor, black women face in countries like South Africa and the world over, is more brutal and traumatic than that of a white male (generally speaking, that is). White tears are, therefore, usually based on narcissistic and immature games of what is and what isn’t fair. For instance, why you are getting butt hurt about the use of the pejorative ‘white’? It’s unfair you claim. Why are you so serious? Have black women oppressed your kind in some way? Are you as a white male excluded for the economy in any real sense of the word? Have your ilk been forced into migrant labour? You see, your white male tears carry the most weight in society. If a white man is upset about something and complains we all have to stop and assess the situation. So please, Jon put those tears to better use and go complain about the real unfairness in the world. Or, as we guys like to say to one another, grow a pair and go fight a real battle.

      1. Anon says

        Lee, you are so blinded by propaganda it’s hilarious. Stop seeing everything through that lense and get out there, talk to some real people (not university educated elites) and start engaging with the world as it is. Make up your own mind and stop regurgitating this nonsense.

  2. Dylan says

    What is this, South Africa’s version of buzzfeed?

    How can you call this journalism?

  3. Shirley Knott says

    Um, if the “University currently known as Rhodes” is currently known as Rhodes, then why don’t you just call it Rhodes?

  4. therealmidnite says

    So if you ignore issues of race, disability or class, you must be white. And when language is used that’s meant not to exclude, it’s meant not to exclude whites. Except those other whites, who are sometimes black, except when they ignore issues of race, disability or class, in which case, they can only be other, other whites. Who must not be excluded. Ever.

  5. FHFDHG says

    I found this article trite on the whole and extremely offensive in places. It’s very obvious that you are an intern and just because you learnt a few “woke” buzzwords and identity politics 101 recently does not mean you should vomit your opinions all over the internet. Jesus.

    1. Anon says

      Agreed, but if you let it stop you from taking part in an integrated south africa these racists win. Be stronger and see through this propaganda, not all black feminists are this way, many are tolerant and rational.

      1. FHFDHG says

        im glad to hear that. it seems radicals and “news sites” like the daily vox now seemingly speak for everyone. I also have to laugh at self-hating whites like this author. Even my black friends think they’re ridiculous.

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