800 people, the majority of them women, attended our
Millennium Conference here in New York City. They came
from as far away as Japan and India. There were student
groups and girlfriend clusters, entire families, mother-daughter
pairs, and more than a few grandmother-daughter-granddaughter
trios. I was particularly pleased, not only by the age
mix, but also by the racial diversity. It still didn't
look like the U.S., but I know from experience that
not enough of the conferences organized by feminist
groups attract or feature significant numbers of women
of color. And as one of the few women of color in the
room, I've heard organizers and participants bemoan
the lack of diversity and detail their attempts to reach
out, and I've been asked countless times for advice
about what to do.
it or not, color and class are this movement's Achilles'
heel. Although the women's movement has never been just
a white girl's party, all too often that's the way it
plays in the public's perception. Was Sojourner Truth
the only woman of color advocating for women's rights
in the nineteenth century? Not hardly, but unless you've
taken a good women's studies class or done your homework,
she's the only one you've heard about. The same is true
when it comes to this movement's recent history. In
this country, "herstory" like his tends to be told as
a white story, with the spotlight focused on white women
and everyone else relegated to minor parts. It's a situation
exacerbated by the mainstream media who routinely marginalize,
dismiss, or demonize feminism, go for the most famous
name or face, and treat women of color as window dressing.
But it's also fostered by folks within this movement,
who seek diversity but not necessarily when it comes
to leadership and power-sharing or deciding the agenda,
issues, or actions.
as lesbians have had to fight to ensure that this movement
acknowledged their presence, included their voices,
issues, and sensibilities, so too do women of color
struggle--and many have decided to go their own way.
Change can't come without a willingness to own up to
some difficult truths. Like the fact that this movement
avoids confronting the race/culture issue and divisions.
Instead there is this fiction that gender is race neutral
and is the only factor that matters in our quest for
equality and that there's no racism within our movement--as
if we could live in the belly of the beast and remain
unscathed. That's what happened at our conference in
the panel about race, but thank the Goddess, in a separate
discussion about the current state of feminism, that
myth was blown away.
young Latina woman told the group why she and her sister
activists don't call themselves feminists. Paula Rojas's
comments rocked that room and elicited strong, emotional
responses that reverberated throughout the conference.
Had we not invited her to be one of the leaders of the
discussion, that conversation might never have caught
fire. But that fire has been ignited many times before
only to be snuffed out by those who want to deny that
we have a problem or avoid conflict at any cost.
can't afford to avoid this, any more than we can avoid
addressing classism and heterosexism within our movement.
So to help keep the fire burning we asked some of the
women who were in that room and others to continue the
discussion in these pages. We are asking the same of
women who visit our Web site, and we intend to continue
to raise these and other questions about how we walk
the talk in these pages in future issues.