White women, we need to have a chat.

I know the topics I’m going to discuss will stir up all kinds of emotion, and due to the title, not a lot of people who need to read this will. Self-reflection is scary. And as a white woman, I realize what I say may be wrong or misinformed in some way, and I’m open to learning if I do misspeak. I’m also aware that most white women don’t listen to black and brown women, so here’s my attempt to reach out to my people to get their attention. None of what you’re about to read is intended to demean anyone based on race, gender identity, biological sex, or religion. This is a complex conversation that I won’t remotely be able to unpack completely, but please, stick with me and take what I’m saying to heart — it’s coming from a place of understanding and empathy and from a person who wants the women of this country to be better equipped and empowered to enact positive change.

White women are turning out in record numbers to the polls, but they (we) seem to be voting for racists, misogynists, corrupt career politicians, and rape apologists. Gather ‘round. Let’s unpack a little of this.

Dirty Words

There are words that automatically cause people to form opinions and raise their hackles. Because I’ll be using these words or discussing issues directly related to these terms, I wanted to define them before I continue.

Feminism. The negative connotations of this word are endless. It’s also a movement that continues to change as society changes; it’s fluid. Feminism is simply the belief that society should be equal across gender identity and biological sex. Feminists aren’t man-hating women who believe women are superior to men. Feminists are people of any gender who want to see women treated equally with men. What many groups don’t seem to grasp is that the goals of feminism include issues like men having unbiased court proceedings in custody cases, access to domestic violence assistance, and the ability to express themselves in ways that have been determined to be “too feminine” for a “real man”. We love men. [Hashtag NotAllMen.] We want society to be kinder to men and treat women with the same level of respect men have. [Also, transwomen are women.]

Privilege. This term relates to the inherent privilege you have in society due to the social norms or structures that dictate how we view and therefore treat others in our communities. White people have privilege for simply being white, but economics also plays a big role. I bet a white person from Massachusetts will be viewed as “better” by society at a glance than a white person from West Virginia. Light-skinned people of color have privilege over their darker skinned brethren. Men are treated with more respect than women. White women are given more voice than women of color. If your name is not Anglicized, you’re fat, you’re from a certain area or economic background, your skin is not the “right” shade, or your sexual or gender identity is considered taboo or even sinful, you’ll be viewed as lesser than someone who, by societal standards, is “better”. Wherever you’re viewed by society as “better” due to circumstances usually beyond your control, that’s your privilege. All of this is part of how our society functions and is not attacks on individual people.

Racism. This word, like the others, is frequently used incorrectly. There is no such thing as reverse-racism. A reporter asking the president if he feels his declaration of being a nationalist has fueled white nationalism is not a “racist” question. That is an ignorant and idiotic statement. Racism is discrimination, hateful actions, or prejudice against people of a particular race by people who believe their own race is superior. But why can’t white people in America be victims of racism? People who have been systemically oppressed (by things such as slavery, Jim Crow laws, genocide, being treated as subhuman, etc.) are the people who deal with racism. Oppressors are not victims of racism, full stop. Whether or not you yourself have ever treated anyone as if they were lesser, if you’re white, you’re part of the oppressing group. It doesn’t mean you’re a terrible human being, but because of our history, our society has ingrained in us as white people an unconscious prejudice against others.

But our generations, we’re the good guys, right? My family never owned slaves. My family came here legally. That was so long ago. Was it though? It sure wasn’t. When we think about the racist history of our country, we’re taught it was such a long time ago and America is now post-racial. That’s…not remotely true on either count. Our history and what we’re taught is absurdly lacking in depth and truth, but that’s a subject for another day. It shouldn’t be jarring to realize the woman who was famously the first black girl to go to an integrated school, Ruby Bridges, is only 64 years old. She’s not even old enough to be my grandmother, and I have a teenager. People with Asian ancestry couldn’t vote until 1952. We should realize our sordid history of racism wasn’t two hundred years ago; it’s still happening today. So when we say “Women got the right to vote in 1920” what we really mean is white women. Living in a racist society sets up generation after generation of minorities to have to fight for equality (hopefully with cis/straight/white allies who can kick down doors without being murdered) and generation after generation of white people who are taught to roll their eyes at yet another civil rights protest. “But America’s not as racist as it used to be!” Okay. Sure. But we also have a white male overseeing an election in which he is on the ballot who purged over 320,000 voters from the rolls in predominately black communities and had 700 voting machines still in their packaging in a warehouse while some polling places only had three machines for hundreds of voters or didn’t have electrical cords for their electronic voting machines. That’s in one state. Disenfranchisement of black voters is a serious issue that should have been dealt with prior to this election and is blatant proof of racist politically motivated actions still taking place in the year of our Lord two-thousand and eighteen.

What Can We Do?

First, we white women need to recognize our privilege. It’s uncomfortable to think about things like having privilege, internalized misogyny (“I’m not like other girls.”) or having subconscious racist thoughts (“What kind of name is Sheniqua? Mackaylyne! Get back over here!”), but we have to put that discomfort aside, accept it, and do better. You being uncomfortable confronting reality does not even come close to equaling the struggles women of color go through daily as they try to educate fellow women with different experiences — or just live.

[On the subject of education, it is not the duty of women of color to educate white women about things like the issues others outside their bubble are facing or why you don’t touch or even ask to touch someone else’s hair.]

It’s okay to be wrong. Don’t be reactionary to terms that make you uncomfortable or feel bad because of their negative connotations. We’re conditioned by our environments to think certain ways, and as a white woman who grew up in a conservative Republican household, I know how hard it is to come to terms on how you see the world and what you believe. Maybe the way you thought was wrong because it didn’t take into account experiences outside your own. That’s okay. It doesn’t make you a terrible person because you didn’t know better. The only way it would make you a terrible person would be if you knew you were wrong but decided to take the easy route and stay willfully ignorant. But I know you’re better than that. Educate yourself and make the decision to do better. Always be learning and listening.

We have to listen. Women of color have been and continue to be at the forefront of civil rights. Their personal experiences and those of the women who came before them give these activists and organizers insight into the issues plaguing our nation that the vast majority of white women simply do not have. We have to listen when they say something is wrong, whether it’s a politician that is corrupt and disrupting their community’s standard of living or white guys making up the majority of a diversity panel at a comic convention.

Stand Up For All Women

During the Women’s March, I wound up unfriending some people on Facebook (yes, because I’m an adult and can remove people I haven’t talked to in years from my life whose uninformed ideology degrades my existence, thank you very much) because their consistent internalized misogyny and hateful words for the women out there marching — not the men, the women. “You don’t march for me,” a person said. Yes, those people were marching for you, whether you realize it or not. The culture of American society and how women are treated is dominated by white patriarchy and white supremacy. I know those terms are scary. Patriarchy and white supremacy are two more terms we don’t like to hear. Unfortunately, it’s not just a talking point that these two social structures are intertwined. They very much are married together as power and hatred.

We’re socially groomed to support men, and that’s not solely reflective of white people. Dad always gets the big piece of chicken. Dad needs his beer. Dad needs his football. It’s okay that Mom is doing dishes and is having an existential crisis and is suicidal but she has to smile because Dad doesn’t like it when she’s sad. The way America views a nuclear family is detrimental to the physical and emotional health of everyone involved. The expectations of women to support their men and agree with every opinion that comes out of their mouth without challenge is stomached by a large subset of our nation’s populace. Even men who say they like women who have differing opinions and enjoy a little debate begin to become more belligerent when women are vocal about politics — especially identity politics.

It’s difficult for a straight white male to understand how politics can be so personal, but to a queer woman, our rights are on the line every election somewhere in this nation. An irritant to the conservative voter base, especially the white Christian conservative base, is how angry and vocal people get about civil liberties. Ah, privilege — when you don’t have to fight for your rights or genuinely fear they might be taken away. But as a woman, you’re viewed as lesser. A black queer woman has at least three identity markers to overcome to be seen as an equal citizen in America. This is wrong, and it’s also why the personal is political. Our rights are granted by our political institutions, and if you impede these rights simply because it doesn’t concern you or you disagree, how are you supporting your fellow citizens in gaining equality? You’re not. You’re directly affecting us. It makes it personal.

Vote With Empathy

I’ve seen too many Facebook posts and heard too many white women repeating the same few lines over and over again. It’s regurgitated patriarchal rhetoric that only serves to uphold the status quo. No change is necessary, because they see no change needed. We benefit from the system. If you aren’t personally affected by an issue, is it really an issue? Unfortunately for you, yes, it is. This is where an important human characteristic comes in — empathy.

Being unable to empathize with people causes you to be able to ignore the problems of others or even see them as not being human. And that’s where we’re having a huge disconnect. Conservatives who call themselves Christian are aligning themselves with authoritarian leaders pushing fascist ideology, which makes absolutely no sense. The fundamental beliefs of Christianity include loving your neighbor, saving the outside rows of your crop for foreigners and travelers passing through in need of food, flipping tables of those who would use the temple to make money. Instead, we have lowercase ‘c’ American-christians who hate their neighbors, applaud the government separating families and sending the military to the border to meet asylum seekers, and giving their money to Evangelical ministers to buy jets rather than helping the people in their own communities. Certainly capital ‘c’ Christians aren’t like this, but it seems they still vote in support of people who promote legislation and praise fellow politicians who vastly differ from their values. We need empathy. We need a strong moral compass coupled with an understanding of what individual liberties mean for the collective to create a true democracy.

White women — please vote. We’re a huge voting bloc, and we need you to help turn this ship around. I know it’s hard, but please do your research; if you see a questionable meme on Facebook, take a few seconds to see if it’s misleading, true, or completely false before you share it. Don’t vote for dead pimps. Don’t support politicians who are facing allegations for sexual assault or are under indictment. I know you have Netflix or have a friend or family member who will let you use theirs — watch Feminists: What Were They Thinking? and 13th. Pay attention. See if you can understand where people are coming from with different views than yours. Get your news from multiple sources.

Most importantly, find your empathy, your own voice, and your rationality. Educate yourself, ask questions, and listen to women of color. But don’t stop at listening; uplift the voices of those who need to be heard whenever possible; your tweet doesn’t always need a quote-comment. Talk to other white women who aren’t really politically engaged and explain to them why you’re involved. Be open to ideas you may have had preconceived notions about before. Do better.