Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Recommended Reading

In the spirit of more privileged feminists doing the necessary ally work to not be counter-productive oppressive whiners, here is a great article by a white woman who did some ally work at the Women's March by carrying a "White Women Elected Trump" sign. This action, as well as her response, is the kind of allyship that I aspire to.

As the number of retweets, likes, and followers continued to grow, I started to get a sinking feeling I was being rewarded for clearing a very, very low bar. People were celebrating me for basic self-awareness and a modicum of a challenge to my fellow white women. Let’s be real. I carried a protest sign with a very basic statement of fact to a march organized and attended by many black and brown women, many of whom had messages similar to mine. Even in my own reflective tweets afterward about my experience, I was borrowing from observations black and brown women made about the march and attempts at intersectional feminism through the decades. I was a living embodiment of “white mediocrity versus black excellence.” 
I happened to have tickets to the National Museum of African American History and Culture on Saturday before the march. It was my third visit, and I was so excited to take my mom and best friend through its hallowed halls. That morning, learning about and reflecting on the critical role that black women had played in the civil rights movement only put into greater perspective what “doing the work” looks like. White women: Simply showing to up a march isn’t “doing the work,” and holding a sign isn’t real courage. Courage is standing up for your fundamental rights when you are marginalized, disenfranchised, and unsupported. Heroism is facing, head on, agents of institutionalized racism when your life or your child’s life is on the line.

Well done, Ali Tharrington.

At the same time, there were plenty of women of color at the marches who were carrying similar signs, and they did not receive the same kind of positive response. Compare what Ali, a white woman, said about white responses to her confrontational sign:

Before we even made it out of DC’s Union Station, I started to get comments. Someone wanted my picture with my sign. Someone wanted their picture with it. During the course of the day, I got three kinds of reactions from people who chose to interact with me. Thank-yous and high-fives from black and Latina women. Ashamed recognition from younger white women. And several emotional rejections — “No WE didn’t!” or “I didn’t, I voted for Hillary!” — from older white women. 
There were moments of uneasiness carrying my sign, but overall, a few meaningful interactions made it worthwhile for me. At one point, a White woman approached me and said, "Thanks for your sign. My gut reaction was to be defensive, but I see now that's your point."
There was an immediate and overwhelming response to my tweets. Within an hour, I was retweeted by writer Celeste Ng, activist Bree Newsom, and humorist and podcast judge John Hodgman (a personal favorite — hi, John!). By Sunday night, I was featured in my own Twitter Moment and had almost 3,000 new Twitter followers. I got a lot of the expected responses when tweets go viral — people telling me I was being racist toward white people, I was being divisive, and on and on. But I got an equal or greater amount of laud and praise. “This whole thread is perfect.” “This is the most important thing you will read about the #WomensMarch.” “Thank you for your courage.” “She’s so brave.”

Then there's the response described by Angela Peoples, a black woman featured in this photo:

Photo Credit: Kevin Banatte
The white response to her sign, despite it having a very similar and perhaps actually less harsh message than Ali, was much more negative, as she described in an interview with The Root.

Most were saying, “Not this white woman,” or “No one I know!” I’d say, “[Fifty-three percent] of white women voted for Trump. That means someone you know, someone who is in close community with you, voted for Trump. You need to organize your people.” And some people said, “Oh, I’m so ashamed.” Don’t be ashamed; organize your people.

White woman = mostly positive responses, black woman, same message = mostly negative responses. This is white privilege. And straight up racism. Racism by my fellow white women.

I encourage my fellow white feminists to read both and note the differences. What this means is that we white women need to be uplifting the messages of women of color, and if you have any other privileges, you need to be uplifting the messages of those women who are under opposing marginalization. You need to credit them while doing so, because its their message. You're just giving it a platform that will produce a more positive response, unfortunately.

Use your privilege for good. And if you see fellow privileged women attacking a woman like Peoples for having a sign like her's, defend her. Move your fellow white woman aside and explain to her why she's being oppressive. Don't leave this all up to those who are already exhausted from the weight of additional oppression.

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