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Problematic”: Racism in Feminism’s Past

in Gender/Racial Issues/Sacred Cow/Social Issues by

Problematic”: Racism in Feminism’s Past

By: Dion McNeil

One of the things that many of us may notice is how some peo­ple can view het­ero­sex­ual “cis-gendered” white men as prob­lem­atic based off of his­tory. Now while it may be true that many peo­ple who hap­pened to be straight white men did some rather hor­ri­ble things it appears that there is an out­right denial of atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted by those who don’t fit that descrip­tion. Of course it is almost too easy to spot the non­sense sug­ges­tions made by the very same peo­ple who make these claims. That is low hang­ing fruit. A more fruit­ful endeavor is dis­cov­er­ing just how “prob­lem­atic” cer­tain ide­olo­gies are when it comes to being guilty of the same labels and accu­sa­tions made at straight white men.

Racism is an “ism” thrown at peo­ple and some­times it appears that label of racist is put out at ran­dom. Funny thing is that when it comes to some peo­ple, espe­cially those who sub­scribe to mod­ern day fem­i­nism, a lit­tle bit of edu­cat­ing is required to show the utter despi­ca­ble racist ideals and actions per­pet­u­ated by those who did or would have eas­ily inte­grated into that move­ment. For this idea we’ll be focus­ing on one of feminism’s ear­li­est trail blaz­ers in Susan B. Anthony. It’s not a secret that Susan was guilty of racist words. In fact, accord­ing to women’s his­tory over at we find that Susan B. Anthony was described as such:

She some­times argued that edu­cated white women would be bet­ter vot­ers than “igno­rant” black men or immi­grant men.

In the late 1860s she even por­trayed the vote of freed­men as threat­en­ing the safety of white women. George Fran­cis Train, whose cap­i­tal helped launch Anthony and Stanton’s Rev­o­lu­tion news­pa­per, was a noted racist.”

Some­one could eas­ily say, “well, that was a reflec­tion of the times and lots of peo­ple were racist then!” Oh, we see that you’re will­ing to make an excep­tion for Susan B. Anthony but hold the racist cloud over the heads of all white straight men? Do we need to dis­cuss what a dou­ble stan­dard is? But you see we aren’t done with Susan yet. Hon­estly if all she did was say some racist things that’d be one issue but she took insult to injury with some of her other actions. One action in par­tic­u­lar is some­thing she is par­tially respon­si­ble for and some­thing that many in the minor­ity com­mu­nity still feel the effects of.

To those say­ing that what Susan was doing was just a reflec­tion of the times really needs to “edu­cate” them­selves as so many fem­i­nists love to tell oth­ers to do. Because accord­ing to Ency­clo­pe­dia Susan B. Anthony and even Eliz­a­beth Cody Stan­ton per­formed some rather despi­ca­ble acts. For exam­ple:

Some women’s rights activists, includ­ing Eliz­a­beth Cady Stan­ton and Susan B. Anthony, turned to the Demo­c­ra­tic Party, por­tions of which sup­ported white woman suf­frage in order to stop black men from secur­ing the vote.”

How are those who would act as apol­o­gists for this par­tic­u­lar brand of fem­i­nism going to explain that one away? The out­right demo­niz­ing of men of color, black men in par­tic­u­lar, is dis­gust­ing. Quite frankly this wasn’t just a belief that was held dur­ing that time but some­thing that bran­dished deep con­vic­tion. Even if some­one wanted to argue that they were sim­ply tak­ing those actions because black men would get the right to vote over white women that defense would make no sense. One doesn’t solve a prob­lem with equal­ity by uphold­ing a stan­dard of inequal­ity and one would have to engage in some heavy duty men­tal gym­nas­tics to sug­gest that black peo­ple, male or female, had more priv­i­leges than white women at that time or any time for that mat­ter.

In a book writ­ten by M. J. Cos­son enti­tled, “Affir­ma­tive Action” there is a descrip­tion of the word, “minor­ity” as it applies to affir­ma­tive action can become “prob­lem­atic.” This is from Chap­ter 6 in the book:

The term ‘minor­ity’ in regard to race means many things. In gen­eral, it applies to any­one who is not Cau­casian. For exam­ple, a per­son could be all or part African Amer­i­can, Native Amer­i­can, or Asian Amer­i­can and still be con­sid­ered a minor­ity.”

Doesn’t sound that bad, right? Well the same part of this para­graph should spark some seri­ous ques­tions. Take a look:

It is becom­ing more dif­fi­cult to use race as a fac­tor in deter­min­ing who qual­i­fies to be a recip­i­ent of affir­ma­tive action.”

Let’s not pick on Susan B. Anthony so much. Her run­ning mate in Eliz­a­beth Cady Stan­ton also made some pretty asi­nine state­ments. If we were to glance over Phillip H. Rubio’s book enti­tled, “A His­tory of Affir­ma­tive Action” we’ll find this fol­low­ing state­ment from Eliz­a­beth Cody Stan­ton:

Prej­u­dice against color, of which we hear so much, is not stronger than that of sex.”

If that doesn’t demon­strate just how delu­sional some of these first wave fem­i­nists could be noth­ing will. Mind you, accord­ing to Mr. Rubio’s book and accord­ing to all avail­able sources at least 4 mil­lion black men, women and chil­dren were slaves at the time that she made this state­ment. That isn’t to sug­gest that some of their ideas weren’t good ones and some of their actions weren’t jus­ti­fied. But for some peo­ple to sit around and sug­gest that there isn’t a seri­ous prob­lem of his­tor­i­cal and even cur­rent racism located within the fem­i­nist move­ment is absolutely ridicu­lous. Some of the sug­ges­tions and even direct state­ments made by these fem­i­nists were far worse than what some straight white men would have said. It’s almost as if the sug­ges­tion is that we are sup­posed to ignore all these clearly racist ideas and focus only on the ones cer­tain fem­i­nists want us to develop tun­nel vision upon.

That can’t be right. Affir­ma­tive Action, in every mean­ing, was meant to be orig­i­nally for those who were slaves (namely African Amer­i­cans) to reverse the dam­age that Jim Crow laws and slav­ery inflicted. After all it was drafted shortly after very trou­bling times in the United States. So then how did women (as a spe­cific group) end up being qual­i­fied for affir­ma­tive action if those women may have been Cau­casian? We know there were white female slave own­ers. We know there were white women who said some pretty nasty things about African Amer­i­can men with Susan B. Anthony being a shin­ing exam­ple of this. We know that there were plenty of white women who par­tic­i­pated in the vio­lence against, mar­gin­al­iza­tion of and gen­eral mis­ery directed towards peo­ple of color. So then how in the world did we end up in a sit­u­a­tion where women were added when minor­ity peo­ple in gen­eral, be they man or woman, would have suf­ficed in the def­i­n­i­tion?

Martha Grif­fiths

We know how we ended up there. Accord­ing to Terry H. Anderson’s book enti­tled, “The Pur­suit of Fair­ness: A His­tory of Affir­ma­tive Action” we learn how we ended up in such a sit­u­a­tion. We all know it was John F. Kennedy who put affir­ma­tive action into play but rarely do we get to see some of the deci­sions that led up to gen­der being apart of affir­ma­tive action. In Terry Anderson’s book we learn that in the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Martha Grif­fiths made the fol­low­ing state­ment:

You are going to have white men in one bracket, you are going to try to take col­ored men and col­ored women and give them equal employ­ment rights, and down at the bot­tom of the list is going to be white women with no rights at all.”

Shortly after one of the most pow­er­ful act of law would change the land­scape of the coun­try. But ana­lyze the above state­ment. Again, it was “white men”, “col­ored women”, “col­ored men” and then “white women.” It is almost as if not only did this per­son hold white men as the most pow­er­ful but at the same time it is as if they were sug­gest­ing that if peo­ple of color actu­ally got rights that would some­how lessen the rights of white women who were by far more advan­taged than what any black per­son could his­tor­i­cally claim at that time. So, if it was clear that was the case just why did she want gen­der added? Could it be that she sensed that this would later ben­e­fit white women more than minori­ties in gen­eral? We can’t say for sure.

Piggy back­ing off of the above para­graph while we can’t say for sure what was the aim we cer­tainly have the results of today. Accord­ing to Sally Kohn’s piece over at Time Mag­a­zine affir­ma­tive action dis­pro­por­tion­ately ben­e­fits white women than any demo­graphic of peo­ple of color. That may be some dis­tress­ing news to hear con­sid­er­ing that piece of leg­is­la­tion and even­tual exec­u­tive order by Pres­i­dent Kennedy was intended for those who had a legacy of being slaves and were mar­gin­al­ized in ways white women could never attest to in the United States. If we want to be exact affir­ma­tive action ben­e­fits white women at a 6% higher clip than any minor­ity group includ­ing minor­ity women. That doesn’t sound that high until you con­sider just how many white women are in the United States.

Now that we have explored some of the ridicu­lous racism located in feminism’s his­tory we’ll leave you with a won­der­ful list cre­ated by Toast. Enjoy! Click here for the Toast’s list.

Pha­lanx Blog is owned and oper­ated by Dion McNeil. Dion is a 29 year old com­bat vet­eran who spe­cial­izes in psy­chol­ogy, social issues, and racial issues. If you have ques­tions for Dion please send an email to or fol­low us on social media by click­ing any one of the social media icons. Always ques­tion, be skep­ti­cal and thanks for read­ing.


A His­tory of Affir­ma­tion Action (Phillip Rubio) (Women’s His­tory)

Time Mag­a­zine

Affir­ma­tive Action by M.J. Cos­son

The Toast

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