Dear White Women: We Owe Women of Color

Positive. No arrests. Supportive police. People have lauded the post-inauguration women’s marches as a successful demonstration of peaceful protest as record numbers marched and no arrests were made.

That is a problem when you consider how police react to Black Lives Matter. It’s a problem when you remember that while there were plenty of women of color at the March on Washington (and the countless others around the country and world), it was not specifically billed as being about race.

It was a white women march because when intersectionality is not brought up, the default feminism is white feminism. So when we tout the “peacefulness” of the marches, we forget that white feminists have the privilege of being able to march with the support of law enforcement, a privilege that women of color don’t enjoy.

“Is it the thought that you could march a million white women down the street without fear — and high five the same cops who wouldn’t hesitate to pepper spray black and brown faces begging for nothing less than their lives — and then call it progress?” – Ijeoma Oluo

“Thank you for being peaceful,” wrote the Portsmouth, New Hampshire police department. “Thank you for being responsible. Thank you for respecting the officers who watched over your rally. Estimated crowd totals were in the area of 3,000-3,500 people and not one person was arrested.” As though there is never a case of a protester being arrested absent just cause. As though all protests are alike and officers always “watch over” the safety of marchers and never prioritize the comfort of white onlookers over the physical safety of black activists.

People of color have pushed back against this reductive narrative. Ijeoma Oluo asks “when you say that your protests were nonviolent, I wonder, how do you define violence? Is it a brick? Is it a rock? Is it a baton? Is it pepper spray? Is it a firehose? Is it a police dog?” All recognizable acts of violence that fit into the white narrative of “real” violence and that don’t include systemic violence that takes place on a longer timescale.

“Or is it poisoned water?” she questions further. “Is it a school suspension? Is it mass incarceration? Is it grinding poverty? Is it that ‘random’ airport security check? Is it yet another traffic stop? Is it the toy gun in that kid’s hand? Is it that stop and frisk?”

Then the kicker: “Or is it the thought that you could march a million white women down the street without fear — and high five the same cops who wouldn’t hesitate to pepper spray black and brown faces begging for nothing less than their lives — and then call it progress?”

Dujie Tahat does not want us to forget that political activism was not invented this Jan. 21, nor was it begun by woke white people. “Civil disobedience and the art of protest are alive and strong in our cities. They are stoked, organized, and led by young people of color,” writes Tahat. “They don’t often get press for it, and those protests — smaller but louder, more energetic, and bouncing with rhythm — often don’t make the nightly news. Or if they do, only to report the number of arrests or the subsequent traffic nuisance.”

“I get it. It’s scary as shit to face our privilege and work to level the axes of power that we benefit from. It’s scary to walk into a room where suddenly I am in the minority and the women of color don’t actually give a fuck what I have to say because the world hears my voice enough.”

Entirely peaceful protests for racial equality generally go unnoticed or are only noticed for the perceived disruption they caused. Once again, POC get noticed for how they have interfered in the lives of white people, not for the real and urgent injustices they are protesting.

Angela Peoples, director of the LGBTQ organization GetEqual, showed up at the Women’s March wearing a “stop killing black people” hat and carrying a sign that said “don’t forget: white women voted for Trump.”

Peoples told The Root she was met with indignation and discomfort. “Not all white women,” “not me,” “nobody I know.” As though we white feminists are okay when men respond to our demands for equality with “#notallmen.” We are not okay with it and we shouldn’t respond to black women’s demands for justice in the same vein.

“Oh I’m so ashamed” was another response Peoples received. “Don’t be ashamed,” she answered. “Organize your people.” Because brutal cops, racist correctional institutions, Donald Trump–those are all our people and it is our responsibility to deal with them.

I get it. It’s scary as shit to face our privilege and work to level the axes of power that we benefit from. It’s scary to walk into a room where suddenly I am in the minority and the women of color don’t actually give a fuck what I have to say because the world hears my voice enough.

“We have an obligation to organize our people. We have an obligation to show up, shut up, and listen.”

It’s scary as shit to look a black woman in the eye, someone I call a friend, and say I’m sorry for what my people have done to you. But as Semona Baston, a black woman activist and friend of mine, says: “I don’t care.”

“I have spent 35 years of my life feeling uncomfortable. I am usually in a room where I am the only black person. I am usually in a room where I am the only person with natural hair. I have sat and had people tell super racist jokes because they think it’s okay because I’m light-skinned…. My day-to-day interaction with the world is uncomfortable and violent and I do it because I have no choice. So I honestly can’t give a flying fuck about you feeling too uncomfortable to do your duty and be a part of the movement.”

White women. Girls. Ladies. Sisters under the moon goddess Mother Earth Gaia. Listen up. We’ve got superpowers. Our white vulvas are able to cast a spell of tranquility over law enforcement at a time when police brutality is coming to a head all over the country. We have an obligation to show up for women of color. For femmes and trans women of color. We have an obligation to attend Black Lives Matter protests. Not to simply “invite” women of color into our marches as though we own and steer the ship of activism, but to show up for women of color.

There would be fewer women of color arrested, assaulted, and killed at the hands of police who come armed to the teeth to rallies that would otherwise be as peaceful as Jan. 21. “Don’t forget that white women voted for Trump.” We did this. White people, white rage, white supremacy, white patriarchy, and yes, white feminism, did this.

We have an obligation to organize our people. We have an obligation to show up, shut up, and listen.

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