White Women: We Must Follow Women of Color

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The Women’s March 2018 Power to the Polls kickoff event in Las Vegas on January 21, 2018 was simultaneously uplifting, blunt, and practical.

Our leaders gave us two directives:

  • march to the polls in 2018 in the same record numbers we marched on the streets yesterday and last year.
  • follow women of color.

Grassroots women leaders-diverse across every dimension-repeatedly reminded us today that we cannot win one woman’s freedom without every woman’s freedom, and that for our movement to succeed, white women must decenter ourselves, recognize the leadership of women of color, and become accomplices in dismantling white supremacy and patriarchy.

Many great women shared wisdom today, a few that stood out:

Paulette Jordan shared the lesson her grandmother taught her: you earn respect by giving respect.

Melissa Harris-Perry also spoke of her grandmother, an arthritic seamstress who sacrificed so her twin sons could achieve greatness, and how the enduring vision of her grandmother and Black women like her is what makes America great.

Kimberle Crenshaw urged us not to heed “alleged allies who say identity politics are divisive” because their goal is to divide and conquer. She pointed out that actually, division is caused by white women’s inability to listen when women of color share painful truths.

Alicia Garza pointed out that those denied justice and dignity are the most effective change agents in demanding justice and dignity. She urged us to transform our relationships with each other.

Carmen Perez told us our lives depend on moving beyond symbolism, on getting in our lane and deepening our engagement. We can no longer say “the system is broken,” we must commit to what we are going to do to fix it.

Bob Bland challenged white women to decenter ourselves, to really listen to women of color, learn from their experiences, and follow their critiques and strategies. Her colleagues of color taught her that “If you do something for me, without me, you’re doing it to me.” She urged us to confront our racism and hold our white peers accountable for confronting theirs.

Tamika Mallory told white women that we “have stood on the backs of Black women” and that it breaks her heart that many Black women don’t show up for Women’s March events because white women alienate them. She exhorted us to be better, get even louder and be loud with our votes.

Linda Sarsour shared the Women’s March plans to engage in mass voter registration and mobilization in Texas, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. She envisions that women will not only win, but win big. She wants headlines on November 7 2018 that say “women led the victory in taking back the House and Senate.”

Jane Kim encouraged us to follow Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s advice to keep engaging in politics until all nine Supreme Court justices are women.

Reverend William Barber, one of two men who spoke, declared that to be anti-woman is to be anti-democracy.

Nina Turner quoted Maya Angelou: “it may be necessary to encounter defeats so we can know who the hell we are.”

Marietta English quoted Bayard Rustin: “we need a group of angelic troublemakers in every community.”

Reflecting on the day: the task before us is monumental, our past looms large. The need for a massive shift in consciousness has never been greater.

White women: please read Audre Lorde’s essay, Age Race Sex Class: Women Redefining Difference (& donate to Audre Lorde Project).

Audre Lorde told us back in 1980:

“The future of our earth may depend upon the ability of all women to identify and develop new definitions of power and new patterns of relating across difference. The old definitions have not served us, nor the earth that supports us. The old patterns, no matter how cleverly rearranged to imitate progress, still condemn us to cosmetically altered repetitions of the same old exchanges, the same old guilt, hatred, recrimination, lamentation, and suspicion. For we have, built into all of us, old blueprints of expectation and response, old structures of oppression, and these must be altered at the same time as we alter the living conditions which are a result of those structures. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

White women: are we going to continue clinging to our old blueprints?

Or are we going to let go, share our resources, and follow the leadership of women of color?

When we let go, we can build a women’s movement across age, race, sex, class, and gender identity capable of solving the challenges of our times.

This movement will not come from the top down, it will only come from you and me learning from each other, practicing radical inclusion, staying consistent even when the going gets extremely tough.

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Looking for guidance? I highly recommend working with my mentor Catrice M. Jackson. She facilitates retreats across the country for women of color and white women. She also leads online courses for white women and writes books for women of color and white women. For the past year I have been in her Journey to Allyship course and it is transformative. www.shetalkswetalk.com

Read more about the Women’s March strategy for victory here.

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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.

She speaks and cofacilitates workshops on race nationwide and online and contributes to Huffington Post, Moguldom, and The GED Section.

Karen is a cofounder of San Franciscans for Police Accountability and serves on the workgroup overseeing US Department of Justice recommendations on ending bias at SFPD.

www.karenfleshman.com @fleshmankaren

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Founder, Racy Conversations Inspiring the antiracist generation.

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