To My White Sisters…
In the wake of a tumultuous weekend, it’s no surprise to me that some folks are having a hard time reconciling their feelings about the Women’s Marches that happened all over the nation. It’s a fact that this is one of the largest social actions in American history and that more women participated in this event than any other social action on record. That said…
Just Because You’re Women Doesn’t Make You The Same
Over the past week there’s been many notable articles written by women outlining why they felt this march didn’t inspire them because, while they’re women, they’re also at the intersection of other vulnerable communities. The most prevalent have been Black Women asking White Women where they’ve been all these years. There’s also been Native Women and members of the LGBTQ community that have been asking “Cis-Gender” White Women where they’ve been too.
This Started a Long Time Ago
This isn’t anything new. When women won the right to vote… that didn’t include women of color at all. Imagine being a woman and having the nation and its White Women celebrating the right to vote and being a Black Woman who still didn’t have that right. This is one small sample of why we’re seeing this divide among women and it has never been more hotly debated and publicly discussed as it has been in the past week.
“They Should Stop Being Negative” Sounds a Lot Like “They Should Be Grateful”
As I watch these conversations unfold I’m not surprised how offended White Women get when these things are pointed out to them. Being a Cis-Gender White Man really does provide some perspective here too. I know how it feels to do or say something that you think is helping only to find out that the folks you’re trying to support have chosen to reject you in some way. Here’s the thing… you really have no idea what being a Woman of Color is like. You also have no idea what being a refugee is like… or a Woman with non-conforming sexual and gender identities. To imagine that you do would be an insult to them.
Remember that when you’re feeling insulted. Not talking to women as if you know what they SHOULD be doing or feeling is the whole point isn’t it? I know it’s subtle… but it’s responsible to notice how much you sound like your own oppressors when you say these things to these women. You wouldn’t stand for a man to tell you how you SHOULD be feeling or what you SHOULD be satisfied with would you? I imagine having a man say this may be one of those moments… but I’ll take it! And here’s why…
At Least Admit to Reality if You Want Acceptance
In all the conversations I’ve experienced White Women having I’ve read and heard whole lot about what “Right” is and what’s not. Things like, “We’re all women. It isn’t right for us to be arguing about which kind of woman we are” and “We shouldn’t be divided. We should stand together” but what’s often missed is the fact that White Women, in this large a number on this scale and this publicly, have never gathered specifically to help Women of Color. Ever. Not Once.
Imagine that you were one of these Women of Color and you had been to 5 Black Lives Matter rallies and never seen more than a small handful of White Women. Then suddenly a huge number of White Women are saying to you, “Hey, we should be standing together not divided.” Now tell me why they don’t have a “right” to make sure you see the imbalance.
Honestly, just imagine you were a Native Woman and had been organizing for MONTHS to support and take action to protect the water in North Dakota and have encounter no more than a token sampling of White Women in that effort. Then imagine White Women coming out of every direction to lecture you on unity and strength in numbers. Tell me why they shouldn’t be upset that you’re sisters when it suits you and just someone who doesn’t “get it” when you point out these FACTS. These are facts. And not alternative ones either.
Never have you organized the way you just did… in order to help these Women of Color rise alongside you in every way that your rights are greater than theirs. I think it’s fair for them to be upset.
Are You Doing It to Gain Favor or Because It’s Right?
When you decided to participate in this march, or support it in whatever way you chose to, why did you do it? I know it HURTS when people you feel connected to reject your kinship. Again, as a White Man who is considered Cis-Gender, I am constantly trying to help and constantly being lashed out at for doing it wrong, not doing it enough or waiting too long to join in. But you know what? That’s OK.
It’s OK because frankly, I know it isn’t personal to me. Racism, Sexism, Homophobia, Xenophobia and the like are so much larger than me it’s silly to think it’s about me. In addition, I’m not doing it so they’ll like me. Sure, it would be nice to link arms and sing freedom songs and do all the things I envision us doing together to celebrate our kinship as human beings but if that never happens that has no effect on how I will continue to work for their cause. That’s because their cause is my cause, not them.
I don’t strive for equality so they’ll stop seeing me as part of the problem. I don’t work for the rights of others so they’ll respect me more. I definitely don’t do it so they’ll invite me to their family gatherings or sit and have my hair tightly braided into cornrows while we laugh about those “other” white people. I stand for them and, when they let me, I stand with them… because it’s the right thing to do.
The Outcome is Greater than My Petty Discomforts
Truly, I’m speaking to all white people. I’m grateful to have the women’s march as a backdrop to these ideas because, as per the usual, women have created the opportunity to have the difficult conversations that men have been avoiding. That said, equality is about ensuring that I’ve done all I can do, when I could do it, to bring it into the world in more and more ways. Even as I write this article I sense that some White Women and Women of Color may have… feedback, regarding a White Man poking his nose into this particular conversation. I’m not doing it to gain their favor, or yours. I’m doing it to press the issue and advance the conversation because I feel like that’s a worthwhile thing to do even if the messenger isn’t ideal or the message is missing some perspective. If there is more perspective for me to gain… I welcome it. Even if it’s wrapped in anger, fear, sarcasm or insults.
Surely many of my contemporaries have every right to be angry about how much simpler my life is because of the color of my skin. My hope is that one day the children will grow to be adults that are not burdened by a society that withholds their rights. I choose to act for equality rather than the need to be seen by People of Color as NOT the thing they hate. Some of them will hate me for the color of my skin forever and frankly, I can’t blame them. I would rather have them hate me for something I have no control over than hate me because I feel the need to tell People of Color they’re doing it wrong or should be doing it differently. Because it’s not me they hate… it’s the system I benefit from.
So, to my White Sisters, keep your chin up and maybe consider keeping your feelings to yourself for a little while. Not because your feelings have no value, but because the best way to get what you really want can’t be argued for, fought for or demanded. What you seek, the acceptance you desire, comes from hard work; difficult, challenging and yes, sometimes painful work. Let your work be the thing that reassures you, not the comfort of being praised and accepted for doing what’s right to do in the first place.