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Gender v. race: An old fight erupts anew on Twitter

Poet Maya Angelou and Gloria Steinem join a march in Washington in 1983. <br/> James M. Thresher / THE WASHINGTON POST

An old fight has erupted anew on Twitter. Tensions about race and class that have long simmered below the surface of the feminist movement have been roiling for the past 24 hours on Twitter under the battle banner of #solidarityisforwhitewomen.

It started around midday Monday during a discussion about Hugo Schwyzer, a college professor and so-called “male feminist,” who recently had an online meltdown, declaring himself to be an academic fraud and, among other things, a substance abuser. Blogger Mikki Kendall chided Feministe blogger Jill Filipovic for expressing sympathy for Schwyzer, who some have criticized as misogynistic and racist.

After a bit of back-and-forth between Kendall and Filipovic, other women joined in and a clear fault line emerged: Some white feminists are dismissive of the concerns of women of color.

Kendall tweeted, “I feel a moment coming on. Because this has been a banner damned month for white feminists. #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen” and it was on.

What followed has been a cyber brawl, but it is not a new debate. It has run through feminism from the early days of the suffrage movement through the civil rights movement and, most recently, in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, which pitted Hillary Clinton against Barack Obama. Gloria Steinem in the New York Times and Alice Walker on The Root captured the debate in the feminist community over gender versus race.

The discussion on Twitter suggests the gulf remains.

Blogger Nichelle Stephens collected some tweets that capture the debate.