It was clear during the 2016 election that things which were rumbling below the surface could no longer be contained.
Not only was I impacted by Trump’s words toward and about women, let alone anyone who isn’t a white American male, but so was nearly every woman I know.
I watched, pregnant with Haven, as women responded en mass. White women, in particular. White women with fire and zeal and gusto. We marched. We wrote. We acted. Not our president, we said. Not our country, we wrote. Not our kids’ future, we waxed in blog posts and Facebook statuses.
Recently, the #metoo movement has shed even more light on the reality of being a woman in this country and I could not be more grateful. Women are linking arms and changing the narrative, one brave confession at a time. And people are scared and trembling and some men are wondering when enough will be enough and will one accusation ruin their entire life. About time, we say.
The underbelly of all this is the blatant and, albeit often, unintentional disregard of the non-white women who have been fighting oppression and systematic abuse well before us- abuses that have been historically far more violent, traumatic, far-reaching and sustaining. We are the not the first women to be threatened. Our children are not the first to face daily, unjust and unwarranted threats of violence. We have, as a demographic, decided to finally put action to our feelings. Because we’re, finally, acknowledging that we’re feeling this in more palpable ways and we don’t like it.
When I was 19 and in college, there was a lot of talk about race relations on the Chicago campus. Signs with racial slurs were plastered around a women’s dorm and one of the leadership’s responses was to host a round-table discussion of sorts for students. A round-table on race and everyone’s feelings about what was happening.
I grew up in a mostly white suburb. Most of the Black kids that I knew of, because I didn’t really know them, lived in either an area of town people called Little Chicago or in Section 8 housing. Segregated and away from me.
Looking back, I knew from the earliest age that there was something different between Black and white people. The Black kids all sat together, there were hardly any Black teachers or staff at my school that weren’t janitors or lunch aides. In fact, “Black History” was, apparently, not even interwoven in just history– we had a month of it and then moved back on with all the “other” stuff.
As I moved through junior high and high school, I interacted in different ways with more and more Black people. My heart was generally always bent toward injustice and there seemed to be a lot of tension in any conversation around Black and white issues. At the time, I didn’t know these tensions were racial issues, I just saw the stark categorization and differences between these two groups of people. I wanted to understand why the idea of Affirmative Action (a big deal in a blue-collar suburb) made some white men yell and get red-faced then break into tears. I didn’t understand.
There were a lot of under the surface rules to be observed, I learned. In high school, in one of my AP classes, there was a Black student. She was smart and kind and super creative. During a lesson on a Black activist, I clearly remember my teacher, also smart and kind, flushing and making awkward side eyes at this student as she fumbled through the facts of Malcom X’s life. Oh, I remember thinking, we don’t do that here– we don’t have these conversations because we’ll say and do the wrong the thing, so we just stay silent- that’s how we fix it. Okay.
So when I was at a college in a big, diverse, racially tense city at a school that literally said it was “Intentionally Urban” and was told I could safely ask or say whatever I needed to in regard to race issues, I did.
There were maybe 175 students in the cafeteria for this discussion, and a lot of them were not white. And they were, as any human would be, over it and angry and hurt and tired of being slapped on the Intentionally Urban banners but still treated like shit.
I got the mic, stood up, with my long side pony and NorthFace jacket and fake pearl earrings and said, “As a white woman, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do to fix things with people of color.” My heart was thumping in my throat so hard that I felt my voice catch and shake.
I sat back down, palms wet, vision blurred.
The next five comments were in direct response to me- all from Black women and men, essentially telling me that my question slash statement was bullshit. In particular, I remember, one of the comments going something like this, “You don’t know what to do? Ask someone. Go on Sankofa. Make a Black friend. Expose yourself. Read, talk to people, take any Africana Studies class.” Another commenter made it clear that the term “people of color” was not okay.
I felt like an idiot. I felt like a racist idiot.
My head was spinning. I’m not racist. I’ve heard Black people say people of color before. I applied for Sankofa and it’s full. What do I do, walk up to a Black woman and say, hey, educate me? I shouldn’t have said anything. Everyone is going to know I’m stupid and racist and ohmyjesus why did I stand up?!
I spent the rest of that time just trying not to throw up and smile at the right moments and nod emphatically when everyone else was.
I did know one thing though, after that night. I had a choice in what to do next. I could very easily shut all this down in myself, rub some self-righteous “I tried” salve on my embarrassment and keep playing frisbee and going to Fika. Or, or I could keep going. I could pull up my panties and think that if an entire race of people has been systematically oppressed and abused and looked-over since the birth of this country, then I can deal with feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable for an hour.
This was the first time in my actual life that I had people who were neighbors (people I shared close-ish life with) that were not white. And I was commissioned to love my neighbor, so this, to me, did not seem optional.
Something was wrong, and I wanted to know what that was and what I was doing to perpetuate it.
That night, in the library, with three Black friends, I tenderly broached the topic of race. And here’s what- no one died. Not one of us. I don’t remember everything that we talked about, but I remember how I felt: safe. I didn’t know these girls super well, but they were in a private homework room in the library with me after I said I didn’t know what to do about being white, so clearly they liked me a little, or at the very least had pity on me. Either way, these gracious and kind women made me, a white woman, feel safe.
I eventually went on Sankofa, and I sat in on a lot of Africana Studies conferences and lectures. I’ve had lots more conversations that made me feel like a 19-year-old in the cafeteria and a lot that made me feel like a 19-year-old in a private homework room in the library.
And I haven’t died.
Now, I will say, understanding privilege, especially when you don’t think yourself racist (who does?), and taking an honest inventory of your bias is hard. It’s really, really hard. It’s uncomfortable.
The thing that’s insane about all this though, is that as white people, we get to dip our toes in and out of deconstruction and understanding privilege and dismantling our own prejudice and bias. Black people do not. People of any minority do not. This is their entire world. America is built on racism and systematic oppression- there is no dipping in and out of this, there is no reprieve- ever.
So, white folks, we need to dip into this fulltime. We need to understand what the hell is actually going on, why the teacher won’t talk about Malcom X while making eye contact with the Black student; why Black men make up about 30% of the population in America and 60% of the population of men in prison; why Black families make up 19% of the population who rent homes/apartments and 48% of the population in low-income housing.
The playing field is not even. Things are not equal.
Why did an essay focused on gender become an essay about race?
Great question. Because we, white women, can no longer call ourselves feminists if we are not willing to fight for the equal rights of all women, and that makes this conversation about race.
If we are going to say we care about women’s equality, we need to say we care about all women’s equality, and that means addressing the different ways different sections of our gender are oppressed. This is called intersectionality. It’s about “thinking about identity and its relationship to power.”
If the word ‘power’ stops you in your tracks and your knee-jerk reaction is I don’t have any power, read this.
For years, white women have excluded Black women from the “feminist agenda”. If we want equal pay, equal representation, equal healthcare, equal autonomy over own bodies, then we must want it for every woman.
And to do so, we must learn what the unique challenges are for women who do not look like us. What is the national average pay rate for a woman of color compared to white women? What is the maternal mortality rate for women of color compared to white women? What are the college enrollment rates? What are the business ownership rates?
If I want these things for me and mine, then I damn well better want them for you and yours, and that means I will fight against everything stopping it for you as hard as I will for myself.
White women, we can no longer live our American Women lives in a racial vacuum. We cannot keep pretending we are the only ones with vaginas and the first people to feel threatened or scared or anxious simply because we’re women.
It is time we wake up. If we want anything in this country to change, if we want anything different for our lives and our kids’ lives, then we need to start acting. It is simply not enough to say we don’t know what to do or where to go. It is not enough to say we’re not racist.
Not doing something is doing something. And ladies, we’ve been doing a whole hell of a lot that has left our sisters of color chained to the very things we are fighting for our own daughters not to experience.
The goal of the devil or the patriarchy or evil or some men in some offices is to keep us in a vacuum. To keep us in our own circles, banging our own drums as loud as we can, unintentionally unaware of how our drum is interrupting and covering our sisters’ bullhorn.
In 2018, with the Internet and access to information and the ability to gather, saying I don’t know doesn’t cut anymore. I mean, it never did, but it certainly doesn’t anymore.
I know it sounds harsh and feels big and maybe scary and probably offensive because you’re not a racist. But we won’t die.
For those of us who say we love Jesus, none of this is an option. Like, at all.
I am not perfect. We don’t have a “ton of Black friends!”. The majority of everything I/we do is heavily white-influenced/populated/created/owned/favoring (where we shop, our jobs, where we live, our clinics, what we read, music we listen to, podcasts we listen to, church, mentors, hobbies). I have racist (and sexist) tendencies. I have a ton of (gender and racial) bias. My worldview is very white and very male. My religion is very white and very male.
But we are aware of this and actively trying to change. Daily. It looks like the shows we let the boys watch and the books we read to them. It looks as simple as following different people on Instagram and as complicated as choosing to stay or leave Thailand and where to send the boys to school. It’s not calling God a ‘He’ and listening to Black teachers explain why racial bias makes it a scary concept for teachers to carry guns. It’s layered and dynamic and intersectional.
So, white women, time’s up. It is on us to start using our vast privilege to actually dismantle broken systems and birth new, whole and united ones. Saying we care means nothing. We need to act. We need to learn, to ask, to get really uncomfortable, to vote, to link arms with women who have been in this fight far longer than we have and serve them. We need to put on our shoes and follow the ones who have doing this work for a long, long time.
Things, our country, will surely change. We are women. We are created to grow life and birth new things. God makes Theirself so evident in us- how we love and nurture and fight and protect and rally. So let’s do that. Let’s throw our influence and race and weight into a united fight. Together.
Resources: clicking the things linked above will lead you to lots of good stuff. The list below is super helpful as well.
Resources from Glennon’s Video
MTV Decoded has tons of honest and easy-to-digest information
Be the Bridge– such a great group full of information and resources
Dr. Brenda Salter Mc Neil– one of the kindest women I’ve ever heard teach. Her books are powerful.
Black Owned Chicago– a helpful compilation of Black-owned businesses around Chicagoland
Great books for kids, to help them see people that aren’t able-bodied and white: