White Women, You Need to Talk About Racism

An anti-Trump protest this weekend in New York City. Photo by Doug Turetsky (Creative Commons).

I am angry. I am tired. I am sad. But this is not really different from the state I am normally in.

Everyone keeps talking about how right now, we need to come together because everything is too divided. “That’s what the country needs: a sense of unity; a sense of inclusion; a respect for our institutions, our way of life, rule of law; and a respect for each other,” President Obama said at the White House after Donald Trump was elected. This is the exact same rhetoric that has been used to shut down people of color for the last few decades. This pursuit of “harmony” or “equality” erases the reason the divides exist in the first place. It overlooks the paths that led us to this place. Many people of color have always known that this idea of all people living together, hands held, smiling at each other, isn’t attainable. Because you cannot get to a place of unity, a place where everyone feels “the same,” until the real root of inequality is addressed. For too long, people—white folks in particular—have tried to gloss over the ugly, uncomfortable, disgusting truths that hang over their heads. They’ve allowed their white guilt to consume them, have allowed their white tears and fragility to drown out the voices of those who are truly hurting.

This isn’t to play down the pain that so many are feeling right now. That is valid, it is real. But it’s not a pain that resonates with people of color and queer folks. We were already existing in a continuous loop of pain and frustration. We were already on the defense, gasping for air. I am confused by those who said they didn’t vote for Trump, who consider themselves liberal, as progressive. As educated and aware. I’m even more confused by the response of white women specifically. White women who so often blame white men for any of the chaos existing in the world, yet never take responsibility for contributing to that racist world. Yes, America and the rest of the world don’t really care about women, but when women do get a platform, it’s usually white women speaking. Black women, brown women, and immigrant women are still overlooked by those shouting “FEMINISM! FEMALE IS THE FUTURE!” Too often in our society, white women have value while women of color do not.

On Tuesday, the numbers were very clear: White women showed up more for Trump than they did for Hillary Clinton. Yet, so many white women pointed fingers at everyone but themselves when Trump was elected president. When the conversation started to slowly turn to blaming white women, I watched my white friends break down. I watched them become fragile, and the white tears made many appearances. I watched them complain, and blame, and refuse to recognize that there needs to be a change to what we call feminism. It was peak white feminism, doing what it does best, looking out for the white female while stepping over and on top of women of color. I watched as my Black and brown friends spoke of their fears and talked about the abuse they were already experiencing, and white women were too busy crying to reach out and hold them up. In the same way that Black and brown women have continually done.
An anti-Trump protest in NYC this weekend. Photo by Mathais Wasik (Creative Commons).

So I’m done catering to the fragile white woman. To the ignorant comments: “We are all women, feminism is for all of us.” What are they playing at? It’s never been for all of us, no matter how hard women of color have tried to make it for them as well. They are still rejected from the narrative of womanhood. As a Black nonbinary person who is female bodied, I have raised two brown children in an America that has always been Trump America to me and my Black family. I’ve spent the last few years coming to terms with the fact that I have to fight for my space in this world. I do not get to hide behind pointing fingers at white men. I do not get to scream “Sexism!” to cover the fact that I contribute to racism. Black women do not get the luxury of still having white privilege, but having people make space for them because they are women. Often, requests for “diversity” are worded “Women and people of color.” This is exclusive to white women, keeping women of color from sharing space with men of color. After last week, we need to change that language.

I fear what white women will do while adjusting to this new America, the America that women of color have already known, have worked hard to be strong in. I wonder if they’ll repeat the same cycle as before. Using their gender when they see fit, but ultimately still choosing race over gender. I see them in the streets shouting about feminism, but where have they been when Black mothers were mourning the murders of their sons? Where were these feminists when mothers at Standing Rock were attacked with children in hand? Where are these feminists when immigrant mothers are threatened to be sent back to their countries? Why doesn’t their feminism extend that far? Is it because even fighting for equality comes with access and privilege? I suppose I should be happy that so many bubbles have been burst for white women, but I’m skeptical. In a month, will they still be taking to the streets and accompanying us? Will they still be organizing and demanding change? Will they finally have understood why their white feminism is dangerous and harmful to other women?

I had a conversation with many white women this week who attacked many organizers of color, activists who eat, live, and breath fighting for space in this white America, simply because they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Clinton nor Trump. Yet, it was people of color who showed up for Clinton, the candidate they had promised was here for us. They blamed women who have laid their bodies and lives down for their children. Women who, like me, do not have the comfort of whiteness to fall back into. I agree that white men hold a certain privilege that none of us will be able to experience—let’s always continue to dismantle that—but let’s also be real with ourselves. White feminism, white women who believe themselves to be just and “well-meaning,” are also contributing to white supremacy. By ignoring this, by not calling out white women, we are encouraging a cycle that will come to a head if it hasn’t already. Tuesday was a perfect example of how white women have coasted. The white woman is coddled, is praised for speaking up for herself, and is given space to be a feminist. That space and that voice, however, is not inclusive to those who have different pigments. And still the white woman would deny that she is racist. How could she be if she’s fighting for feminism, if she’s trying to destroy the white man, if she is being good? The spaces she fills, though, are often filled with other white bodies and have little regard to the plight of women of color. Enough is enough.

It is time for white women to take responsibility for having a hand in where our country has ended up. We, all of us, can do better. No one is going to get a pass in this situation. The America we are now experiencing was created by those who have privilege, have the comfort of moving through the world relatively safely. It’s time to get uncomfortable, though. It is time to practice those speeches of equality and justice. It’s time to go beyond “well-meaning,” beyond charging crystals and pulling tarot cards. It is time to speak up, own up, and actually act out what feminism supposedly means. For too long, the emotional labor that comes with talking about race has been put on people of color. It can no longer be this way. This past week has shown us that the idea we’ve held of what a racist person looks like, poor, uneducated, and unaware, isn’t actually the right profile. It is the middle class, college-educated, and “progressive” person who is more concerned with clinging to their privilege at the expense of hurting those who do not look like them. It is up to white Americans, in particular white women, to step into the gap. To change the conversation about gender, to include the conversation about race, about class. This is no longer about diversity. It’s about being inclusive.
Oops, there it goes
by Margaret Jacobsen
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Born and raised in L.A., California, writing has been my passion since I picked up a pencil for the first time. Now residing in Portland, Oregon, writing has become my tool for talking about the things most important to me: gender, race, parenting, and relationships. 

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10 Comments Have Been Posted

Zero Comments???

I went back up to see when this article was posted. Thought it had to be just in the past few minutes. Yeah, ~7hrs isn't that long but 7hrs of SILENCE is. I'd been reading posts on Pantsuit Nation with a feeling of disconnect until a post asking if anyone wanted to join a march in Harrison, Arkansas from one racist billboard to another one (I mean even the name of the blog left me feeling... exclusionary rather than in solidarity). And a post noting many comments touting Christianity, wondering if there were any atheists like her out there. And the one linking readers to this article. These voices jumped out to me as change makers. Thank you Margaret Jacobsen for calling me out. Thank you for calling for change in how I think, feel, & act. I'll follow up on the comments to this article and to the woman who linked this from Pantsuit Nation. I'm not much of a post-er, but I am one to take action and I think much can come of your call.

Encouraging diversity in activism and feminism

I work in a feminist bookstore in Lower Manhattan that promotes diversity for all groups, and am currently working on a zine that addresses the importance of multicultural feminism, so this article truly inspired me and spoke to me. Thank you very much!

Thank you

What a lovely thing to find in my email today, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You said everything I have wanted to say and express, you said it beautifully. I and my black family live the truths you say in your article I have a daughter and this was her first time voting this year so it was great and sad all at the same time but she is very aware of the way the world works and who is privilaged and who is not, I have a niece that is 10 years old and her fears are real and relevent so are those of her brown friends at school, they refuse to say Trumps name and these are 10 year olds. My best friend is a white woman we have been friends since middle school, we never talked about politics,I think because up until a few years ago I thought she was a Dem lol, and I have to say I was in total shock to find out she was a Rep, her and her family. I don't think she feels she is part of that privilage but she is and seems to not care and feel I am just overreacting and I can't say how much that hurts and for me it has put a rift between us. I don't know if she will ever choose to see things the way they are but it is a hope of mine that she does. Again thank you so much for this article.

Thank you!

I am super thankful that Bitch magazine exists. As a queer-identified feminist who works for a radical nonprofit bookstore in New York, I find that this is a very important outlet to both learn more about and learn from women like myself. I took women's studies classes while in college, and reading the various articles in Bitch helps me to feel as though these beliefs I was taught during those lessons are universal. My thanks to everyone at Bitch.

Thank you

I'm just seeing this article and want to thank you for writing it. I grew up in a conservative, white household. I see the last few years of my life as my awakening into my progressive and feminist values. This election has been the first time I've really been outspoken on calling out racism and bigotry, and the uproar I've received of both positive and negative feedback has been jolting and sometimes jarring. I am humbled by those who have lived a lifetime of this and am ashamed for never speaking out sooner. I'm thankful to Bitch for providing an educational experience to always improve myself and become more aware of the struggles of fellow women of all backgrounds.

I know more now than I knew

I know more now than I knew before. Thank you. I am standing with you. I am fighting with you.

White feminism

I am a white feminist and I greatly appreciate your article. I'm learning, little by little.

Feminism and racism

I read this article on another page, find it thought provoking, real, and not knowing what to do about it, feel at least I can thank Margaret Jacobsen for writing this, and sign up to hear from this site. Am sure I will learn as a result. I hear the anger, Margaret, and know that you are right in what you have written. We all have a lot to learn.

White Women, You Need to Start Talking About Rascism

Thank you for this thought provoking article. As a white femme identified queer woman I realize the truth in your words. So my question is where and how do I start this conversation? How can I be tactful and still make my point. I would really appreciate any suggestions you have.

I completely agree that us

I completely agree that us white women need to speak the fuck up and acknowledge the racism and segregation that exist in feminist culture. I also believe its really important to acknowledge that oppressors use segregation as a tool to control people. Throughout history we have not been given opportunities to congregate in neighborhoods, schools, work environments, the art world- anywhere... We have intentionally been kept apart from one another so that we can't band together as women. We've faced not only racial segregation as a culture, but, as women, we have an added layer of gender segregation within our racist culture. Men don't want us teaming up together because they know how powerful we are. We could wipe out their entire gender in a couple of generations if we wanted to. Men know this and it's one of the reason they don't want us fraternizing. We actively need to create more venues in which to work and socialize where we can share ideas and opportunity. This is a lot easier in giant melting pots like NYC or LA but how do we do this is Kabul, or even in Portland, Oregon for that matter?

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