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How have ideas about white women figured in the history of racism? Vron Ware argues that they have been central, and that feminism has, in many ways, developed as a political movement within racist societies. Dissecting the different meanings of femininity and womanhood, Beyond the Pale examines the political connections between black and white women, both within contempor How have ideas about white women figured in the history of racism? Vron Ware argues that they have been central, and that feminism has, in many ways, developed as a political movement within racist societies. Dissecting the different meanings of femininity and womanhood, Beyond the Pale examines the political connections between black and white women, both within contemporary racism and feminism, as well as in historical examples like the anti-slavery movement and the British campaign against lynching in the United States. Beyond the Pale is a major contribution to anti-racist work, confronting the historical meanings of whiteness as a way of overcoming the moralism that so often infuses anti-racist movements. From the Trade Paperback edition.


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How have ideas about white women figured in the history of racism? Vron Ware argues that they have been central, and that feminism has, in many ways, developed as a political movement within racist societies. Dissecting the different meanings of femininity and womanhood, Beyond the Pale examines the political connections between black and white women, both within contempor How have ideas about white women figured in the history of racism? Vron Ware argues that they have been central, and that feminism has, in many ways, developed as a political movement within racist societies. Dissecting the different meanings of femininity and womanhood, Beyond the Pale examines the political connections between black and white women, both within contemporary racism and feminism, as well as in historical examples like the anti-slavery movement and the British campaign against lynching in the United States. Beyond the Pale is a major contribution to anti-racist work, confronting the historical meanings of whiteness as a way of overcoming the moralism that so often infuses anti-racist movements. From the Trade Paperback edition.

30 review for Beyond the Pale: White Women, Racism, and History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Zanna

    This book deserves to be read much more than it seems to be getting read. I lost count of how many times the author said things like "I didn't find much material on this". I've read a number of books that critique mainstream/white feminism for its racism and related fails, but this is the first book I've read that focuses explicitly on racism/whiteness/white supremacy in women's activism and feminism, and it's helpful to see this history in context. According to Ware, numerous white women were ac This book deserves to be read much more than it seems to be getting read. I lost count of how many times the author said things like "I didn't find much material on this". I've read a number of books that critique mainstream/white feminism for its racism and related fails, but this is the first book I've read that focuses explicitly on racism/whiteness/white supremacy in women's activism and feminism, and it's helpful to see this history in context. According to Ware, numerous white women were active in abolitionist movement. Some women drew parallels between slavery and their own status as chattel of their husbands, and the experience of abolitionist activism helped feminists formulate their own strategies. Ware analyses how ideas about femininity shaped and were shaped by participation in these movements. After abolition, it seems that most women took little interest in race issues, and where they did consider racist oppression, it was often from a broadly imperialist perspective. A number of white women went to India in the Victorian period to educate (perhaps read "civilize") women there, but it seems they were hampered by their own racist attitudes and by the inevitably toxic atmosphere. Far more important than what they themselves did and thought, is how white women were seen and used. Throughout the history of white supremacy, the white woman has been weaponised against people (especially men) of colour. Any possible threat to the person or honour of a white woman by a man of colour has historically been returned with deadly, collective, and otherwise wildly disproportionate violence. The threat to or abuse of the woman can be imagined or fabricated if an excuse for such violence is needed, if a rebellion needs to be put down, for instance. Ware also brings in some analysis of relevant literature such as A Passage to India. Particularly interesting to me was the material on and around Ida B Wells, obviously not a white woman herself, but a black female USian activist and anti-lynching campaigner who received some (direct and meaningful) support from white women, notably in the UK, where they offered her lodgings and accompanied her on her speaking tours of the country. Ware quotes some of Ida B Wells' remarks about white women involved in cases of lynching. Wells pointed out that white women chose to associate with black men and that society refused to tolerate such associations and punished black men involved in them with torture and death. Ware compares this feminist perspective, which blames the racist patriarchal culture, not the white women involved, and seeks social change, with the views of one of her supporters, Isabella Mayo, who took a more conservative view of female sexuality and racial politics, blaming the white women for bringing trouble to black men. Other women in the temperance movement, which seems to have been a major outlet for women's activism, were not at all sympathetic to the anti-lynching cause. Wells' views seem to have accorded more closely with those of Catherine Impey, a British woman who founded and edited the magazine Anti-Caste, and seems to have genuinely wanted to serve and further the interests of oppressed people of colour. Ware includes a fascinating story about Ida B Wells, Catherine Impey and Isabella Mayo that throws the state of gender and race relations at the time into sharp relief. The three women were staying together in Isabella Mayo's house in Aberdeen, as was a student from Sri Lanka (referred to by the British as Ceylon at the time) called George Ferdinands, and then they set off on a tour, Catherine Impey going on ahead. A few days after setting out, she sent a letter to George Ferdinands proposing marriage to him, saying she returned the affections she believed he felt for her but was unwilling to express due being a member of "the darker races". The man was so shocked he showed the letter to Isabella Mayo, who was scandalised, and demanded that Ida condemn Catherine and refuse to associate with her. Ida was upset. She felt Catherine had made a mistake but not done anything terrible, so she remained friends with her, so Isabella cut Ida off too, causing serious problems for her on that particular visit. The last chapter/essay explores some more contemporary tendencies of white feminism to be racist and imperialist, which is more familiar ground, but still valuable. Ware's advice for white feminists on doing better hasn't lost any of its relevance.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kimba Tichenor

    It is difficult to review this book, because in the time since its publication numerous new and more detailed studies have been published on the subject of race and gender. Most likely when the author first published this study in 1991, her revelations about the ways in which race and racism informed the development of feminism in England and the United States were new and perhaps even shocking. That is no longer the case. Still, the book raises important questions about the complex relationship It is difficult to review this book, because in the time since its publication numerous new and more detailed studies have been published on the subject of race and gender. Most likely when the author first published this study in 1991, her revelations about the ways in which race and racism informed the development of feminism in England and the United States were new and perhaps even shocking. That is no longer the case. Still, the book raises important questions about the complex relationship between different types of oppression (e.g. those based on race, gender, ethnicity, or class) and how constructions of white femininity have been used to legitimate racism; and how white feminists have resisted and perpetuated these constructions at the expense of other groups. The author explores these issues in order to expose blind spots within contemporary feminism and to make tentative suggestions as to how women in the future can create anti-racist feminism: "I believe that white feminists today, raised white in a racist society, are often ridden with white solipsism -- not the consciously held belief that one race is inherently superior to all others, but a tunnel visions that simply does not see non-white experience or existence as precious or significant, unless in spasmodic, impotent guilt reflexes. which have little or no long-term, continuing momentum or political usefulness." As part of the solution, she argues that we must analyze "whiteness" as ethnicity, rather than presuming it to be the "norm" and all other ethnicities to be racial identities. Within this vein, she contends that we need to understand the historical construction of the various strands of white feminism and their entanglement with imperialist and racial ideologies in order to move beyond those constructions. To this end, she offers a selective history of British and American feminism's roots in the abolition movement, white women's involvement in imperialist projects, and early conflicts between white feminists and feminists of color (e.g. the conflict between Frances Willard of the Women's Christian Temperance Union and Ida B. Wells over lynching). The authors history contains some minor errors. For example, the author conflates Lynchburg, VA (associated with the term "lynching") and Lynchburg, TN (the home of Jack Daniels whiskey). So while I applaud this study for its groundbreaking work on a topic that no doubt had received little attention in 1991, I believe that today's reader would be better served by focusing on more recent studies of the topic.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Alexa

    This is an eye-opening, excellent (if somewhat academic) analysis of the intersections of race and gender. She poses the questions: What do images of “white women” say, both about gender and race? How are they portrayed? How are they used to serve propaganda? And she proposes “to move away from partnership in misery towards partnership for change.” I completely enjoyed it and found it wonderfully thought-provoking. In her own words: “Women do not perform domestic labour because this type of work This is an eye-opening, excellent (if somewhat academic) analysis of the intersections of race and gender. She poses the questions: What do images of “white women” say, both about gender and race? How are they portrayed? How are they used to serve propaganda? And she proposes “to move away from partnership in misery towards partnership for change.” I completely enjoyed it and found it wonderfully thought-provoking. In her own words: “Women do not perform domestic labour because this type of work demands skills that are essentially feminine, but because of historically and culturally specific meanings attached to being female. Black people do not occupy the low-paid sector because they are intrinsically less able, but because racism systematically denies them opportunities to qualify for better paid jobs.” “Political empathy or affinity may be a preliminary stage towards but is not a substitute for making actual alliances. The act of making connections is a vital stage in developing an awareness of the nature of domination, or possibly even of the process of revolution itself. Shared oppression often works to distance different groups of people from each other.” She discusses the “tension between the liberal anti-racist view that argued for cultural pluralism and support for minorities, and those who felt that the hijab was a symbol of fundamentalism which was counter to secularism. Definitions of womanhood and femininity are culturally constructed within the interlocking systems of domination that they also help to shape. White and black women can unite not so much in favor of women being able to wear headscarves but against the combination of gender, class and race relations that forbids cultural differences and fears the dominant culture will be 'swamped' by an Other one. Similarly, feminists can dissociate themselves from racist assumptions about predatory black men and vulnerable white women while continuing to campaign against violence from men in general. Refuse racist definitions of femininity. Political unity between women across race and class is potentially one of the greatest forces for change in the world, but there is nothing about being a woman which necessarily guarantees that unity.”

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    This book has left me with A LOT to think about and analyze. I'm not sure I'm smart enough to work through all the questions and ideas this book raises. But I found it immensely illuminating; it analyzes race, gender, and class in colonialism and imperialism in a way I haven't encountered before. The focus is more on the overlap of class, race, and feminism in England during the 1800s and early 1900s, but of course there is a lot of overlap with America as well. I learned a great deal about Ida B This book has left me with A LOT to think about and analyze. I'm not sure I'm smart enough to work through all the questions and ideas this book raises. But I found it immensely illuminating; it analyzes race, gender, and class in colonialism and imperialism in a way I haven't encountered before. The focus is more on the overlap of class, race, and feminism in England during the 1800s and early 1900s, but of course there is a lot of overlap with America as well. I learned a great deal about Ida B. Wells that I didn't know, and many British feminists that I never learned about. I wouldn't say the content in this book is surprising or new, but I do think Ware gave a more thorough analysis on the intersection of these three issues than I've seen elsewhere. I think the class aspect got the short shrift sometimes, but Ware admits (and I agree) that this is an extraordinarily complex topic. These five essays are meant to scratch the surface and ask why we've lost some of these details in larger feminist discussions, what effect that loss has, and how to counteract it. I was surprised, though, to realize how many artifacts from these movements and time periods are really still alive today--and some haven't even changed all that much from when they first emerged. (I'm talking about America in this regard, as Parts 4 and 5 in this book address a lot of American history with lynching in particular.) I've never been foolhardy enough to think America has gotten over its racism problem, but to see such clear lines between where it originate almost (or over?) two centuries ago and now was a wake-up call for me. I wish this were emphasized more in history classes in school, how much of modern America really has its foundations in the racism of the pre- and post-Civil War era. Instead that's glossed over in schools, as if it's truly all in the past instead of just below the surface (and not even that far below) of modern America.

  5. 5 out of 5

    l.

    L

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sander Philipse

    Excellent analysis of the ways in which white, British, activist and feminist women interacted with antiracism over the past two centuries. Ware produces a wealth of historical evidence drawing upon a wide range of characters with varying viewpoints and modes of interaction from historical research as well as her own, personal experience. Ware shows that a patronizing and racist attitude was common among white women (unsurprisingly), even among many of those who saw themselves as thoroughly anti Excellent analysis of the ways in which white, British, activist and feminist women interacted with antiracism over the past two centuries. Ware produces a wealth of historical evidence drawing upon a wide range of characters with varying viewpoints and modes of interaction from historical research as well as her own, personal experience. Ware shows that a patronizing and racist attitude was common among white women (unsurprisingly), even among many of those who saw themselves as thoroughly anti-racist. But Ware provides a nuanced and in-depth view of the different ways that played out, a few cases where that racism didn't come to the fore, and the ways feminism, antiracism, antislavery anti-imperialism worked together and against each other at different times. Reading this book should be a bitter feast of recognition for anyone engaged in feminist or antiracist activism, as well as a reminder of the many opportunities for successful intersectional cooperation and the ways that cooperation can be sabotaged. A thorough, academic work with lessons for white people engaged in any activist work, as well as any historian interested in the history of feminist various iterations of anti-racist works, and the role whiteness and white womanhood played in the development of those movements.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Georgina Jiménez

    El libro fue escrito en los años 80 y aunque pareciera que el tema no es novedoso o que ya está superado, la gran sorpresa es que es tan actual como la noticia de la prohibición de los burkinis en Francia (es más, si se quiere entender esa polémica, este libro ayuda perfectamente a explicar situaciones muy similares que evitarán que caigamos en explicaciones simplistas llenas de racismo/xenofobia). Como bien se dice "ser feminista no quita lo racista", este libro da cuenta de todas esos actos ra El libro fue escrito en los años 80 y aunque pareciera que el tema no es novedoso o que ya está superado, la gran sorpresa es que es tan actual como la noticia de la prohibición de los burkinis en Francia (es más, si se quiere entender esa polémica, este libro ayuda perfectamente a explicar situaciones muy similares que evitarán que caigamos en explicaciones simplistas llenas de racismo/xenofobia). Como bien se dice "ser feminista no quita lo racista", este libro da cuenta de todas esos actos racistas que terminan justificándose como decisiones feministas o que se hacen para proteger a la mujer (blanca, occidental, rica, heterosexual y cristiana). O de cómo las mujeres y su 'bienestar' (como lo entiende el patriarcado) han sido usadas para fomentar el racismo y la estructura de clases. Este libro es uno de los primeros que recoge la interseccionalidad como categoría para la teoría y acción feminista. 100% recomendado.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Fleur

    I expected a bit more of this and would have found it way more interesting if more attention was paid to structural analysis that frame white women in certain ways in relate to men and women of colour. The small biographies of English women in abolitionism and the colonies were often very tedious to read, I get that Ware wanted to uncover these stories and by uncovering them further the debate or reconceptualisation of race, gender and class, but it slowed the book down for me, made it less enjo I expected a bit more of this and would have found it way more interesting if more attention was paid to structural analysis that frame white women in certain ways in relate to men and women of colour. The small biographies of English women in abolitionism and the colonies were often very tedious to read, I get that Ware wanted to uncover these stories and by uncovering them further the debate or reconceptualisation of race, gender and class, but it slowed the book down for me, made it less enjoyable because I was expecting theory, not historical biographies.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Vron Ware's research lets its age show, at times. There's no discussion, here, about gender and sexuality, though her conclusion raises the question that identity is far more pluralistic and fluid than she has presented. However, the historical context she provides is helpful in understanding the downfalls of the contemporary women's movement and its racist, sexist, and classist background. This book serves as a good primer for further research.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Rosie

    This book really feels like a forgotten feminist classic and deserves to be read a whole lot more. The investigation into white femininity, and the role white women (and white feminism) has played throughout imperialism, slavery abolition, and current feminist issues is very well issued and often written as a set of biographies of forgotten key players. Should have picked it up sooner. Ware brings to light history that serve as lessons for white women today.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Alice

    This book turned out to be a lot more scholarly and dull than I expected. Some valid points but they got lost in overly repetitive and boring language. Also, numerous use of the word “hajib”?! Am I missing something or is it really a glaring mistake?!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nan Kirkpatrick

    Great in-depth history. Note that it's from a British perspective. Gives complicated insight into ways that struggles against racism and patriarchy developed together and ways they diverged.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Caitriona

    3.75.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Martha

    It's certainly interesting, particularly the exploration of the actions of specific British women in India under the Empire, and the discussion of connections between American and British anti-lynching groups (through the person of Ida B. Wells), but none of the conclusions (white feminism has been and is often racist!) are overly surprising or impactful. Likely more revelatory in 1992, when it was originally published, than in 2015.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jess

  17. 4 out of 5

    Maddy

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mikelle Dorame

  19. 5 out of 5

    Colleen

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jo Jones

  21. 4 out of 5

    June

  22. 4 out of 5

    Audrey Schoeman

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jen

  24. 5 out of 5

    Hajara

  25. 5 out of 5

    Wendy Trevino

  26. 5 out of 5

    Shoshana

  27. 4 out of 5

    Makena

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ewan

  29. 4 out of 5

    Emma

  30. 5 out of 5

    Julia Harold

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