A Note To My Fellow White Women About The Barred Inauguration March

By Cayce D. Utley

To my fellow white women upset that the state may not give us permission to march during Inauguration the way we envisioned:

I love that you’re coming. I love that you’re mad enough about this horror show to show up, maybe for the first time. But let’s dive into our frustration about this . . .

First, let’s sit with what it means to ask permission from the state and actually feel disappointment at being told “no.” We’re hip-deep in privilege if we thought a large gathering of women (now helmed by women of color) would be able to dissent with state approval. Are we used to getting our way a little? You betcha. Now is a good time to look around and re-center women of color in our thinking. How does the state respond to them? What is our response to all THAT?

Second, our privilege is keeping us from recognizing what we’re up against in this administration. Do we not know what’s coming? Or at least what’s been promised? More money to police departments and detention centers that are killing and locking up black and brown people with impunity. Deportations. The return of Muslim registries. Transphobia, misogyny, and homophobia as policy. Increased surveillance, free speech squashed. Increased punishment for the poor and working classes. Corporatocracy on steroids. If we let this situation give us these feels, are we really ready to do what needs to be done in the coming days? White supremacy has conspired to weaken our resilience. This fight is going to be harder than this permit business. Let’s take a deep breath and strengthen our resolve. Forward, friends. Forward.

Third, some of us say permits “keep demonstrations peaceful,” aka keep participants from hurting each other. If we ask ourselves some hard questions, there could be deep stuff there about why we feel unsafe among people with whom we share a common goal. I’ve seen this anxiety in white folks starting to get active in the streets with black folks. Calls to “keep it peaceful” are often our attempts to control the emotions and actions of people of color. We want to be anti-racist in our marching, but we leave unexamined our fears about black folks. Or perhaps our fear is that in solidarity, we’ll get the same treatment as people of color and we are terrified to put our whiteness on the line. Let’s challenge this junk in ourselves and dismantle our internalized white supremacy.

Last, I want to talk about the way the state keeps us in check at times of gross injustice, because that’s really what we’re looking at here. It’s not about having a permit or being blocked from getting permits, but about how we NEED permission. Some of our feels about this permit situation point to our trust in state cooperation to be “peaceful.” I’ve seen this in civil disobedience actions where arrests are pre-coordinated with police. I get why folks do that. It’s understandable to fear the outcome of openly confronting the government. If we think about it a minute, we know what the state does and can do to people, so we submit to it, and we get out of the confrontation with the least possible penalty . . . because of privilege. Some of us are worried that marching without permission is too akin to the work of folks blocking streets, and we’ve convinced ourselves that when *we* fight, we do this the “right way.” Pbbbbbllllttttt. Baloney. If you’re out to get the respect of these terrible systems, re-evaluate your goals. That’s one way the government controls our dissent.

Another way the government controls our dissent is through our misplaced faith in the justness of our systems of protection. Do we think our safety depends on the “law and order” of a white supremacist, patriarchal state? If so, we need to rethink that immediately. The systems of [in]justice we relied on to keep us safe have failed us. The men who rape us aren’t in jail. Statistics prove that. Shoot, y’all, an assailant is assuming the presidency! The justice system doesn’t keep us safe, it oppresses already marginalized people and tells us white folks that we’re safer for it. Investigate how this works and divest. We cannot serve two masters. We can’t collude with and put our security in the incoming administration AND oppose it for making other folks unsafe. To do so ensures that oppression will continue.

One last thought: Many of us are more receptive to this kind of information when it comes from other white women, but we would balk at it coming from a black woman. Interrogate that. We shouldn’t demand black women to defer to our feelings, and we should never expect black women to educate us for free. Recently, two black women, Leslie Mac and Marissa Johnson, collaborated to create resources for white allies that will allow us to invest in black women organizing through a subscription service called Safety Pin Box. Look into it. Also, if you’re part of groups coming here, honor local organizing and find ways to support what people in DC are already doing by turning to this Guide to DC Organizing.

My white women, we need to know our collective power — and I don’t mean the power we get from whiteness. We don’t need the state’s permission to march. Get behind and learn from women of color who already know all this, and follow their lead. Most of us know diddly about fighting for liberation. The organizers I work with in DC have taught me these systems won’t give us an inch. We have to demand it, to take it. We have to identify the ways white supremacy has conditioned us to politely cooperate and unlearn that nonsense. Permits be damned. Let’s not get held up for a moment by white supremacy.

Y’all ready to shut it down? We can do this.

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A modified version of this story first appeared at Medium.

Lead image: flickr/Kevin Burkett

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