The State of White Women
White women, this is not another piece about how you’ve messed up.
The election campaign was hard. It was hard for so many people, for so many reasons. But I want to talk about how it affected white women.
Regardless of your thoughts on Hillary as a politician, as a woman, watching the campaign progress was akin to emotional abuse. Just sitting through the constant interrupting, mocking, diminishing and hateful rhetoric was exhausting. Having the people around you saying “it’s not because she’s a woman, it’s because she’s a democrat…” and “she’s just not likeable…” and “Bernie would’ve won…” dismisses your feelings — you were told that you were overreacting.
But you were hopeful that everyone saw this insanity — they were joking about it. After all, there’s no way they could elect him. Even if you didn’t like Hillary, she was clearly the better candidate — I mean, at least she’d worked in the industry before.
Hillary embodies the lie white women have been fed for years. She was well-dressed, she was smart, she was prepared, she worked hard, she was well-spoken, she was polite, she never lost her temper, she was a good mom, a good grandmother, a good wife — she was a good woman. A Nice White Lady. She probably did yoga and journaled and ate salads. She probably never struggled with getting dishes done or laundry folded. She probably had a house that looked like Martha Stewart’s. It’s hard to imagine Hillary Clinton standing in the mudroom, staring at boots and puddles everywhere and bursting into tears.
She did all the things right, so she had to become president. White women have been told over and over and over again that if they just work hard, lean in, and don’t look too mean, they can do anything.
And then… well… We know what happened.
But what happened to white women was a shattered identity. All the work they’d done, all the lies they’d been fed. It’s one thing to learn that you’ve been complicit in the oppression of others through your whiteness, it’s another thing to learn that you’ve been betrayed; that you’ve been actively oppressing yourself and your friends every day for a lie.
Hard work, being nice, leaning in, dressing the part, being qualified, not losing your temper, doing Pilates on Wednesday and all the Spanx you could buy — none of it mattered. If it didn’t matter to Hillary, why would it matter to you?
You felt like garbage, but there was public outcry; people were upset, people were hurt. You were hurt too, so you went towards the hurt people, looking for some answers. You were probably met with this:
Maybe you went all “Not this white woman!” Maybe you’re not even from the US and still felt the guilt, the shame, and when you tried to help others, you were told it was your fault.
But no worries, the Women’s March was announced and finally there was somewhere to put that energy. Hats were knit, signs were made, bus tickets were booked, and off we went to put all that energy to good use.
The day was glorious; it felt so uplifting. You had felt nauseous for months, physically sick, unable to wrap your head around the dread you kept swallowing. And anytime you tried to say something…
“Bernie would’ve won.”
Then the day after the march, you saw this:
All the nausea returned, you felt awful, everything started to go wrong.
You thought the march would change things, the sisterhood, and then one day after another, every day a horrible thing happened and the shame and guilt built up and up, and any time you looked for an answer you were reminded that it was all your fault.
In the days after the Women’s March it became clear: white women were not to be taken seriously. Not as president, and not as protesters. They weren’t dangerous. They weren’t a threat. Yes, they marched, but was it a protest or was it a parade?
I posted this on Facebook the other day:
Within 12 hours 86 women had signed up.
They wanted to help and they didn’t know how, and everywhere they looked they were being told it was all their fault.
White women, this is for you. Women of colour are in very real danger right now, they do not have the time or the energy to educate us. They have been trying for years to get us on board, to make us see the light, they have been patient and understanding and they’ve held our hands for a long time. They can’t do it right now.
If you’re lost, if you can’t find your voice, if you’re scared and you want to help, if you want to learn and ask questions and support, you are welcome.
We are fortunate that women of colour have been blazing this path for us. They’ve spoken of the mask for years, of performing whiteness, of dual identities. They have learned how to play at Nice White Lady, they’ve always known it was a lie. They have pages upon pages of resources for us to learn from.
People of colour talk about whiteness all the time. Believe it or not, white people do not talk about whiteness. We need to get with the program. Whiteness is not real, it is an idea that is killing us. Whiteness is what causes white supremacy and Nazi ideology. Whiteness is what makes us afraid to take the bus late at night. Whiteness is what puts people like Donald Trump in the White House. Whiteness is not you, personally. It’s an idea that has been ingrained into your psyche. It’s something you’ve learned, something you’ve been sold, something you bought into. And it is so prevalent in our society that when it was shattered you realized that no matter how hard you tried you couldn’t ever have it all.
But you also realized that you had nothing else. Unlike people of colour, you never developed that other identity outside of whiteness.
“Check your privilege” doesn’t mean shut up and sit down, it means “check your privilege, it’s not what you think.” All this time they’ve been telling us the lie that was keeping us in place. All this time we tuned them out and buckled down and just tried to be a little bit better. If we could just actually like kale smoothies, maybe then we’d finally have it all. Self-care became self-pampering; women’s liberation became commercialized. We never stood a chance against the imperialist, capitalist, ableist, hetero-normative, patriarchal, white-supremacist machine that sucked us in and brainwashed us into thinking that pumpkin spice lattes were culture and that we could just skip ahead to being a post-racial society.
White women, we have a lot of work to do, and we need to do it fast. For a short time we still have the privilege afforded us by our white skin, for a short time we are perceived as non-threatening. For a short time we can help people from getting hurt, just by being visible. White men also have many privileges afforded to them by their whiteness. But when it comes to police brutality in particular, white women are the symbol of non-violence.
No one has as much practice at playing Nice White Lady as white women do — we are the secret agents of The Resistance.
But we do not know enough about fighting oppression to be on the front lines.
This is not White Saviour syndrome. We are not offering charity. We are the support. We are the rearguard. We are the people who signed up for the course 2 weeks before the mid-term and we have no idea what we’re walking into. We are medics and cooks and squires.
But we have to unravel the lies that blinded us for so long, and we have to do it now.
Women of colour, thank you for blazing this path for us. Thank you for welcoming us back into the sisterhood time and time again when we’ve gotten selfish, or when we’ve stopped listening. Thank you for being the catalyst for change. Thank you for taking so much time to try to educate us. Thank you for all of your sacrifices and all the times you swallowed your hurt when we ignored you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
We won’t let you down again.
We’ll be there.
This article now has a Part 2.
(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.