TW: Sexual Assault
We are bombarded with subtle and downright uninventive imagery of racism daily.
From examples of the “dangerous, dark (in both skin and intentions) foreign man” trope, to the trope of a “submissive Asian woman” this is demeaning, whether it be in a micro-aggressive form, or tangibly aggressive.
Yet, as a woman of colour, I can count on an added layer of intersectional oppression: the tangible threat that rape culture poses on my life.
The seemingly constant use of the term ‘Intersectionality’ as a means of analysis mirrors the conceptual foundation of the principle itself, which necessitates a consideration of all oppressive institutions intersect with any ethos, doctrine or culture. It allows us to articulate why our circumstances are what they are, in what way the anglo-centric, heteronormative, patriarchal paradigm pervades the structures and strictures we are bound by, and most significantly, it directs discourse away from the dominant framework in which we conceptualize everyday happenings.
Yet when the oppression of two groups intersects, we – myself included – tend to find ourselves uneasy with focusing the lens on either side, in fear we may neglect the other. We may question whether the focus on one over the other is the very phenomenon intersectionality seeks to counteract. Unfortunately, this attempt at inclusivity and constant “contextualisation” can actively exclude those who do not benefit from any power structure in the given context.
I am talking about rape culture perpetuated by men of colour.
We don’t want to add to the “dangerous brown man” stereotype. We don’t want to depict those who face racism daily as any different to the white man we tend to automatically to hold as the norm. This sort of compensation, when considering the struggles of women everywhere, which obviously includes women of colour, works against intersectionality and excludes the voices of those most marginalized in any society: women.
What must be understood is that power is not monolithic. It does not only belong to white, cis, heterosexual men in every society. Given, this is likely the group that will be universal and timeless recipients of power (unless you’re an unfortunate $1 payer in the UQ bake sale). But, assuming that the oppression of groups within a white-majority paradigm is comparable to other ones is reductive and at times, dangerous.
Rape culture exists in all cultures and societies and is perpetuated by people of all colours. We are conditioned to perpetuate both racism and rape culture, no matter what our ethnicity, upbringing or place of birth is. Both racism and rape culture underpin the pedestals that privilege one gender-usually cis-men, and one skin tone-usually white. Thus as intersectional feminists, we strive to constantly deconstruct our own assumptions, blind spots and residually oppressive tendencies. We give space to those who have actively had it taken from them. Right?
It is a precarious line to walk, criticizing rape culture without being colonialist-y. Pointing out oppression of women of colour by their male counterparts can make it seem like we are simply deflecting the sexist flaws within white majority communities. But reacting any differently to it than we would in regards to white men is equally degrading, it reinforces the hierarchy whereby men of colour sit below white men, who can be chastised because they have the capacity and should know better. This is never overt – most of us do not justify the actions of men of colour BECAUSE of their colour. But that equivocation, that moment of hesitance – isn’t that just bolstering rape culture in societies other than our own? This extends to not only non-white majority societies, but to multicultural, western circles as well.
Undoubtedly, oppression does not exist in a vacuum. That is why intersectionality is key for how we view issues of racism and sexism. That lingering tendency to collectivise “others”, based on their skin colour, rather than regard them as an individual, is something white people, and especially white men, will never experience. Yet in attempting to avoid racializing men of colour who traumatize both women of colour and white women, we are in fact focusing our lens more on one issue in a way our political correctness and intersectionality intended to avoid.
We are helping NOBODY by doing this. Men of colour will continue to be “pitied”, held to a lower standard than white men – a form of internalised racism being externalised through our attempts to avoid “racism”. Paradoxical, I know. Women, whether of colour or not, will have the internal and external barriers to speaking publicly or reporting sexual assault compounded. I can say from experience I have hesitated, and continue to, speak out against my experiences of sexual assault by men of colour. I do not want to add to racist stereotypes, I do not want to contribute to the “collectivisation” of people of colour, and I do not want to deflect attention from the pervasive rape culture that also exists in my own white majority society.
I get it, and I appreciate it. White people don’t want to co-opt, distort or take space from the struggles of people of colour. But by having to constantly navigate this precarious line that exists at the intersection of racism and sexism, all women suffer. In particular, for women of colour, our struggles are overlooked or distanced from in an attempt to avoid engaging in racial, or possibly racist discourse. Ironically, this is exactly what intersectional feminism seeks to counteract: the silencing of women who do not look or act like the traditionally dominant (white) voices of western feminism.