Posted on August 30, 2019

White Women Were Colonisers Too. To Move Forward, We Have to Stop Letting Them off The Hook

Ruby Hamad, Guardian, August 29, 2019


These voting patterns of white women have stunned white women and women of colour. Those who had expected a different outcome from the 2016 US presidential election concluded that these women had sided with their race over their gender, choosing their whiteness over their womanhood.

But we were wrong.

The academic and author Kyla Schuller argues that rather than betraying their womanhood, these women were performing it. Schuller says White Womanhood has been a key stabilising feature of western civilisation. Although not as visible as that of their male counterparts, their role was nonetheless equally pivotal to the success of European settler-colonialism.

{snip} In other words, White Womanhood acts as a buffer between whites and non-whites. Serving as the virtuous, innocent face of western civilisation, white women have historically kept power firmly in white hands by defending and denying its violence. {snip}

The removal of Indigenous children from their families both in Australia and the United States, for example, was largely implemented by white women. These colonial maternalists, as the historian Margaret Jacobs dubbed them, learned to leverage their status as both a privileged and subordinate class in order to “simultaneously collaborate with and confound colonial aims”.

The stolen generations was “largely a feminine domain, defined primarily around mothering [and] targeted at Indigenous women”. By framing the removal of Indigenous children as “women’s work for women”, the maternal colonialists flouted the rule against white women working outside the home, and secured white domination over the Indigenous population.


White women were not bystanders to the global colonial project, but because they were subordinate to and often suffered at the hands of white men, their role has largely slipped under the radar in favour of a misleading discourse that has placed them on almost equal footing with the populations they helped to colonise.

Today we see white feminists adopt anti-racism discourse to denounce “mediocre white men” and “white male supremacy”, thus continuing the legacy of both confounding and collaborating with colonial aims by temporarily distancing themselves from white power.

By pinning all culpability on white men, white women – whether wittingly or unwittingly – whitewash their role in colonisation and the oppression of women of colour by equating their gender oppression with colonialism.

This is what black and brown women mean when we say we cannot separate our gender from our race: we have never been oppressed only by patriarchy, and so a feminism that claims to be for all women must be built on an explicitly anti-racist platform. Anything else runs the risk of reasserting whiteness because it can only ever benefit white women.