After the March I decided I wanted to go out. I had an anti-Trump pin on my jacket and I thought “I don’t want to deal with Trump people bothering me again tonight” so I took it off. I was wearing gay pride stickers and I thought “I want to take these off so I don’t have to deal with homophobic people assuming I’m gay.” I was wearing ripped jeans and I thought “I don’t want to have to deal with people thinking I’m trashy if I want to go somewhere fancy.”
I can be an activist and a feminist and those are great things to be but at the end of the day, even as a woman, I can hide or remove my otherness because I am white. That is my privilege. I can be a straight white girl. I can be harmless. I can pass as the enemy so the enemy doesn’t think I’m a threat. Of course I still face misogyny and sexism but, if I want to, I can fit in with misogynists, I can blend in with sexists, I can play any game any straight white man wants me to play for his approval so I don’t have to “deal” with the consequences of being a marginalized person visibly trying to break free from oppression. Even as a queer woman, even as an assault survivor, even as a Jew, and even with Cherokee in my blood, I can pass. I can hide behind the color of my skin. Even as a vigilant radical I can put away my protest signs, keep my mouth shut, and erase all evidence of my weirdness.
A man wearing a Trump hat held a door open for me after the march. He asked me where I was from and why I was in town. My first instinct was to lie. I would have gotten away with it. I want to be an intersectional feminist. I want to be good. I want to do what’s right. But I have to recognize the parts of me that are problematic rather than just deciding that, because I’m not a racist, and I’m not a homophobe and I’m not a xenophobe, and I’m not sexist, I can just show up and do the work when I want to, and be vocal when I want to, and be an ally when I want to, and all my privileges will be forgiven. The privilege of my whiteness will always be there to protect me, even when my weirdness is turned all the way up, and my freak flag is flying high. As a white person, even when the deck is stacked against me, my race card is a trump card.
My privilege as a white person is not going away no matter how many marches I go to, how many phone calls to representatives I make, how many petitions I sign, or how many pink hats I knit. So what can I do as a white person to be a good white person? Showing up is good. Being politically active good. But those things don’t count for anything if I’m not vigilant in my own life to check my privilege on a daily basis, and as repetitive as it may seem, in every interaction I have with non-white people. I must always remain fully aware of my white privilege, and how I use it, so I never abuse the power it gives me. I must never try to co-opt or fetishize the experiences and identities of non-white people for any reason but especially not to validate and/or affirm my empathy for non-white people and I must never lose sight of how different things would be for me if I didn’t have white privilege.
This is the harsh truth we white feminists who don’t want to be guilty of white feminism have to face. That we are racially privileged. We’d rather retweet Audre Lorde quotes, check in at Standing Rock, advertise our awareness of racial and religious discrimination issues, and praise every afro and hijab we see to feel like we’re above our privilege and in it with our “sisters”. No matter how many black girls we compliment for having “amazing” hair, we’re still the children of the oppressors. We’re still on the white side of history. We have to remember that. When we offer unsolicited praise for the traditions of other races or try to participate in them without being invited to, we show that we still believe it is our job to approve of them. Our privilege can be abused even when we are trying to do good.
I’m sure the white woman at the March on Washington thought she was doing good when she put a Maya Angelou poem above a drawing of Bernie Sanders on her sign. I’m sure the white woman at the March on Washington thought she was doing good when she yelled at a Latina woman to “wait for the next train” as she tried to get on the car full of white women. I’m sure the white woman at the March on Washington thought she was doing good when she ran in front of a disabled woman to try to take a photo of a group of Muslim women marching. I bet she had some good hashtags.
Is it hard to hear that you are part of the problem when you want to be part of the solution? Yes. Does the guilt of having white privilege justify standing on the sidelines during the fight against it? Absolutely not. If we want to be allies, we better get used to listening to POC when THEY tell us how to be better at it. As white women, our gender does not exempt us from our privilege, our sexual orientations do not exempt us, our religious beliefs do not exempt us, our ages do not exempt us, and our activism most certainly does not exempt us. Our accountability is as real as the accountability of straight white men.
Acknowledging our own wrongdoing can be painful so if our white people feelings aren’t getting hurt while we fight against the racism in this world, we’re doing it wrong, and maybe not at all.
So keep marching, keep tweeting, keep fighting, but make sure the awareness we raise about racial injustice also includes self-awareness about our own racial privilege.