Taylor Swift has proven she's white feminism's off-beat, bambi-legged patronus

Strip away all the fame and followers, and her exchange with Nicki Minaj was just another example of a black woman being accused of divisiveness for pointing out racial inequality

Yomi Adegoke
Thursday 23 July 2015 09:45 BST
"White feminism is not about white women who happen to be feminists. It is about feminism that prioritises the needs of white women whilst sidelining issues affecting women of colour."
"White feminism is not about white women who happen to be feminists. It is about feminism that prioritises the needs of white women whilst sidelining issues affecting women of colour." (Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images for TAS)

When the VMA nominees were announced on Tuesday, Nicki Minaj was not best pleased. Despite nominations for Best Female and Hip-Hop Video, her oiled-up, internet-breaking offering Anaconda didn’t make the Best Video shortlist. It left the rapper rightfully feeling snubbed – and she let Twitter know about it.

"If I was a different 'kind' of artist, Anaconda would be nominated for best choreo and vid of the year as well," she wrote in a not-so-subtle subtweet aimed at the systemically racist music industry. "When the 'other' girls drop a video that breaks records and impacts culture they get that nomination," she added.

She then let off a series of tweets about her disillusionment towards the fact that her record-breaking Anaconda video, which amassed 19.6 million views in its first 24 hours on VEVO, was not deemed worthy of a Best Video nomination. However, after tweeting "If your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for vid of the year," she was soon interrupted by Taylor Swift who – like so many often do – decided that her comments were a personal attack. "I've done nothing but love & support you," she replied. ‘It's unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot."

And in less than 140 characters, Swift succinctly summed up the problem with "white feminism".

Despite popular belief, "white feminism" is not about white women who happen to be feminists. It is about feminism that prioritises the needs of white women while sidelining issues affecting women of colour. And Swift has just proved she is white feminism's off-beat, bambi-legged Patronus.

Swift appears to have been so dazed by her own blinding white privilege that she couldn’t see Minaj’s tweets extended far beyond usual pop princess pettiness. Her tone deaf response proves the music industry’s well-documented issues with race aren’t on her radar because they don’t affect her and instead of taking heed, took offence. But it’s nothing we’ve not seen before.

For many black women, the Twitter exchange was a "black celebrities – they have to put up with the same stuff we do!" moment. Because when you look beyond the millions of dollars, fans and followers, Minaj is simply another black woman being accused of divisiveness by a white feminist for pointing out racial inequality. Even amongst the highest echelons of society the current tensions in feminism echo.

Black women’s attempts to voice the fact that white women, like white men, benefit from a system that oppresses minorities, is often written off as separatism. But in reality, it’s the refusal to properly acknowledge the unique challenges black women face that fuels division.

Those who adhere to "white feminism" acknowledge that patriarchy gives men a warped sense of entitlement, but believe themselves to be immune to the effects of white supremacy. They are more than willing to tell men to "check their male privilege", but suggestions from black women they do the same with white privilege leaves them balking and sulking.

Swift responded that perhaps "one of the men" had taken Minaj’s spot, because in her mind the patriarchy both artists suffer from is more pervasive than the racism only affecting Minaj. It also leaves little room for reflection on how everyone’s favourite feminist benefits from the systematic oppression of others.

Predictably, women’s publications assembled to defend their icon, slapping proverbial palms like a white feminist tag team.

Glamour magazine described Taylor Swift’s "takedown" of Minaj as "wonderful" in a tweet that was then hastily deleted. The article that was linked in the tweet (which still exists) asked "WHEN will someone make this woman PM?", and and praised her for responding with "grace and kindness".

Meanwhile, CelebBuzz claimed Minaj’s sole gripe was that she didn’t receive as many nominations as Swift, while Hollywood Life one-upped anyone using the usual "angry black woman" tag, describing Minaj as a "furious black woman". And yet again, issues affecting black women were written off as one black woman’s "issues", whittled down to no more than a chip on a shoulder.

It’s not the first time and it certainly won’t be the last. Any valid criticism of Rihanna’s recent Bitch Better Have My Money Video was lost amid the hypocrisy shown by feminist commentators unable to offer a satisfactory explanation as to why other equally violent content was not worthy of the same criticism.

Amy Schumer’s dismissal of concerns caused by her racist jokes was reported as "defiant" rather than insolent, and Azealia Banks’ anger at the same music industry discrimination Minaj decried was documented as baseless rage that her competitor Iggy Azalea was white. As always, legitimate criticism was ignored in favour of a feminist stance that doesn’t ask uncomfortable questions.

This inability to acknowledge how racism informs the views of white feminists on race – in a movement that asks men to recognise how patriarchy shapes their views on women – is tiresome. Until it is understood that the feminists that ignore racism are in no significant way different to the men that ignore gender inequality, the fracturing of feminism will only continue to worsen.

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