Emma Watson Gets Candid About White Feminism In An Open Letter To Her Feminist Book Club

By now most of us have heard about British actress and activist Emma Watson’s feminist book club called Our Shared Shelf. The idea came after her UN women He For She speech in 2015 which sparked the beginning of an education in feminism and activism for the ‘Harry Potter’ star.

Emma has been very open about her journey into feminism and the lessons she is learning along the way, and most recently she decided to get very candid about white feminism and examining her own privilege. In an open letter to the members of the book club on Goodreads, she told members about the first book for 2018 and used the opportunity to share why she made this choice.

“There is so much racism, both in our past and present, that is not acknowledged and accounted for. I know this to be the case from my own education, and I know there is so much more for me to learn. This is why I’m excited to announce that our first book of 2018 is Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge which talks about the history of racism in Britain, and ways we can see, acknowledge and challenge racism,” she writes.

She then goes on to open up about how naive she had been when she first gave the He For She speech and didn’t realize how complex and often complicated feminism can be, especially when it intersects with different issues such as race and class.

“When I gave my UN speech in 2015, so much of what I said was about the idea that ‘being a feminist is simple!’ Easy! No problem! I have since learned that being a feminist is more than a single choice or decision. It’s an interrogation of self. Every time I think I’ve peeled all the layers, there’s another layer to peel…When I heard myself being called a ‘white feminist’ I didn’t understand (I suppose I proved their case in point). What was the need to define me — or anyone else for that matter — as a feminist by race? What did this mean? Was I being called racist? Was the feminist movement more fractured than I had understood?” she said.

There has been an increase in public discourse around the need to dismantle white feminism, and the importance of intersectionality, especially in light of major political events over the past few years, most notably Brexit and the 2016 US Presidential election. With a majority of white women voting for Donald Trump and black women voting for Hillary Clinton, with some frustrations around different groups of women participating in the Women’s March, and the emphasis on the need to amplify more voices of women of color in mainstream media, the “white feminism” issue has well and truly been brought to the frontlines of modern feminism.

Think pieces that have delved into an array of perspectives on this include how the burden of dismantling white feminism is not the job of women of color but those white women who inhabit privilege, how white feminism has roots in white supremacy in America, and how the early Suffragette movement excluded black women. The contention between white feminists and those of color has always been fraught with intersectional issues such as race, class, and those who distinctly benefit from patriarchal systems of power, despite not being equal to men. The current movement to confront dominant white narrative within modern feminism is both necessary and exciting, as it means it can make way for a far more diverse and multi-faceted definition of a movement that embodies so much more than just gender issues.

As with any movement that unearths deep-seated discrimination that can make a number of people uncomfortable, especially those who may not recognize how their inherent privilege has enabled them to escape this while ensuring the status quo remains, it is important to sit with the discomfort in order to move forward. Emma explains how she came to this realization once she learned about white feminism.

“It would have been more useful to spend the time asking myself questions like: What are the ways I have benefited from being white? In what ways do I support and uphold a system that is structurally racist? How do my race, class and gender affect my perspective? There seemed to be many types of feminists and feminism. But instead of seeing these differences as divisive, I could have asked whether defining them was actually empowering and bringing about better understanding. But I didn’t know to ask these questions,” she said.

As she has shown willingness to learn where her blind spots are, she has also made sure to include a diverse range of authors in Our Shared Shelf, ranging from Native American women, trans authors, black women, Asian women, Middle Eastern women, a handful of men, Latinx authors as well as white women. There are some well-known names among the list recommended by her and other members of the group, including Maya Angelou, bell hooks, Eve Ensler, Gloria Steinem, Margaret Atwood, and yes, even J.K Rowling.

While she acknowledges that every person has their own journey, and we should we open to listening and learning, instead of judging or excluding, she also spoke about how she has been impacted by the friendships she has made along the way and how that has become an integral part of her evolution.

“I met a woman this year named Happy who works for an organization called Mama Cash and she told me this about her long history working in the women’s sector: “Call me out. But if you’re going to call me out, walk alongside me as I do the work”. Working alongside women like Happy is a privilege. As human beings, as friends, as family members, as partners, we all have blind spots; we need people that love us to call us out and then walk with us while we do the work,” she wrote.

Here’s to more feminists, especially those with a very public platform like Emma’s, being willing to call out their own shortfalls where necessary, and continue to be open and honest about where they are at. You can read her full letter, and see the Our Shared Shelf book list over at Goodreads. To see a list of our fave book recommendations written by women of color, click here.



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  1. Pingback: Emma Watson Gets Candid About White Feminism In An Open Letter To Her Feminist Book Club | My Best Stars.com

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