Why the Women’s March made me think about racism.

And why fighting racism has to be at the heart of any women’s movement in 2017

Source: Wear Your Voice

Racism might seem a strange place to start in a post about a Women’s March, but I think it’s the place we have to start if we want to tackle the particular form of misogyny and sexism that many white women marched against this weekend.

No doubt my thinking on this was influenced by one of the rules in a book I was reading this weekend, in between joining the Women’s March here in Wellington and watching friends march all over the world.

The book is ‘Rules for Revolutionariesby Becky Bond and Zack Exley and it outlines what they learned as senior advisors to Bernie Sanders’ Presidential campaign. The rule in question says:

Fighting racism must be at the core of the message to everyone

I’ve been thinking a lot about race recently, and why it matters so much that we put fighting racism at the heart of all our efforts for social change.

I was thinking about it as I watched Trump use racism as a dog whistle to attract the attention of people who then showed up to vote for him because, in their words, he “says what nearly everybody thinks, but is too fearful or polite to say.”

I was thinking about it as I watched the Brexit campaign “embolden racists by leading them to believe that the majority agree with their views”.

I was thinking about it back in 2006 as I watched the National Party try to use racism to oust Labour over customary indigenous rights to the seabed and foreshore. And as, a decade later, racism still dominates public and private life in New Zealand (see here, here and here for some insights into that).

After watching all this, I’m convinced that whether your passion is education, preventing climate change, ending poverty, stopping war and genocide, or sexual violence — racism is at the heart of the challenge you are tackling.

Here’s how Ian Haney-López and Heather McGhee put it, writing about Sanders campaign: “[racism is] a political weapon wielded by elites against the 99 percent, nonwhite and white alike. … [i]n the post-war era, racism helped create the white middle class. Since the Reagan era, racism has helped destroy it.”

Or as Becky Bond put it: “Elites are now using racism and white supremacy to keep struggling whites in line with the elite, no matter that it is not in their economic interest.”

I would add that those same elites have used racism to keep white women with them, despite the sexist policies and sometimes blatant misogyny they promote.

I thought about racism yesterday as I saw photos from marches in the US in which police wore pink pussy hats and posed for photos with women marching. These photos were shared with delight, with a sense that ‘even the police are with us’ was something to celebrate. And it is.

Source: Alameda Patch

The police force has long been a source of gender-based discrimination, and even sexual violence — so having members of the police force show solidarity for women marching in opposition to those things is something to celebrate.

But there is a jarring contrast between those images and images we’ve all seen, over and over again, of police using violence against Black men and women marching, even standing still, at Black Lives Matter events. And with images of Native American water protectors at the Dakota Pipeline being arrested, tear gassed and hit with water cannons.

Source: Business Insider

Likewise, before we celebrate the fact that protest events dominated by white women proceeded without violent clashes with police, let’s stop to consider whether the only factor at play here is the behaviour of the protestors. As Eve Ewing wrote on Twitter: “Not getting arrested in a march doesn’t mean you’re better than anybody. The police state doesn’t deem you a threat.”

More tweets from Eve Ewing.

Every issue that matters to me in this country, and around the world, is connected to racism — both a distrust and fear of blackness/brownness and an assumption of white supremacy. This racism is used to maintain a status quo that benefits the elites to the detriment of people of all races, and to the detriment of the planet and all forms of life on it.

That’s why telling me that you don’t think Trump really believes everything he says does not reassure me. Because what he understands is that his racist comments keep struggling white people, and white women who have been taught to appease and align themselves with powerful white men, with him no matter how harmful his policies may be to those people.

Source: The Tempest

So although the reproductive and other rights of women are undoubtably at risk in the United States today, and I marched in Wellington at least partly in response to that threat, the issue that should be getting us all out on the street today and every day is racism.

The good news is that none of these things are separate. Fighting racism is essential to fighting the patriarchy. Standing for racial justice is integral to standing for economic fairness, and environmental protection. Ending racial discrimination is part of ending to poverty. We don’t have to pick one. We just have to make sure that we don’t leave out the one that really matters, especially if we are white.

So what do we do? In ‘Rules for Revolutionaries’, Becky Bond has an answer to that question:

  • We must all unite to defend black lives [and here in Aotearoa, that means brown lives too].
  • Build a movement with authentic leadership from working class people of colour and immigrants.
  • Hold our parties and government accountable to the majority of people — not corporations, not the 1 percents, and not even just demographics that have historically higher voter turnout.
  • White people have a special responsibility to ensure that white working and middle class voters choose multiracial solidarity as the only true path to addressing income inequality.

So this is my mission, our mission. At ActionStation we’re structuring our team, allocating our resources and planning our year based on these principles. If you want to get to work on making this happen in 2017, get in touch — we need all the help we can get.

[I have other thoughts on the Women’s March, which I’ll write more about in days to come. But this is where I needed to start]