I’m going to go ahead and assume that everyone reading this knows that white women have a historical tendency to live and act in racist ways. It was true when the suffragettes intentionally excluded black women in order to appear more respectable to the white men in power, and it was true this last year as white women voted against the interests of women of color and opened the doors of the White House to Donald Trump’s administration.
What I want to talk about is how awareness of this reality among religiously and politically progressive white women is playing out in the months after the election and now that Trump has taken office. Know that I am a member of the demographic to which I speak.
Progressive white women seem, to some extent, to be getting the memo that we need to be politically and relationally active in resistance to racism and xenophobia. We seem to understand that racism permeates our paradigms, that we will forever need to be intentionally undoing our own biases, and that the world is stacked in our favor – at least as far as our pigmentation goes. Accordingly, we can and do talk to each other often about local and national manifestations of racism in the political sphere.
But, do you (talking to white women here) ever notice that progressive white women’s conversations on the topic of race never seem to meet up with our personal lives? When is the last time you found yourself calling up a white woman friend and saying, “My boss made a racist comment to a coworker of color, and I froze. I didn’t know what to say. Can we talk through it so that I can do better next time?” Or, “I feel like all the people of color who I pass on the street must think I voted for Trump because I’m white, and I can’t stand it. What do I make of this?” Or, “My academic advisor treats me so well but is hard on my woman of color colleague. I’m worried I’m getting the benefit of a racial bias, but I can’t tell, and to be honest, I don’t want to give up that privilege because succeeding in this field is so hard already. I need a reality check.”
Clearly, I’m generalizing here. It is not true that these conversations never happen, but they are conspicuously and dramatically less common than, say, “My boss made a sexist comment to me and I froze. Help me think of a way to respond?”
Because progressive white women aren’t really talking with each other about the ways that race and racism are shaping our own lives, we’ve developed some major blind spots, and as we set out to actively resist the evil currently spewing from White House I think we’re missing something huge.
I’ve been talking with progressive white women friends about all the ways we are taking up the task of resistance. Folks are working hard: protesting, calling senators, educating, preaching, offering care, amplifying silenced voices, listening to those most impacted. The list is endless and genuinely impressive.
However, strategically engaging liberal/moderate/conservative and/or racially unaware white women in order to reduce the harm this group of people keeps imposing on the racially oppressed is usually not included on that list.
It often doesn’t occur to progressive white women that it is our responsibility to reach out to the white women who terrorized the marginalized of this country by electing Trump, because, in large part, progressive white women don’t yet see it as an option, much less a responsibility, to engage even each other – personally, vulnerably, directly, regularly – on matters of race. It isn’t a part of most progressive white women’s daily practice to process our experiences through the lens of race. And when we do become aware of the way race impacts our thoughts and interactions progressive white women are often nervous to bring it up lest we reveal our own racial incompetence or expose that of a friend.
Instead, for the last year progressive white women have been drawing a mental line in the sand between ourselves and “those other” white women who are responsible for the national mess. By making them “other” and disdainfully dismissing them, progressive white women allow ourselves to feel that we are not the problem. And, that’s what really matters to progressive white women, right? Assurance that we aren’t the problem? Don’t try to hide it, y’all. I’m one of you.
If it is not progressive white women’s job to figure out how to engage liberal, moderate and conservative white women in ways that actually dismantle both our and their racism, then whose job is it? Our mothers and sisters and grandmas, the white women we pass on the street who could as easily be our kin, and political evil geniuses like Kellyanne Conway are destroying black and brown lives. People who (not entirely but) in important ways share our unique kind of privilege in the world are doing this. We have a responsibility to stop them.
We have a responsibility to try, and we have a responsibility to succeed. At every level of community and society, it is our job to stop white women from perpetuating racist harm.
That means we need to put our heads together and think. Strategize. Plan. Scheme. We need to wake up everyday and ask ourselves what would actually get white women en masse to choose solidarity with people of color. We need to make it our mission to support real political, theological, personal transformation among white women, because the world cannot afford for white women to continue to align themselves with the interests of white supremacy.
It is my hunch that the only hope we have of success involves progressive white women getting a whole lot more real with ourselves and each other about race and racism in our day-to-day lives.
(If you’re looking for a simple way to start, try sending this post to a progressive white woman friend or two. Ask them what they think and see where it goes.)
The responsibility of changing the hearts and minds of white women across the U.S. is daunting, but it is ours. We have to try, and we have to succeed. There is no other option.