Dear White Women,
If you are wondering, challenging, questioning or ignoring the voices of women of color around #WomenBoycottTwitter and #MeToo right now, please, read on.
For background, I am not someone who tweets consistently. I only use Twitter sporadically when I’ve already read the “news,” am enraged with the world and want to share this multitudinous array of emotions with others. I mainly follow women of color, people of color, feminists, drag queens, journalists and politicians, and I make an effort to RT individuals to my (very small group of) followers in an effort to amplify the voices I know are not being recognized among my mostly white circles. In this very small way, I try to not take up space, and try to not take space away from, those doing the work at the intersections of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, class and ableism.
So when I woke up last week and saw #WomenBoycottTwitter and skimmed only a few tweets, I agreed. Over and over and over.
And for some reason, I was hoping that white women would feel the same.
Where were the white women for Jamele Hill, Leslie Jones or the thousands of WoC who are consistently online trolled and harassed? Where were the white women echoing the complaints from people of color to Jack Dorsey to redesign the platform? Where were the white women when article after article finds that women of color and marginalized groups are disproportionately harassed online?
And instead, in the same way that history repeats itself — online and offline — white women became defensive and divisive. Instead of listening, they — we — questioned: “Why are you dividing us?” Us, of course, meaning, “women.”
But even the use of the term “us” and “women” are problematic. It’s at the core of what white women are being asked to hear — that the struggle of women of color is different. Using the term “us” and “women” to assume a group identity is a privilege of a dominant group; it signifies how the (dominant, oppressor) group gets to use language as a tool to define the group itself. It is, by definition, not inclusive of other communities, because these communities did not have a voice in defining it.
But beyond these issues with language, I found myself upset, again, at the defensiveness of white women.
White women, what if we just STFU and listened to WoC?
Because you know what, these WoC are taking up their space and time to once again educate us. And you — we — are not listening. In the same way that we ask (white) men to simply listen to our lived experience of being sexually harassed, demeaned or objectified — without question, defense or rebuttal — we refuse to do this for WoC.
In the same way that white women blame (white) men for being complicit in Weinstein’s sexual assault of women by saying these men did not speak up or intervene , we white women are complicit in not speaking up for, not educating each other about, and not amplifying the work of women of color. The silence of white men is the same as the silence amongst white women. And this silence makes us culpable in the oppression of women of color. In addition to everything else, we are culpable by omission.
In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. — Martin Luther King, Jr.
Do we not see the parallels? We white women must educate one another in how we are complicit in the oppression of women of color. Beyond online hashtags like #solidarityisforwhitewomen or #WomenBoycottTwitter, white women consistently fail to show up for social movements or participate in activism surrounding racial justice, immigration reform, transgender rights, the #fightfor15, criminal justice reform, indigenous rights and many, many more injustices at the intersection of identities and experiences.
Does this make you uncomfortable?
White women, you — we — must become much more comfortable with the uncomfortable. Because it is in only in listening authentically — and questioning, reflecting, understanding and acting — on this discomfort, can we break our collective chains.
White women need to do more of our own work. And this ask is as old as the hills — learned by listening, when allowed and appropriate, to the “other.” This is not a new demand. Over 150 years ago at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio, Sojourner Truth asked white women to face their discomfort by inquiring, “Ain’t I A Woman?”
White women need to understand that (white) women’s rights are gained on the backs on black women, queer women, trans women, able-bodied women, women of color — women whose voices we white women are speaking over, suppressing and even denouncing as dividing “us” (womxn) as a whole. And this is simply not true.
Audre Lorde, queer African-American feminist theorist, writes in her piece, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” (1979):
Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns. Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to educate white women — in the face of tremendous resistance — as to our existence, our differences, our relative roles in our joint survival. This is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought.
The role of black women is not to educate white women; the role of women is not to educate men — it is another tool in our oppression.
Instead, white women, this discomfort is a signal for growth. It is the space where our difference can unite us — not divide us. If we only listened to the music underneath the words, maybe we could recognize the truth — without question — in what we are hearing.
Writer’s note: This post was originally published on 10/16/17 on Medium.