No one hates white women as much as they hate themselves.
This article has a Part I which establishes the shattered identity of white women following the 2016 election and the Women’s March on Washington.
I forget about the brainwashing process. I suppose that’s the point, but it still surprises me whenever I realize I’ve slipped down the same rabbit hole again. I was getting ready for a friend’s event and I was so stressed about what to wear, I even made us late trying to get my makeup right. I hated myself for caring so intensely about those things that day.
It’s been a few weeks since I wrote the first part of this, and the response has been so heartwarming. Thank you to everyone who reached out, shared, commented, and liked it. I hope it’s helped you in some small way to know that you’re not alone. You’re not crazy. This is not normal and your feelings are real and valid.
In the last part of this series I talked about the Nice White Ladies group — a landing space for nice white ladies who are new to social justice movements and need a little guidance.
Our little group ballooned. After two weeks of being online we had over 200 members.
I was naive when I first started NWL. I paid for that naivety very early on, but I’m determined to keep going. It’s become very clear to me that there is work to be done, work specific to the psyche of white women that is crucial to their involvement in social justice.
Maybe, like me, you thought that white women were just a little busy and needed some help with scheduling. Maybe they all understood that systemic oppression exists but they just didn’t know where the meeting was. Or maybe they needed more markers or fancy handwriting in order to really visualize a schedule. How else can we explain the monstrosity that Bullet Journaling has morphed into?
I quickly figured out that I didn’t have a group of highly motivated activists in need of a google calendar or a printable pdf for a family binder. I had some really traumatized individuals on my hands who were each trying to take the entire weight of all the wrongs all white people had ever done onto themselves personally.
I don’t know if you’ve looked into the history of white people in the world. But that’s a lot of crap to put on your own shoulders. If you had a base in feminist theory before the election, you may have seen it as patriarchy in action. But if you didn’t have that — if you thought that the world was just about individuals trying harder and doing their best — where did you put the blame for how you felt?
You swallowed it. If you couldn’t aim your rage at the system, if you didn’t really believe in systemic oppression, if you really, really thought that Hillary just wasn’t nice enough, you swallowed the shit.
We were abused, all of us.
Do you remember the days after the election? I do. Walking around like a ghost — except those moments when you made eye-contact with someone and lingered just a little too long. The shared look of terror and disbelief. I was grieving. I still am.
You are not crazy. This is not all your fault.
There are many activists you will run into who will tell you that step one is admitting you are complicit in a system that benefits white skin. But it may not be the first step for you. Maybe your first step is seeing that there is a system at all.
Think of the 12 step program for alcoholics. Step one is admitting you’re an alcoholic. But is it really? First you have to understand that alcoholism is a disease. That it’s a disease that you have. That you need help. That you can’t do it alone. That there are others who suffer as well. That there are programs to help those people.
There are a million steps taken before someone reaches out for help. White women reaching out to help are also reaching out for help. As women we’re socialized to put others’ needs and feelings ahead of our own. Often we don’t even acknowledge our own needs and feelings. How are we supposed to recognize, process, or voice them?
The self-help world — which I consider to be the pinnacle of Nice White Lady brainwashing — reinforces this whole process. Think about it, it’s called “self-help”, it’s designed for you to make yourself better — because the real problem must be that you’re just not good enough.
Just look at this:
From this reading list it appears that this nice white lady is trying to (from bottom to top):
- Raise boys
- Raise great boys
- Raise boys who are more French
- Run a marathon
- Be happier
- Overcome procrastination
- Awaken her life’s purpose
- Be more French at work
- Dress better (or at least wear heels more often?)
- Write a novel
- Get over a shoe obsession
- Learn the theory of “fuck it”
- Be better at life in less time (59 seconds, to be exact)
- Practice the art of “fuck it”
- Have bigger dreams
Just take a second to absorb that this is what she is doing in her free time.
I wish I could say that it’s just this woman and she needs help, but — white women — this is all of us and we all need help.
White women already think that everything is their fault. A defensive white woman is drowning in her own shame and can’t see the system for the blame. She’s trying to personally take on the weight of all racialized oppression on her own. She’s trying to take responsibility for the actions of ancestors she’s never heard of, from countries she’s never visited. She’s forgetting that the last time the Cubs won the world series women weren’t people. She’s forgetting that the same system has penalized her in countless ways throughout her life while also lying to her about how to improve. She’s forgetting that she was brainwashed into thinking that her worth was tied to not only owning Lululemon pants, but also how good her ass looked in them.
A defensive white woman is discovering outrage for the first time, which is the most abhorred emotion in white culture. White women can be nags, they can be annoying, they can be whiny, they can be bitchy, but all of those things are descriptions of how a white woman’s feelings affect the people around her. She doesn’t even get to be described by the feeling she has. As someone who has been so contained and has never been allowed to express anger, knowing what it is and how to name it — being allowed to feel it — seems like an incredible freedom.
Nice white ladies are not allowed to get angry. Soraya Chemaly wrote an incredible piece last year about how anger affects young girls. But there’s no magic that happens at 18 that teaches us it’s suddenly okay to be angry. What appears as passive-aggressiveness is not to be confused with pearl-clutching — which stems from fear or shock (real or fabricated). For some women passive-aggressive behaviour is the closest they can get to any expression of anger or frustration.
All that anger goes somewhere. It has to.
White women redirect it onto themselves. Personally. Not as a collective, as an individual. Somehow, by missing spin class last week, Becky caused all of white supremacy. That’s ridiculous, but that’s how she feels. And she doesn’t even have the emotional map to pull the threads of injustice apart and see what’s her fault and what isn’t. She doesn’t even have the solidarity of other women telling her that wanting to cry every night is normal in this world right now.
White women already hate themselves.
They hate themselves every day. They blame themselves for everything they can’t get right, from racism to blowouts. But even with all of that, even with all of the weight and the guilt on their shoulders, 200 of them signed up in two weeks to learn how to do better. Whether they knew it was systemic or they thought that they themselves were personally responsible for everything, they showed up.
There’s no need to tell white women to sit down and shut up. If they’re centering issues it’s not because they want to steal the spotlight, it’s because they think they’re personally responsible. Which means that they think they can personally solve it. They don’t know it’s a system, they don’t know they’re also victims. Their whole life they’ve been told that when anything is wrong it’s because they’re not good enough. If you come across a white woman who is centering herself in your discussion, please send her to us.
White women, this is for you. I have to remind myself every day that I’m not going crazy, that I’m allowed to feel things, that I’m allowed that small amount of space. We have been taught to erase ourselves, and when we’re abused for being alive we’re told that it’s our fault. This is in everything, from you not wanting to speak up in a meeting to women being blamed for what they wear when they’re sexually assaulted. If you’re new to this feeling then welcome to the sisterhood. You might be anxious, nauseous, sleep-deprived. You might be feeling many different things. It’s normal.
You are not crazy. You are not losing your mind. You are not too sensitive. The system was built to keep you in place, because in order for white supremacy to survive white babies need to be made. It is a complex, insidious, manipulative shit-storm that has been inundating your lives from day one.
The whole point of the system is to keep you quiet.
Maybe your eyes are just starting to open to how deep it goes. That’s okay. That takes time. That takes space. You may feel guilty, but remember what brought you here was pain. Pain is real, and you have every right to feel it. You will cry, you will rage, you will have your heart broken over and over again. But the good news is, no one can hate you more than you already hate yourselves.
These are not “white tears”. These are real emotions that real people are feeling and struggling to push aside so that they can help without hurting anyone. The point is not to ignore the feelings but to work through them. That’s the difference between charity and support. This is not to excuse a single thing that white supremacy has done to people in this world. This is to say that some white women are going through something life-changing and need the tools to work through that before they slip into believing that this is all their fault and become paralyzed.
The system hurts us too, white women.
Be angry. The world needs our anger. It’s our job to find it.
These Nice White Ladies are lost. If you are one, please join us by signing up below. If you find one, please point them in our direction.
(DISCLAIMER: I am not asking for sympathy for white women, nor am I erasing the experiences of people of colour, people with disabilities, LGBTQ folks, or those who are being discriminated against for religious reasons. They are in very real, life-threatening danger and I take that with the utmost seriousness. The larger conversation right now should not be centered around the experiences of white women — but unlearning whiteness is an ongoing process, and some need more support than others. If you’re one of those women, or if you come across one of them on your travels, please let them know where they can find us).
Also published on Medium.