On white womanhood: an apology

ivanka-trump

Guys. We need to talk about white womanhood.

Last week, Ivanka Trump endorsed her father for president, calling him “color-blind and gender-neutral“; a man who sees the potential in others and goes to bat for them. This is Donald Trump we are talking about—obviously this is not true. Taylor Swift trended on Twitter with #KimExposedTaylorParty, firing up the conversation about white feminism and the ways Taylor has used her white womanhood to paint herself as a “victim”. Melania Trump’s plagiarism of a speech originally from Michelle Obama pointed out the ways that white women have profited from the work of black women.

If it was easy to blame racism and bigotry on white men, it is much harder to do that now. White women have brought their fair share of turmoil to the black community. We just do it “nicely”, with soft voices and a smile on our faces.

It’s true, I am familiar with some systemic oppression. My keys have left marks on my fingers from gripping them too tightly as I walk through a parking lot. When I was 16, I was harrassed by two middle-school boys while my best friend and I were sitting on top of my car, watching the sunset. I am familiar with not being at the top of the food chain, but I’m pretty high up. To equal the plight of white women with the pain of black women would be a gross misrepresentation of history and the abuse and disregard for black women in our culture today.

Being a woman does not make me any less white.

White women have branded our own kind of poison: taking without thanking, climbing without helping others up, naming ourselves “victims” of the system without a glance behind us. Just oppressed enough to garner sympathy, but not low enough on the food chain to deserve it. Being a white woman means Gone With the Wind, “white girls sleep while black girls fan them with peacock feather fans“, racism. White woman racist means Taylor Swift garners sympathy while Leslie Jones is forced to leave Twitter. White woman racism is Ivanka Trump, with a pretty smile, going above and beyond to endorse her father when she was not obligated to.

But for many white women, our racism is in our silence rather than our voices.

In a journal from the U.S. Department of Education titled “When White Women Cry: How White Women’s Tears Oppress Women of Color“, Mamta Motwani Accapadi writes,

While White women have been depicted to be the foundation of purity, chastity, and virtue, Women of Color have historically been caricaturized by the negative stereotypes and the historical lower status position associated with their racial communities in American society. Additionally, as Palmer states, “the problem for White women is that their privilege is based on accepting the image of goodness, which is powerlessness”. This powerlessness informs the nature of White womanhood. Put in simple terms, male privilege positions the nature of womanhood, while White privilege through history positions a White woman’s reality as the universal norm of womanhood, leaving a woman of color defined by two layers of oppression.

It’s time for white women to celebrate and honor black women, who are some of America’s strongest culture builders, while white people borrow words from black culture like “woke” and “salty”. (White people do not have the right to label other white people as “woke”, but that’s a blog post for another day.) It’s time to honor the culture-builders, and ask for permission to share their art instead of stealing from them with such disregard for the creators. We can do better.

So, to the black or brown or just non-white people reading this: I’m sorry. We, white women, have not taken ownership of our participation in racism in this country.

Because of a white woman’s silence, Emmett Till died in 1955.

Because of white women’s silence, Dylann Roof shot and killed 9 black people at Bible study, saying, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country.”

Because of white women, the hashtag #WhiteGirlsDoItBetter went viral in July 2015.

I refuse to remain silent in the face of racism. I refuse to turn a blind eye to the role that my whiteness has played in my inability to stand in solidarity with other women. I recognize and repent of the ways that I have continued to allow racism to exist, both personally and systemically, and I commit to using my resources and opportunities to draw attention to your voices.

And to my fellow white women: let’s start speaking up and doing our work.