When it comes to talking about racism, I’ve started to see more and more frequently that many white women want to focus on:
Unity and “we have more in common than not.”
Compassion and “how far we’ve come.”
Labels (i.e. “white women” or “white people”) as divisive and counterproductive.
Non-violence as a way of keeping the conversation focused on progress.
Feel good stories of racial harmony.
I’m starting to get it. I’m started to get how all of this represents a perspective that is oriented to and centered on whiteness. White feminism. White liberalism. White hopes and dreams. White myths. White fears.
In my understanding — imperfect, informed by conversations with and articles, books, essays, and posts by people, mostly women, of color who are speaking to this particular form of violence — it means every time a white woman makes the focus of a race-related conversation about one or more of the above, she is de facto erasing the reality that progress and unity are NOT what people of color in America actually experience.
Yes, it’s hard to talk about. It’s hard partly because we desperately don’t want to be lumped together with the “bad guys.” You know: The 53% of white women who voted Trump into office, the 68% of white women who voted for Roy Moore, the white people who wear hoods, carry tiki torches, and wave confederate flags from their monster trucks.
We are not like that, right?
What I am learning — long past due beginning to fully seep into my bones — is that “our” form of “not being racist” is in fact deeply racist, and harmful, and unacceptable.
It is hard to get your head around at first. It’s a complete paradigm shift. It means noticing all the times you just want to explain where you’re coming from, justify your perspective, or push back when someone says “white women.”
Look, I hate being labeled and boxed in as much as the next person. HATE it.
But guess what I hate more?
This: “Black women have to work around 18 months to earn as much as white men do in a year.” [source]
And this: “States with high rates of residential segregation are significantly more likely to have fatal police shootings of unarmed black victims.” [source]
And thousands of statistics and stories that would take lifetimes to list.
Speaker, mentor, and entrepreneur Sonali Fiske writes:
“Listen to Women of Color.
We are baring souls.
We are breaking patterns we had no hand in building.
We are coming undone.
We are tenderizing your hardened parts,
to let you see the supremacy that must move through you
Shed. Bend in two. Curve in at the spine.
Don’t ask us to remain silent. We are not the moon.
Listen to Women of Color.
Yes, you have never experience an upheaval like this before.
Ride our current, we will pull you forward.
You will fall. You will err.
But it is better to lose face and die of humiliation
rather than under the covers of your bed
Listen to Women of Color.
Sit with our stories. Our narratives. Our pain.
Without making it about you.
Sit with it, as in, ‘tell me more’ and ‘thank you.'”
By listening to women of color, I am recognizing the places where I have thought I was the exception. News flash: I’m not. And if you’re white, you aren’t either.
If reading that makes you bristle or hate me or want to change the channel or eat cake or tune out or keep scrolling, maybe you can pause with me and just stay here a minute. Stay here where we are complicit in the very systems we say we’re against.
I will undoubtedly say and write many wrong things on this journey of unlearning and changing my own interior landscape. I’m ok with that. What I’m not ok with is continuing on, worrying more about seeming combative or about pushing people away than I am about the reparations we owe people of color, the harm we have lived alongside and contributed to knowingly or unknowingly, and the pain and suffering we have been able to keep at a comfortable distance.
“….the truth is many people are comfortable with a sugarcoated feminism that unites people by choosing to ignore our differences. Many people are more comfortable with performative allyship than with having to face the, sometimes painfully, truthful feminism that lies in exploring our conflicts that has potential to drive transformative, at-the-roots kind of radical, change.”
That’s why I will keep listening, practicing saying: Tell me more. And also doing my own work rather than relying on women of color to carry the burden of showing me what to do.
I will not hide from this truth in order to make sure I’m being nice and looking good or because I am so attached to seeing things a certain way. I hope you won’t either.