Dear White Women: This is not about us.
Note: For my response to the Huffington Post article regarding the Women’s March leadership, please click here.
There were still three states that were “too close to call,” and I could barely keep my eyes open. As I climbed under the covers, my head was reeling. We were so sure. A little over 24 hours earlier, I was standing in the sunshine in front of the Cathedral of Learning on the University of Pittsburgh campus, amid a mass of women watching the person who we all were certain would become our first female president approach the podium in her bright red pantsuit. Everything about that moment was perfect. It was a beautiful, unseasonably warm day, I was wearing my brand-new “Nasty Women Vote” button, and I was among “my people.”
The day after the election, many of us who had supported Hillary were looking for answers and solace. We found our way into social media groups where we consoled each other with words and more than a few memes. We knew that the next four years were going to be hard, but for many of us, our sadness turned into a determination to take a stand against Trump. We didn’t know if it was possible to change the election results, but if we couldn’t, we would sure as hell let the new administration know we were watching.
That was when I saw that a group of women were organizing a march in Washington, DC, and were looking for people in each state to serve as “admins,” or organizers, within their state. I didn’t think twice about it, and put my name in for Pennsylvania. Shortly afterward, I was added to an “admin” group and given the go-ahead to create an event page for my state. And so the “Million Women March in DC- Pennsylvania Chapter” began.
The event became more popular than I ever imagined. And as it gained momentum, criticism of the March began to stream in through posts on the Facebook event page. But the criticism initially didn’t come from Trump supporters. It came from Black women. After reading the first critical post, which referred to the name of the March as “racist and erasure,” I was angry. Racist? I’m not a racist. Of course I’m not a racist.
A few years ago, I would have gotten angry, gotten over it, and blew it off as another “angry Black woman” who was just… angry. I would have sifted through the possible scenarios that would have made her angry. Jealousy? General hatred for white people? In all these scenarios, I did nothing wrong.
I had embraced my “basic-ness” in all its pumpkin-spice-flavored obliviousness. I wasn’t sure why, but I knew I had to really think now, and stop making excuses for myself. Why would I react with such defensiveness at being called a racist? Where was the defensiveness rooted? Anyone who has ever read a self-help book in their life knows that emotions like this are rooted in fear. So what was I afraid of? It took less than a minute to realize where my fear really came from. I was afraid that she was right.
Many people like me think that racism has to come cloaked in a white hood and carrying a confederate flag. It was a hard pill to swallow, realizing that I was a racist when I had done “nothing.” Indeed, doing nothing was precisely what made me a racist.
Ideas like this tend to confound white people. We do not understand “White privilege” or “appropriation” no matter how it is explained to us. I know I didn’t. We assume that our best intentions are good enough. We don’t want to dig deeper and recognize what needs to change on a much bigger scale. Our social activism is only stirred when it’s convenient for us. We love our lazy activism. We love our safety pins. We sit in the comfort of our homes and shake our heads in disgust as police brutalize and kill Black people. Good intentions. We post a few memes and our regrets on Facebook and call it a day. We leave it to Black people to fight their own battles.
But eventually something comes along that affects white women directly. Grabbing our pussies? Taking away our birth control? Overturning Roe v. Wade? Hell no. Black women, where are you? This affects you, too! Help us! We care about you! See all these memes we posted? All these safety pins we’re wearing? Our good intentions?
Our “support” means very little from behind a computer. “Good intentions” are not good enough. If we refuse to leave our comfort zones, to explore the thing within us that is unsavory in its laziness and complicity, how are we really to achieve the “unity” that we espouse with such passion when it is only convenient for us? If we don’t challenge the structures of oppression and question how we are serving to sustain them, we cannot demand that those who are oppressed stand shoulder to shoulder with us in our own efforts.
The name of the “Million Woman March” was changed to “Women’s March on Washington.” Many of those working as organizers in the March assumed that this would be enough to appease those who were upset with the name appropriation from the 1997 Million Woman March that was organized and led by Black women. But the national organizers of the March remained silent on the decision process that resulted in the new name. More outcry came with the new name, and justifiably so, because it appropriates Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington.
Along with the silence and confusion regarding the naming process, the national organizers have actively silenced the voices of those expressing criticism of the March. There is a continued effort to delete or reject all posts of people concerned with these issues. Statements issued by the national organizers on the issue of inclusion smack of “we hear you [but we’re not listening to you].” Plans are to move all organizing to a central website off of Facebook so it will be easier to “maintain.”
The acute lack of transparency in the March organization speaks volumes to an unfortunate reality: white activism continues to be lazy activism. I believe that there exists, and will continue to exist, a phenomenal opportunity for white feminists to do some serious self-reflection and soul-searching to understand that this is not about us. It is a hard, ugly realization for many of us. We will have to make ourselves vulnerable and admit that we have been wrong. But the sooner we begin to recognize it, the better.
We cannot call ourselves “grassroots” and wield that excuse as a shield that allows us to deny the grassroots struggles of Black women for decades, and the voices of the contemporary Black liberation movement. The demands of Black women aren’t “radical.” We need to stop calling it that. Until we understand our role in systemic oppression, our efforts to be “inclusive” will be nothing but lip service. We have to move from “it’s not my fault” to “what can I do?”
The organizers at the Women’s March on Washington have a massive audience that is growing by the thousands each day. What will this organization do when all eyes are on them? Will they continue to tread the well-worn path of white feminism to the exclusion of others? The nation will certainly be watching.