The Only Way Forward
Twenty-two years ago this April I attended the Rally for Women’s Lives here in Washington, D.C. Two of my daughters accompanied me on that chilly, expectant spring day; they were just children then. I was a single mother of four, putting myself through college on Pell grants and academic merit scholarships, living in abject poverty, fresh from a long-term stint as the recipient of welfare and domestic violence. I remember what a strain it was to afford Metro fare for the three of us to come downtown that day and how we had to split a single drink and purchased snack because I’d already splurged on a bumper sticker (“You Can’t Beat a Woman”) and had to be sure enough change remained for the return trip home. I remember how thrilling it was to gather with like-minded women who had overcome what I was in the process of overcoming. I remember the pride of introducing my daughters to a movement and possibility and realization where they would KNOW what they’d never have to put up with as they chanted with their Mama and 250,000 other women “We won’t go back!”
And we haven’t. I’ve moved fast-forward and they’ve surpassed and cycles have been and are continuing to be broken. Twenty-two years produced an advanced degree, a roof overhead that I own, a body of work that fuels me, and a confidence hard earned. It’s been many moons since it was a toss up between utilities and food on the table. A man hasn’t raised his hand to me in over two decades (goddess help the one who might think of trying). Multi-shaded granddaughters have been born. The past is the past by so many objective measures.
And yet. Last month millions of women stood together all over the globe — hundreds of thousands in the exact same spot where I stood over two decades ago — bearing signs and sharing outrage over the SAME needs: Inequality in pay; discrimination as POC, gender, or sexual persuasion; fear of losing their heath care and reproductive rights; poverty; abuse; and continued across-the-board multiple forms of marginalization. You see, while many of us have scratched our way out of our own shit holes of origin, as a collective we are still abjectly oppressed. And in the midst of this our sisterhood is and remains fractured. White privilege, elitism, classism, homophobia, racism, misogyny, ageism, ignorance, competition, heads in the sand, shame-on-you-instead-of-me myopia — all the things men have perpetrated against women, women perpetrate, and then some, against their sisters.
Twenty-two years ago I wasn’t aware of my white privilege — I was just trying to keep my myself and my babies alive. But I damn sure am aware of it now. I deeply feel it for and with my sisters of color. Because I have been objectified and abused and marginalized and discriminated against and undermined for a lot of the above; but not even close to all of it. Because I was an abused WHITE woman. Because I was an objectified WHITE woman. Because I was an impoverished WHITE woman. Because, as a WHITE woman, I could presume my situation was surmountable. Because, not once throughout those painful years, did I believe my plight was fundamentally about me. And because of this, and knowing what it took for me to rise up from the violence, poverty, and misogyny as a white woman, I cannot begin to wrap my brain around what it must take for a black or brown woman to get up every morning knowing that, no matter how far she’s climbed, no matter what beauty floods her heart, mistreatment and misunderstanding are waiting at every turn, at any point. From men AND women.
This is what the Women’s March was about for me, sisters and brothers — an opportunity to use my white privilege to call itself out. To front and center the white elephant in the room. To stand in solidarity and service with and for my black and brown sisters, many of whom have felt, at best, like back-up in the feminist choir. No, “I won’t go back”. I’ve already proven that to be true. But from where I’ve come from, what I lived then and what I know now, I absolutely cannot — WILL NOT — go forward without them.