Dear White Women: Let’s Make 2018 the Year We Finally Unlearn Our Racism
April 4, 2018 will mark fifty years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.
One of the crowning achievements of the Freedom Movement he led was the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that banned discrimination.
Black women and men risked their lives to engage in the Freedom Movement and many of them died violent deaths; were beaten, jailed, lost their jobs, and struggled to support their families because activism takes a lot of time and effort and does not pay.
A handful of white women actively engaged in the Freedom Movement, but the vast majority of white women were neutral or antagonistic to it.
Despite white women’s ambivalence, white congressmen added gender protections to the Civil Rights Law at the last minute.
Five decades later, the main beneficiaries of the Civil Rights Act and Affirmative Action policies we did little or nothing to support are us, white women, while Black women and men continue to face tremendous discrimination and inequality:
If trends continue, median Black household wealth will be zero by 2053, according to a 2017 report.
The racial wealth gap is just the tip of the iceberg- in every way, people of color have worse life outcomes in our society: death at the hands of police, incarceration, housing, health, education, employment.
Yet many white women choose to continue to believe the adverse life outcomes of people of color are due to something being wrong with them, their poor decision making.
People of color suffer in our society not because there is something wrong with them.
People of color suffer because there is something wrong with us.
Our racism, our exclusionary behaviors, microaggressions we inflict.
Where we choose to live and send our kids to school. Who we choose to socialize with.
How we side with police, guns, and the prison industrial complex. Who we elect. Who we believe when we serve on juries.
How we sue when not admitted to the college of our choice.
In addition to the terrible harm we inflict on people of color, our racism also harms us, something women of color have tried to show us for decades to no avail.
Throughout American history, women of color have pointed out our racism and its peril to white women.
“As Black feminists we are made constantly and painfully aware of how little effort white women have made to understand and combat their racism, which requires among other things that they have a more than superficial comprehension of race, color, and Black history and culture. Eliminating racism in the white women’s movement is by definition work for white women to do, but we will continue to speak to and demand accountability on this issue.”- The Combahee River Collective Statement, 1974
Audre Lorde taught us that “Ignoring the differences of race between women and the implications of those differences presents the most serious threat to the mobilization of women’s joint power.”
Yet we white women stubbornly ignored her.
The Equal Rights Amendment failed in 1980 because we did not build a movement capable of persuading state legislators to support it.
President Jimmy Carter Signing Extension of Equal Rights Amendment Ratification, 10–20–1978
In fact, some white women actively led the opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment.
We ignored Anita Hill in 1991 when she testified that Clarence Thomas should not be appointed to the Supreme Court.
How did that turn out?
Justice Thomas’ misogyny impacts our life everyday in his votes against reproductive choice. His support of weakening equal pay protections in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire. His siding with the majority in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that an employer’s religious objections can trump the rights of their women employees. He cast the key fifth vote in Vance v. Ball State University to severely restrict what qualifies as workplace sexual harassment.
As the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum, white women chose to look the other way.
We ignored Donald Trump when he boasted of grabbing women by the pussy, and 53% of white women voted for him for President.
On January 21, 2017 thousands of us marched on Washington DC to loudly proclaim our opposition to President Trump. I was proud to be there.
Later in 2017 white women started boldly coming forward sharing our stories of sexual assault and harassment.
But we did not acknowledge that the #MeToo movement had been founded by Black activist Tarana Burke ten years ago.
And just last month, 63% of white women voters in Alabama voted for a sexual predator targeting white girls to be their Senator. Thanks to Black women who organized a massive voter education and mobilization campaign, Doug Jones was elected instead.
It’s beyond time for us to wake up, white women.
Foremost because ending our racism is the right thing to do, and we owe people of color tremendously.
It is also in our self-interest.
Because when all women unite- and build coalitions that include men of color, we are by definition the majority.
This is a numbers game, folks.
Imagine our ability to create the society we want for ourselves and our children when the League of Women Voters locks arms with Black Lives Matter.
When we unite across differences of age, race, sex and class.
Unified, we all ascend.
But we cannot unify until we fully reckon with our past, until we unlearn the patterns of white supremacy that we have learned since childhood, and create new ways of relating across difference as equals.
That is why I am so grateful that my mentor, Catrice M. Jackson, is coming to Berkeley March 3–4, 2018 to facilitate a retreat where women of color will speak and we white women will listen. Where we white women will learn how to be accountable and true partners in the struggle for all of our liberation.
Catrice will facilitate retreats like this throughout the country in 2018. You can learn more and register here.
My word for 2018 is UNITY.
Every day this year I will strive to heal a wound so that people can see hear and understand each other and create true unity based in trust.
I look forward to your reflections on this post, and to hearing from you your views about what it will take to achieve true unity.
Karen Fleshman, Esq. is the founder of Racy Conversations.
Her mission is to inspire the first antiracist generation in the United States. 43% of Millennials are people of color. 47% of Generation Z are people of color.
When we flip 10% of the white people in those generations to antiracism, we will have a majority antiracist generation that will be transformative.