Over the years there has been a lot of talk about what feminism is and isn't. The third wave has rightly challenged the racism of second wave feminists, but at the same time they moved feminism away from its original purpose, which is the affirmation of women's humanity.
Identity is important. If you don't agree, ask anyone who has had their identity stolen and see what they have to say about the loss of their identity and the hours they had to put in to reclaim it. But identity is not the same as humanity. I am a human. But what kind of human I am is a completely different story.
We are all born with a certain identity. We live in a certain country, we belong to a certain family, we eat certain foods, we attend or don't attend a certain religious facility. All of this forms who we are, our identity. As we grow up, our identity changes. We go to college, get a job, get married and/or divorced, have children, buy/sell a house, move, travel. All of these things changes our identity, but they don't change who we are.
Identity has to do with how the rest of the world sees us.
Humanity has to do with who are fundamentally.
Whether I decide to do all the things society expects me to do, or if I move to an isolated island and never speak to another human, I can never cease being a human. My humanity isn't dependent on what I do with my humanity; I do human things, because I'm a human.
Feminism is this radical notion that women are people too. Cheris Kramarae and Paula A Treichler said and I agree with it. Where things get dicey is when white women deny black women their humanity based on the color of their skin. But this is not a feminist issue, it's a race issue.
Racism has been attributed to the creation of imperialism and the colonizing of the world (for a good article on the subject click here). It was created to secure more resources to white people at the expense of everyone else. Racism denies people's humanity based on their ethnicity and comes therefore in many various forms (legalized vs. custom). Yet, the oppression is the same. The problem intersectional feminism has when it tries to put racism and sexism under the same umbrella is that feminism is the systematic oppression of women based on gender within the family, while racism is the systematic oppression of people based on ethnicity outside of the family. Men want women close by as wives and mothers, but white people want black people away from their space; they can come as servants, but segregation in all other areas is the norm. When we try to put these two together, what happens is that the white woman becomes the enemy of the black woman, and it's exactly the way patriarchy wants it.
We cannot fight racism through feminism, because feminism is the affirmation that all women are people. Feminism cannot affirm the black man's humanity, for he isn't a woman; we need anti-racism for that. Add to the pile the fact that all forms of oppression are found in different combinations. A man can be anti-racist, yet sexist (Martin Luther King is a famous example of this). A woman can be anti-sexist, yet racist (Elizabeth Cady Stanton is a famous example of this). Usually humans choose the combination that affirms their humanity and gives them greater access to resources. We are all born selfish; we must all learn how to share.
So what to do? First of all we must realize that oppression works the same way--more for me, less for you. Secondly, we must realize that how we experience oppression is different for different people, because of our different identities. A woman can be poor and white, and experience therefore sexism and classism. A woman can be black and wealthy, and experience therefore racism and sexism. If these two women meet, will they affirm each other's humanity? Perhaps, but not necessarily. Their identities will decide how they will treat the other person. If the one identifies as wealthy, she may treat the poor woman as less important. If the other identifies as white, she may treat the black woman as less valuable. If one is straight, there may be friction is the other woman is gay, and so on. In the end we find that identity separates, humanity unites. And this is why feminism is only about women's humanity, for by affirming every woman's humanity feminism allows women to transcend their identities and find common ground in their common humanity and fight patriarchy that tells women they are less human than men.
At this point I would like to say this: white women need to respect black women (and black men, for that matter). That line is written in stone, not sand.; it's non-negotiable. White women need to allow black women tell their stories of the oppression they experience as people of color. But when it comes to the humanity of all women, all women are part of this one big global sisterhood, for we need strong sisterly bonds to be able to withstand the patriarchal oppression that we experience as women.
We need less Cinderella stories and more of our own stories.
In the story of Cinderella, the four women are enemies; the "lucky" one is saved by a man. This is the story patriarchy wants us to absorb until it becomes part of our DNA and we learn to fight other women, hoping a man will save us from the unhappiness. It is this mentality that keeps us from getting to a point where all women and girls around the world can say, "I'm a human too" and experience the freedom of choices and opportunities men take for granted.
The freedom of all women is what we need to fight for, not each other.
As a white woman I know I'm privileged, but I use my privilege to educate others about the oppression women experience around the world. It doesn't make me a saint; it makes me the person I would want you to be if I was living in a place where my humanity wasn't recognized. My hope is that one day all women and girls around the world will come together and see each other as the beautiful creatures that we are. That beauty, that inner beauty of a strong will and fearless heart, will become even more beautiful when we are all free.