A message to my White women allies (but men can read it, too)



By now, I’m sure most of you have heard about Pantsuit Nation, the “secret”  Facebook group. With 3,757,861 at last count, I don’t know that it’s much of a secret anymore, but one of the rules is we protect other members’ privacy.

So, I won’t post the post that led me to write this post, but I’ll just say it was a woman of color frustrated with some of the posts she’s reading from White women. I daresay many of you who have read my blog and/or survived my frequent Facebook friend purges are members of Pantsuit Nation. If so, forgive me for subjecting you to this twice. If not, it took me a minute to write this, so I’m sharing it here.

It has been very difficult to stand firm and push back against White women friends — and that’s plural — who have, despite their best intentions to circle the edge of the pit, slipped into the quicksand of White privilege in the wake of this disaster. So, please allow me to offer a few more thoughts to White women allies (at least to mine):

  1. If a woman of color – and I don’t speak for all WOC or all Black women – is engaging in serious discussion with you at this point, consider it the pat on the back you may be seeking. Most of us are tired and many of us gave up on these conversations a long time ago. When you meet one of us vociferously expressing her truths, know she may have been doing that for years and she may be weary of saying the same things with the same results. This election may have been the proverbial straw that broke her back and gave her cultural laryngitis. On the other hand, she may be one for whom this election was the kick in the ass that made her yell for the first time. If so, her voice had to claw its way out and her throat is raw. Either way, what now energizes and inspires you, saps and frustrates us. This isn’t new for us. The passion doesn’t mount with every indignity, because we’re used to more and we’re used to worse. So, no, we won’t give you pats on the back. Those of us with enough voice left will continue to speak. Sometimes, our words may be harsh. Woman up. Dismantling privilege means tearing it apart – one microaggression, assumption and entitlement at a time. Pat yourself on the back for doing it. Just don’t expect anyone else to. This ain’t that kind of party.
  2. I don’t speak for all WOC or all Black women. When we say something, we speak for ourselves. Please stop seeing us monolithically. Please respect the experience from which we speak. If you understood, we wouldn’t need this group. If you want to understand, you have to listen. It would be easy to take one voice and scale it up to all WOC. To discuss and argue with one person and get all the perspective you need. That ain’t the way it works. Yes, you’ll get frustrated – are safety pins in or out? Do I call you Black or African American? Can I say [insert touchy statement, question, word here] without getting my ass handed to me? The answer always is: It depends. It depends on whom you ask, on what day, after which fresh new hell. Sometimes we lose it, too. Remember you’re just getting to the place we’ve been since before we were born. I don’t – personally – think it’s helpful to be rude, but it’s damn important to be honest, and benevolent brutality has its place. Maybe we’ll apologize, maybe we won’t. But if we do and you can’t understand the anger and accept the apology, well, you’re doing exactly the kinds of things we get angry about and you say you don’t want to do. Woman up. This ain’t gonna be easy.
  3. Know we know this is hard. And we expect you to give up. I’m sorry; I know that’s not what you want to hear. But we’ve been through this with you before. From suffragettes to bra burning feminists, you were preaching to us about the importance of intersectionality long before you co-opted the term a Black woman created. It isn’t a new thing for us. We wouldn’t be alive if we hadn’t figured out how to navigate all the selves we are. But every time we’ve let you tell us being a woman comes first, all our other selves get their asses kicked. You see, as White, straight women you stand at the vertex of the intersectionality. You don’t have to choose a path, so you stand there, directing the flow of identity. And you invariably send us all down the road most traveled – womanhood. But when it’s time for you to walk a different path – like this past election – either you stand still and direct or you head down that same well-worn path. So why should we assume this time is going to be any different? We want to believe you. We hope the rising tide of your own self-interest, fear and anger will sustain this movement and maybe lift us, too. But don’t expect us to take you at your word. Don’t ask us to understand the White middle class or rural class. One, we don’t care and two, they weren’t alone in making this mess. We did our job, and though we’ll suffer, too, this is the mess you made. So while it’s ok to ask for our help, please don’t assume you deserve it. Prove me wrong instead. Woman up. This ain’t the time for whining.

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