I’ve been staring at a blank screen trying to figure out how to start this. This blank screen is just another iteration of the silent paralysis I have been exercising for years around the topic of racism. Admittedly, my silence is an example of why we are where we are today. I vehemently reject racism. I talk about it with my children. I’ve attended racial equity training and have been in myriad meetings about structural and systemic racism. I read books about redlining and absorb infographics like my son devours comic books. But I’ve realized that becoming a student of racial equity is the coward’s alternative to real activism. It’s maddening to think that I am afraid of tension at the Thanksgiving table while my friends who are Black are afraid to go for a run. I’m late to the party but I’m ready to step into what feels like an awkward mess and start finding my footing. My vocabulary around this is a bit disorganized right now because I haven’t used it as much as I should. So, I’m going to clean up the mess and start stringing sentences together to engage with whoever wants to step into this with me.
I think white women have a unique role to play in the anti-racist movement. We straddle a couple of spheres of lived experience that tee us up as a potential force in the quest to end racism.
First, and obviously so, we are white. With that comes a ride on the coattails of centuries of white privilege. Our lives, though hard in certain ways, were not made more difficult because of the color of our skin. We join a responsibility of all white people to grab the torch that we should have picked up a long time ago and start protecting and advocating on behalf of people of color. It is NOT their job to fix the system that was set up to oppress them. The Black community cannot shout any louder – they can’t breathe anymore (they also couldn’t breathe in 2014 when Eric Garner was killed by police, yet here we still are) and it’s time for us to give them a breath of fresh air and act with the same urgency as if our sons and daughters were being killed.
There’s another sphere that white women straddle that gives us a unique foundation from which to build empathy and understanding. As women, we have had glimpses of what discrimination feels like. We have carried ourselves with a demeanor intended to fight off stereotypes or prevent “mixed messages” that we may be giving off just by being a woman. We have dealt with the chronic stress of assault, tensed our muscles at an unwelcome touch, bristled at words meant to demean us and felt the fear of knowing that at any moment, our bodies could fall victim to an attack no matter how much we try to make safe choices. We see the likeness of ourselves portrayed as a vessel for sexual pleasure, stereotyped as domestic and dumb, and verbally torn apart in song lyrics meant to weave a tale of submission, abuse and power. We disappear. We’re a tool of war. We are trafficked. Our bodies are politicized and regulated. We are kept just far enough below the glass ceiling that we can see it but are still trying to break it. And we know that if the world let us unleash our full potential, the power shift and crumbling of the constraints that hold us back would be an amazing revolution. Disaggregate the data on any one of these points and you will see that women of color carry the burden heavier than women who are white.
This is why women, and white women in particular, have a special role to play in the anti-racist movement. Racism is robbing our country and our world of talent, potential and leaders that could make seismic shifts in our communities. We could be so far forward right now if we would just stop feeding the systems that hold people back. Society has asked women to leash our collective power and I think white women should no longer be waiting on deck for our moment – this is it. Our ability to hold ourselves and our fellow white-privileged to task paired with the lived experience we bring of having empathy for discrimination and oppression make us a formidable partner to root out racism from our hearts, our families, our communities and, most importantly, from the lives of those who are enduring it, and dying from it, on a daily basis.