By guest blogger Marly Pierre-Louis
Recently, I co-facilitated a workshop on intersectionality at Joe’s Garage which is a squatter/non-commercial space in Oost. The crowd was about 99% white, mostly students, and considering where it was being held, I would venture to guess most of them would identify as anarchists, radical or progressive.
Here’s the thing with white, anarchist/radical women: you can’t tell them shit. Surprisingly, most of them understood that they benefited from white privilege. However, many of them thought their gender oppression somehow cancelled out their white privilege. I read this article on racial innocence and it really resonated with what I experienced at that workshop. The women wanted to be congratulated for their political awareness and moral rightness. When it came to discussing intersectionality, they seemed to be more interested in keeping intact the radical identity they had carefully crafted for themselves.
This one woman started talking about hitch hiking. Hitch hiking in Europe is kind of a thing. I’ve talked to more than one woman who has said that she hitchhikes on a regular; within a city, between cities and between countries throughout Europe. The woman at the workshop started by talking about how great hitch hiking is. How it’s the best way to travel, how much you can learn, etc. She said that as a woman, she’s often discouraged from doing it by those who think it’s too dangerous. She’s been told that she’ll end up dead or raped. I tried to use her comment as a way to demonstrate intersectionality. I told her that hitch hiking was a privilege, that as a Black woman I would never consider hitchhiking because it would be unsafe. And, that if I were gender non-conforming it would be even more dangerous. After trying to interrupt me several times, she said that she faced the same danger as I did but that she decided that she would “fight for my rights” and do it anyway. I didn’t have the time or space to respond to her.
What I wish I had been able to say to her is that intersectionality is what happens when the chips are stacked against you. That as a woman hitch hiking she is indeed at risk for gender-based violence but that as a Black woman I’m doubly at risk. What she, and I think most of the women there did not understand was white woman privilege. Patriarchy has always wanted to protect white women. They are considered vulnerable, weak and worthy of safety and protection. This courtesy has never been offered to Black women. We’ve always been beasts; unable to feel emotional, mental nor physical pain. A white woman hitch hiking may face danger but will also encounter people who think she deserves protection and kindness. Would a Black woman receive the same? How about a Black transgender woman? I think not.
Marly Pierre-Louis is a writer, activist and community cultivator currently cycling through the rain in Amsterdam. She is interested in the intersections of race, gender and urban spaces. You can find her at marlyatlarge.com.