Race, trust and friendship: Dear White Women
I was raised in predominantly white spaces. I had a friend growing up whose family was from India, there was one black girl in my class — probably one in every grade — and there was a contingent of kids from the middle east (I never quite bothered to learn where). I made my first black friend my senior year of high school, had a few black friends in college, and more or less that has been about it. My life has been really, really white.
Over the past few years, through the anti-racism work I do and the crowds through which I float, I have had the privilege of making more friends of color than I have ever had before. And yet, with many of these friendships, there has been a barrier through which I could not pass, a closeness I could not quite reach. It hurt. I was offended. Didn’t they know I cared for them? As I brought my full self into relationship and they held back, I kept wondering what I was doing wrong, analyzing everything I said to see if there had been some offense. Like a lot of white women, I thought my official WOKE AF card entitled me to trust. Entitled me to friendship. I thought because of my work I had earned it.
And yet, the barrier remained.
What I eventually discovered was a tough pill to swallow: The barrier was my whiteness.
My whiteness was (is) a barrier because of the way we (white women) all act when we are around womxn of color*. It was the result of all of the white women who had seemed cool but then said something ignorant and, after being told their comment was hurtful, made the whole conversation about them: their pain, their tears, the impossible pain of being called racist. All of the white women who tried to leave the burden of their own racism and white guilt on the shoulders of these dynamic (mostly) womxn of color. All of the white women who looked at womxn of color as something exotic to have around or some kind of get-out-of-appearing-racist-free card (this card does not exist please stop trying it). All of the white women who wanted to use their friends of color as their own personal racial theory textbook, to mine the stories of women of color and use them as salve for their wounds (or re-tell them just to seem woke or get some kind of attachment sympathy).
For the most part, my friends have not told me their stories of white women betrayal. The retelling hurts, and asking is just asking to open a wound. Some have told me, with deep pain (or fiery anger or a mix of both) in their eyes, they have a hard time trusting white women. I hear it in the asides, the small comments made about how whiteness and living in white spaces impacts their daily lives. Most of all, I see it in the way white women interact with womxn of color online and IRL.
I see the white woman looking to a friend (and sometimes an acquaintance or a stranger on the internet) to absolve their white guilt, even after being told to cut it out. The white woman getting offended when it is explained — repeatedly — that it is NOT the job of people of color in general and women of color in particular to explain themselves, that we are not owed their time or their stories. The white women getting pissed off when they realize that there is not some sisterhood that joins all womxn together by virtue of our calling ourselves womxn that entitles us to the stories, the pain, the very lives of women of color. Because ultimately, my fellow white women, this is what we are asking for.
If you are walking a long road, carrying your day pack alongside someone carrying an 80lb pack on their back, someone who has been on this path much longer than you and is clearly exhausted, likely injured, feet covered with blisters, do you tell them you are tired and ask if they can carry your pack too?
We are not trustworthy because we have done nothing to earn trust. On a large scale, we consistently put the needs of white women (straight, cis, white women) above the needs of all womxn. We lift up the voices of white women. We look to womxn of color in general, and black womxn in particular, to save us without lifting a finger on our own — then we get mad as hell when someone calls us out for it.
I have seen white women lose their shit over being asked to *consider* not wearing a pussy hat because a) not all pussies are pink and b) not all womxn have pussies. I once watched as a woman actually argued that it was patriarchal oppression to simply ask her to consider other womxn’s feelings. I have seen over and over again white women taking their ball and going home when a woman of color refuses to be her own personal racial deconstruction Google. There are a million ways we manage to not listen to womxn of color, and every time it happens, that’s one more reason to not trust us.
When womxn of color tell us to go learn on our own, to go ask our white siblings, to read a book; when they tell us that they are not laborers in our fields, sewing and reaping for our benefit, we become livid. When we don’t get what we want from women of color, we retreat to our bunker of privilege, huffing and puffing about how we’ll never get anywhere if womxn of color won’t rip open their wounds and bleed for us.
White women: Keep in mind you are not the only person asking for this. Keep in mind that womxn of color have this request made of them hour after hour, day after day ON TOP of hearing about their hair or how well spoken they are or getting asked where they are from or told they are “exotic” or whatever white nonsense they have to deal with all. the. time. Keep in mind they they need time, energy — blood — for themselves, their families, their careers, their friends. They need their blood — the blood we keep asking for — so that they might live.
White women: Deconstructing our racism and privilege is not the job of the marginalized. By virtue of our position WE HAVE RESOURCES. Shit, we have the internet and the library. There are plenty of books and articles we can read, music and podcasts we can listen to, movies to watch, and talks to attend for us to deconstruct racism on our own. There are even groups of white people who get together around the country to deconstruct their racism and privilege and manage to do it without asking womxn/people of color to help.
IT IS NOT THE JOB OF WOMXN OF COLOR TO EDUCATE YOU. IT IS NOT THE JOB OF WOMXN OF COLOR TO DECOLONIZE YOUR MIND. IT IS NOT THE JOB OF WOMXN OF COLOR TO ABSOLVE YOU OF YOUR WHITE GUILT. IT IS NOT THE JOB OF WOMXN OF COLOR TO SAVE US FROM OURSELVES.
So long as we keep pulling this shit the barrier will remain. So long as we lean on womxn of color to be our teachers, our sassy black friend, our but-I’m not racist-card womxn of color will continue to keep us at arms length. So long as we ask womxn of color to bleed out on the altar of our insecurities and privilege, trust will be hard to come by.
As it should.
Especially as we have shown, time and time again, we are not willing to bleed for them.
*I know a lot of this happens to men of color as well, but I wanted to focus on the way white women treat womxn of color. I am intentionally using -en for white women to stress the lack of intersectionality in white feminism. If you are unfamiliar with womxn, use the google machine.