White Women Can: Why It's Our Job to End Racism
3 reasons it’s up to us.
3 things it will take to be effective.
I wouldn’t be in anti-racism work if it wasn’t for two things: Jesus, and patriarchy.
Now, before you go off thinking, “Oh, here we go with the Jesus talk,” let me be clear: I’m not here to evangelize you. I’m the crappiest Christian I know, and certainly no example. It’s just that I’ve studied the Bible a lot, and I’ve really taken a good hard look at Jesus, and I fell in love with him. And when I fell in love with him, it wasn’t because he thought I was doormat, subservient, or somehow less than. No. Instead, he took my hand, pulled me up, and said, “Hitch up your grown up panties, girlfriend. We’re going for a ride.”
He never promised that ride would safe or easy or even fun. In fact, if I do it right, it probably means giving up everything. Like I said, I’m a pretty sucky Christian, because I still don’t like that idea. I work on that on the daily.
But when I read the Bible, and when I watch Jesus, I realize that he doesn’t believe there’s a single person on this earth who doesn’t matter, who isn’t absolutely invaluable, and he gets downright pissed off when someone here on earth tries to convince him otherwise, whether in word or deed.
So patriarchy is a thing.
And it’s a thing that is insidious and creepy, and it’s affected my life — all my life — on so many levels. From my own body image, which never seemed to quite measure up to the fluctuating standards of the day, to my interpersonal relationships and the power-plays within them, to how much money I could make and how healthy or hostile the environment I was in was when I made it. It includes the way I was silenced in meetings around conference tables, in how I’ve never been asked to speak in church until recently (I now have a woman pastor), to my self-agency over my own body. It includes whether my feelings and opinions were taken seriously or written off as “hysterical” or “overly aggressive.” My internalized patriarchy interacts with the external patriarchal forces to create a whirlwind of images, belief systems, and behavior patterns of which I’m only sometimes aware. It’s exhausting, trying to walk through the world as a woman, just protecting my ass from getting pinched much less all the other abuses on my body and psyche.
And my skin color doesn’t do anything to make any of this worse. In fact, it works to my advantage.
I know that as a white woman, while I will still struggle to believed, for example, if I report a sexual assault (because, you know, vaginas are so untrustworthy) I will be believed more quickly than if I were a woman of color. Because racism.
Racism is a thing, too.
BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) women deal with all the same kind of sexist shit that white women do, but they have the added trauma of dealing with racist perceptions as well. As a middle-class white woman, I have a certain amount of power that I can use to fight the patriarchy effectively. It won’t be easy, it won’t be fun, but that power is there, and I can systematize it to become even more powerful using structures that support my whiteness. BIPOC women do not have this same privilege. There’s plenty of info out there about this, so I encourage you to go read it.
THE THING THAT’S MISSING FROM THE ANTI-RACISM MOVEMENT IS WHITE WOMEN
There are a number of amazing BIPOC women who are doing the hard, hard work of educating white women — myself included (it’s how I started doing this work). I have no desire to attempt to displace them. But I am also a firm believer that curing racism is white people’s work — we’ve laid the burden on BIPOC for far too long. So my desire is to come alongside these amazing women like Rachel Cargle, Layla F. Saad and others, pick up the backpack that’s rightfully mine, and start spreading the news. Here are a few reasons I believe that once white women begin to join the anti-racism movement en force, even more progress will be made toward ending racism.
When women come together, we are powerful. I’ve seen women band together and create absolutely amazing things. Whether it’s taking over the streets of Washington, DC for the Women’s March, or supervising the meal prep for a funeral, women make shit happen and we do it well.
We are influencers. And I’m not talking about the social media kind. I’m talking about influencers of hearts. Our children listen to us (even if we don’t think so). Our girlfriends listen to us. Our spouses/partners, co-workers, bosses, parents listen to us. They listen to us because we often speak with quiet action instead of words. When we do use words, there’s a certain strength to them. Even more importantly — these people watch us. They watch what we do, and what we don’t do.
We’ve done it before. It’s never been perfect. The suffrage movement was full of racism, for example. There was divisiveness in the Women’s March. But mountains still moved. They didn’t move far enough, and there’s still a lot of work to do. But we can do it.
In order for it to work, there are 3 important things that white women must do:
We must claim our own racism. The “not all white people” defense is simply in the way, and it doesn’t do us any good. We all need to acknowledge that through no choice of our own, we participate in and benefit from a racist society. Just like we probably have some internalized patriarchy (and if you’ve ever bemoaned the size of your breasts, belly, or booty, you do) we also have embedded beliefs about BIPOC that we wish weren’t there. We need to acknowledge that shit, notice it when it happens, and own up to it — even if it’s just in our private journals.
We must dance the paradox of our place. We absolutely must learn to discern the contextual reality of when it’s our turn to speak, and when it’s our turn to shut up. This is part of the work — knowing the difference between white ‘splaining and educating. Knowing how to lead and when to follow. Understanding the difference between real tears of mourning and grief for the evil of racism, and the white-centering tears of optics. Knowing when and where and with whom it’s okay to cry — and when it’s time to stop.
We must find our courage and practice it. It will take courage to stand in the fiery rage of BIPOC and not take it personally, to not tone police them and ask them to be gentle about their fury. It will take courage to own up to our privilege. It will take courage to stand up to our spouses, our family at Thanksgiving, our racist neighbor or co-worker. It will take courage and stamina to continuously ask for more speakers of color at our conferences, to insist on more leaders of color in our politics. It will take courage to vote differently, to think differently, to be different.
But I’ve seen us do these things before. I know we can do them now.