It seems that, in white liberal circles across the country, social consciousness is social capital. This often manifests itself in white people’s use of buzzwords and trending rhetoric to publicly express support or disgust for current events; for example, posting on Instagram about International Women’s Day or dominating conversations to express disliking Donald Trump. It often does not manifest itself, however, in much inward reflection about ones’ own internalized racism. While many white liberals are adamant in their rejection of “white America,” this generally just means a rejection of oneself as racist and therefore a failure to begin the process of unlearning internalized racist and colonialist thoughts and behaviors. In thinking this through, I have begun to consider what effective allyship looks like in practice for me, a white woman. I present the following as important points for white liberal women looking to deconstruct worthless allyship and replace it with a more community-oriented, anti-racist politic; for white women who identify as liberal and openly voice disgust for the injustices performed by the United States but still engage in harmful thoughts and behaviors that perpetuate racist and colonialist realities.
So, here it is:
1. Remember your positionality. Existing as a woman in a patriarchal world means existing as oppressed; it does not, however, negate the powerfully tangible ways that white skin makes you incredibly privileged.
2. Examine who your feminism serves. Does it recognize that women are situated differently based on their other identities such as race, class, sexuality, and ability? Does it fight for the liberation of women who are situated differently than you?
3. Center women of color…and trans women, queer women, poor women, disabled women. Cultivate an awareness and subsequent adjustment of how much space you take up. Actively listen to more marginalized voices in the room and then center these expressed needs and desires.
4. Know when to speak up. Your friends’ sexist joke isn’t funny and neither is his racist one, so call him out on both. Talk to your white family about racism and (settler) colonialism; to begin with, talk about and donate to Standing Rock, #NoDapl, and BlackLivesMatter. Vocally critique white feminist spaces.
5. Educate yourself. On the history of feminism’s exclusionary tactics, on black and brown women’s theorizing, on misogynoir, on cultural appropriation, on disability studies, the list goes on. This list is, of course, merely a beginning. It provides initial tools to make white liberal women’s politics increasingly radical and relevant. It is useful in beginning to tackle what being a white woman in liberal circles means and subsequently what being an effective aspiring ally might look like.