A radically inclusive, intersectional, and transnational approach to the fight for women’s rights.
Upper-middle-class white women have long been heralded as “experts” on feminism. They have presided over multinational feminist organizations and written much of what we consider the feminist canon, espousing sexual liberation and satisfaction, LGBTQ inclusion, and racial solidarity, all while branding the language of the movement itself in whiteness and speaking over Black and Brown women in an effort to uphold privilege and perceived cultural superiority. An American Muslim woman, attorney, and political philosopher, Rafia Zakaria champions a reconstruction of feminism in Against White Feminism, centering women of color in this transformative overview and counter-manifesto to white feminism’s global, long-standing affinity with colonial, patriarchal, and white supremacist ideals.
Covering such ground as the legacy of the British feminist imperialist savior complex and “the colonial thesis that all reform comes from the West” to the condescension of the white feminist–led “aid industrial complex” and the conflation of sexual liberation as the “sum total of empowerment,” Zakaria follows in the tradition of intersectional feminist forebears Kimberlé Crenshaw, Adrienne Rich, and Audre Lorde. Zakaria ultimately refutes and reimagines the apolitical aspirations of white feminist empowerment in this staggering, radical critique, with Black and Brown feminist thought at the forefront.
Attorney and journalist Zakaria (Veil) makes a lucid and persuasive argument that feminism must address its "problematic genealogies" of whiteness. She notes that British suffragists refused to support Indian self rule, while those in the U.S. demanded that white women get the vote before Black men, and critiques early feminist theorists including Simone de Beauvoir for centering white womanhood as universal. Zakaria, a Pakistani Muslim woman, describes her own dismissive treatment at the hands of white feminists, but the book's strongest sections detail how Western aid organizations and feminist groups including the National Organization for Women alienate and devalue women of color worldwide. Among other topics, she dissects the culturally myopic attitudes embedded in sex-positive "empowerment" messaging and the "ruthless individualism" of white women journalists who seek to "gain access to the intimate spaces of Black and Brown women." Zakaria also links "moral outrage" in the West over Muslim "honor killings" to the "agenda of colonialism," which "involved manufacturing definitions of new crimes and new classes of criminality to make a point about the moral degeneracy of the people whose freedom, goods, and land were being looted." Tackling complex philosophical ideas with clarity and insight, Zakaria builds an impeccable case for the need to rebuild feminism from the ground up. Readers will want to heed this clarion call for change.