Dealing with Racialized Sexism

CNN

CNN

When people are being bigoted or obliviously discriminatory, they tend to cover as many bases as possible.

Case in point: Racialized sexism.

Racialized sexism is what happens when Women of Color (or WOC) are targeted not as gender minorities, not as People of Color, but as both at the same time.

What makes it trickier than racism or sexism alone is that Men of Color, even those who claim to be progressive, often perpetuate racialized sexist ideas.

Also, some self-proclaimed feminists make a mistake in thinking that sexism and racism are separate issues, or that all women share a universal experience of sexism that can be talked of generally.

For WOC to have their experiences with race being denied on the basis of their gender is invalidating, and it keeps their concerns from being addressed by a movement that needs to include them.

Furthermore, Black women, Asian women, Latina women, and other WOC are rarely just read as “women.” They are read as Black women, Asian women, and Latina women, and as such, are pressured to meet white expectations of beauty and culture in ways that Men of Color and white women don’t encounter.

That’s why, even when generalized racism and sexism are weeded out, racialized sexism sneaks into spaces that claim to have the best interests of women and People of Color at heart.

What Racialized Sexism Looks Like

This is what racialized sexism sounds like: Black women are so sassy. Asian women are so submissive. Latina women are so exotic. Arab women are so oppressed.

It also sounds like the hateful language hurled at Nina Davuluri after her Miss America win.

All of these stereotypes and insults that are specifically meant to mock and devalue WOC cannot be treated as sexist or racist alone – because they’re both.

WOC are also pressured to meet Western standards of beauty, which overwhelmingly favor stereotypically “white” (or Eurocentric) features: Straight hair, light skin, and light eyes. From the time of birth, the eye shape, hair texture, and skin color of WOC are under scrutiny.

Judgments come not only from the kids at school or the lack of representation on television, but from friends and family.

Dark-skinned girls are pitted against light-skinned girls, girls with “good hair” against girls with “bad hair,” all based on the erroneous belief that being acceptable or attractive to men — especially white men — is a source of power and social mobility.

This is not the same as the pressure to be beautiful that all women face, or the pressure to fit into white culture that all People of Color in white-dominant societies face.

Nor is it the same for all WOC.

The issue of skin color is different for Southeast Asian women than it is for East Asian women, for example, and it doesn’t apply to People of Color worldwide.

In all of these cases, the racism and sexism can’t be isolated and treated as separate issues. For WOC, they intersect.

In Social Movements

Another problem with racialized sexism is that it isn’t just “society” or “the patriarchy” that dishes it out. It can come from people who believe they’re working against those systems.

When a Woman of Color stands for gender and racial equality, her allegiances get pitted against each other.

For example, within her own community, a pro-choice Black woman gets accused of supporting Black genocide or hurting Black families – at times by other Black women.

In a feminist space, the same woman is dismissed or talked over when she tries to discuss issues that specifically affect Black women due to the combined influences of racism, sexism, and classism.

The lack of visibility and inclusion WOC face in the very movements meant to benefit them are symptoms of privilege.

Men of Color may feel that the racism they experience somehow entirely negates their male privilege, or white women may feel that the sexism they experience negates their white privilege.

This allows unchecked, unacknowledged issues of sexism and racism to trickle into social movements.

The fact of the matter is, privilege doesn’t go away because of oppression, a hard life, or having it “worse” than someone with less privilege.

And so you get white, Western feminists trying to “rescue” women from hijabs, or Men of Color asking that their women stand by them while limiting their choices.

The autonomy of WOC is therefore ignored not only by those who are both racist and sexist, but also by racist feminists and sexist Men of Color who should know better.

Addressing It

Dealing with racialized sexism means dealing with the fact that every person holds multiple political and social identities that blend and intersect.

I don’t get to take my race hat off and put my gender hat on or vice versa. It’s a packaged deal.

In the case of feminism, ignoring people’s racial identities in favor of their gender identities unintentionally excludes the majority of women from women’s rights. Feminists can’t afford to ignore race or the way it colors different women’s experiences.

Racialized sexism has given birth to a range of stereotypes about the sexuality of WOC that increase their risk of sexual assault.

Racialized sexism means that WOC are often fetishized, othered, treated as “exotic,” or passed over in the dating world.

Racialized sexism says that it’s okay for people to reach out and touch a Black woman’s hair because it looks “different.”

Racialized sexism treats WOC like token minorities in self-proclaimed feminist spaces that haven’t made themselves truly safe.

All of these things, big and small, that sometimes fall under the radar of white feminism and the broader feminist movement, need to be acknowledged as real – not for the sake of playing the oppression Olympics and finding out which race has it hardest, but for seeing each other’s realities and vulnerabilities.

Assuming that all experiences of sexism are just variations of the same thing is a mistake, and it ignores the way people move through space in the world – as whole beings with multiple identities and ways of presenting them.

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Jarune Uwujaren is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. A Nigerian-American recent graduate who’s stumbling towards a career in writing, Jarune can currently be found drifting around the DC metro area with a phone or a laptop nearby. When not writing for fun or profit, Jarune enjoys food, fresh air, good books, drawing, poetry, and sci-fi. Read her articles here.