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Home / Articles / Your Voice / White Feminism Has Forgotten Women of Color

White Feminism Has Forgotten Women of Color

Anti-racism work must be done to stop violence against all women

feminist movement

Editor’s Note: This article is part of #YourVoice, an ongoing column published on this website by individual contributors in their own personal capacity and that involves the opinions, recollections and/or information provided by such contributors, and which does not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of this website.

My name is Lina Juarbe Botella, and—like many of you—I wear quite a few hats in my life. I’m the Senior Director of Community Engagement at A Call to Men. As a survivor of domestic and sexual violence, advocate for survivors, mother, Puerto Rican woman, leader in my community and a truth-teller, I’d like to uplift an undeniable truth today that cannot be left unheard or unaddressed. And I’d like to invite you to be part of the solution. 

Women of Color Are Forgotten By White Feminism

Throughout the history of the feminist movement up until the present, we have seen time and again that feminism has failed and forgotten Women of Color. And it’s time we collectively invest in a different future that uplifts, protects and values all women. When I speak of all women, I think of the multitude of women in the world who come from various backgrounds of race, class and more. I am speaking about women who don’t fit into the narrow confines of whiteness and privilege. I’ve come to learn that the path to true liberation for women must involve allyship with other marginalized groups, primarily communities of color—and more specifically, Black women.

I don’t raise this truth—that feminism has failed women at the margins of the margins—to cause strife or controversy. My intention in my work and my life has always been to create a world where all women and girls can live freely and safely without the burden and harmful effects of patriarchy. Unfortunately, the silent co-conspirator of the systems that oppress us is white feminism—a subtle and lethal force that threatens any real progress toward dismantling the patriarchy. White feminism is a system that turns away from the experiences and contributions of women whose existences don’t fit within the narrow confines of white womanhood and privilege. 

I learned this lesson early on in my career when my advocacy for a teenage Black girl elicited some of the most incendiary responses I had yet encountered—that lack of empathy and immense prejudice shook me to my core. When I saw this teenage Black girl sitting in the back of the police car being maligned and mistreated by the police force, my immediate thought was to risk it all to advocate for her. That should’ve been anyone’s immediate thought, right? But no—my former white colleagues told me that checking in on this survivor was not a part of my role. I was even more confused when I was instructed not to “endanger our relationship with law enforcement” and that I should stop “rocking the boat.” I was confused because, in my understanding, my actions were textbook feminism—the support of all women. It felt as if they were saying that relationships with power (the police department) should supersede our advocacy. This was one of my earliest experiences with how the exclusionary nature of white feminism is harmful to anyone who doesn’t fit into those margins. It has stayed with me to this day and reminds me of my thirst for collective liberation.

We All Pay White Supremacy’s Price

Unfortunately, some women in the movement believe they can make true strides without centering the experiences of other marginalized groups. But we must be willing to stand with communities of color and their commitments to anti-racist work because when we don’t, we reinforce the terrible notion that women of color should be excluded from our spaces. Instead, when we expand our lens, we expand what was once a narrow, restrictive view of feminism into a vehicle for collective liberation that includes all women. We have to go beyond the exhausted and overused DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) framing that is used only as a placeholder for real equity. Whether folx believe it or not, we all pay the price of white supremacy when it goes unchecked.

White supremacy has conditioned our society to believe that shared power can hinder any movement toward progress. White feminism has adopted these ideals and tries to convince us that we must hold on to every ounce of power we have; otherwise, we lose the fight. But what does it look like for us to dive introspectively into ourselves to analyze how we can share our power? Often, what’s needed is to give up power and stand aside. As a Latinx woman, I hold certain privileges that my Black sisters do not. Why would I want to hoard that? I believe that feminism must become more critical in discussing how we can protect our power as women while sharing it with each other so that we are all represented, heard, and acknowledged. To be frank, sharing power is something that Black women have taught me (and the rest of us) since the beginning of time.

Lead With Love

When I think of the women who’ve been forced to give up their liberties and comfort, I think of my grandmother, a Puerto Rican Afro-Latina woman living in the 1930s, whose mere existence challenged the patriarchy and who had a long career dismantling archaic beliefs and nurturing a beloved community. She was a woman who taught me to love on our people. Her influence on my life has allowed me to approach feminism in the same way—to lead with love, accountability and inclusivity because when one of us is free, we are all free. One of the most important lessons I learned from her was the importance of leaving a situation that no longer serves you. I remember when she decided to leave her husband because she believed he was mistreating her child. While the act of leaving her husband may sound simple in writing—or dare I say, “easy,” it was not. She was a Black Puerto Rican woman who decided to rebel against the patriarchy and protect her family. It’s because of countless women like her that we have a real foundation of feminism. As I’ve come to grow in my own understanding of these concepts, I realize that along with my grandmother, Black women have taught and inspired me to widen my lens and keep fighting for a future that includes and celebrates all of us.

There have been many moments in my life when my community of Black women friends and colleagues have called me in to educate me with love when I have caused harm. When I juxtapose these experiences with moments of being called out or criticized by white women in the movement, it becomes clear that the movement must become more inclusive and more inviting. White feminism continues to exclude Women of Color. 

What Is True Inclusivity?

Many years and eye-opening experiences later, I’ve learned that the most common expression of feminism in this country focuses on the individual versus the collective. We are implicitly taught our liberation is only accessible when we prioritize a selected few. Instead, we should be strategizing on what will move our entire community forward. And when I say entire community, I mean it—women from diverse backgrounds, races, sexual orientations, body types, religions, abilities, classes and much more. When we don’t focus on how to tailor our strategies to support even the most marginalized among us and their intersectionalities, we’re sending a message that their experiences don’t really matter. True freedom and liberation must include all of us—none of us is free until all of us are free.

Inclusivity doesn’t always mean uplifting women from various backgrounds for a faux show of representation. To me, it means wanting to understand how—when we adopt traits of white supremacy culture from exclusion to individualism—we slowly but surely reinforce the patriarchy we are trying to eradicate.

True inclusivity means working together to understand one another’s differences and how they play a part in their lives so that we can create a future where they’re celebrated, not tolerated. 

White feminism harms us all. It does not allow us to think of the “we.” It does not allow us to have disagreements. It does not allow us to rock the boat or risk it all. To get to collective liberation, we cannot continue to compartmentalize the experiences of survivors. We have to do anti-violence work while doing anti-racism work. Within that, we have to come to terms with the anti-Blackness we have consumed. So, no matter what part you play in our movement, ask yourself how you can “have skin in the game?” How can you use your influence and platform to ensure that all women, specifically Black and Brown women, are seen, heard, valued, and safe? 

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Lina Juarbe Botella is a community organizer with more than 30 years of experience working to end violence against all women and girls and those who reside on the margins of the margins. Lina serves as Sr. Director of Community Engagement for A Call to Men. She is responsible for community partnerships and outreach and works closely with communities all over the world to build toward collective liberation by building alongside organizations and individuals. She is the co-author of A Call to Men’s Live Respect Coaching Healthy, Respectful Manhood curriculum and has partnered with many schools to implement it. Lina has a diverse and rich background and describes herself as a community organizer and builder. In 2023, she received the Allyship in Action Award from Freedom Inc. for standing in solidarity with the Black and Southeast Asian communities by showing unwavering commitment to justice and equity.  In addition, she received the Living Legend Award for community organizing and her work against racism. She also received the Voices of Courage Award for her advocacy and leadership working alongside clergy sexual assault survivors. She received the Unsung Heroes award for her commitment, service and leadership in the Latino community. She is the proud mother of eight beautiful children. Lina was born and raised in Puerto Rico and is located in the Midwest.