From suffragettes to sexuality, feminist history is often told as a narrative of women united in the fight against patriarchy. But there have always been limits and fault lines in the feminist movements that centered white women’s rights at the expense of all others. As scholar Kyla Schuller argues in The Trouble with White Women, white women, across political classes, have used racism and other hierarchies of power to win their own rights and expand their personal opportunities. Their white feminist politics have come at a great cost, resulting in the sustained exploitation, oppression, and silencing of women of color.
The Trouble with White Women details the history of white feminist icons and their counterparts from the 1840s to the present. From Margaret Sanger, who promoted racist eugenics and was in conflict with Dr. Dorothy Ferebee, to Pauli Murray, who fought for a more radical vision of feminism against Betty Friedan’s homophobic and racist ideas. Today, that tradition endures. So-called feminists continue to advocate excluding trans people from the movement and promote the Violence Against Women Act that has buttressed the greatest carceral state in the world.
But as The Trouble with White Women argues, resistance to these white feminist politics has continually emerged from Black, indigenous, poor, queer, and trans women and their movements for liberation. It is only by understanding this complex legacy that feminism can build a movement that honors the radical work and lives of those who suffer most under patriarchy.