Lost a friend on social media yesterday–and I say friend because this woman and I met in real life, spoke extensively on several occasions, held shared interests, and kept up with one another diligently on the net. Ms. Friend curates a feminist blog, and trouble started for me when she posted a diatribe about how Black Lives Matter isn’t on her radar as a feminist–nor should it be.
I’m the sort of feminist that feels when any woman, anywhere in the world, has an issue then it’s my issue.
Black Lives Matter exists to bring light to a severe racial problem occurring in the ranks of law enforcement. It impacts women of color in ways that I will never appreciate because I’m white. I’ll never worry my son will end up dead over a minor traffic stop, or end up in county lock up based solely on his jailer’s inability discern the facial features of anyone “different” than himself.
I disagreed and told her why, privately.
Ms. Friend called my phone, extremely upset. I should know she’s “an ally to women of color”; how could I not know this when she’s written (bragged) and done (signal boosts with her thoughts attached) so many things to prove this. If I sound derisive, it’s because I’m the sort that thinks one doesn’t go around broadcasting themselves as allies. Perhaps this is a failing, but I think walking the walk is more important than talking about it (yes, this post is my daily dose of iron).
As an ally of marginalized friends I have three jobs: Listen, learn, and affect change in those around me. I read the blogs, see the tweets, hear the shitty experiences. I don’t avoid them or ignore them, and I do not engage because more often than not, white folks are happy to DISCUSS the pre-existing problem without affecting any change. My theory on these “conversationalists” is that they want marginalized folks to know “not me” but they also want other white folks to know “not me.”
As a white woman I have ZERO ideas to bounce off any woman of color because eradicating racism isn’t a negotiation; she doesn’t need to change, I do, and in doing so, change those around me.
Listen to the good, the bad, and the ugly (yes, there’s plenty of ugly out there; a given considering the daily shit some marginalized women endure). Learn what not to do, (or say) to perpetuate the problem. Most important, learn that when a marginalized woman shares her bad experiences or opinions, she’s not trying to hurt you. It’s about her needing to bring light to behaviors perpetrated on such a massive scale they exist in daily life to the degree that most white women don’t recognize the shit until another white woman tells them it’s shitty.
I do not go out with picket signs; I do not give full-court text service to injustices on social media or my blog, I do not enter internet conversations to rebuke bigoted behavior (there’s plenty of WOC doing this–my white ass doesn’t need to be an amplifier). All I can do to counter said bullshit is to teach those around me what the bullshit is and why it’s harmful.
Sound lazy? I don’t think so. As a white woman, I take the time to tell every person in my sphere of influence what is racist, sexist, and damaging. I make it clear why something is not acceptable (oh the fun I’ve had with micro aggressions!), and my engaging these conversations enough does affect change.
If you tell your daughter that the unfair social and legal persecution of marginalized men in America hurt women of color in ways detrimental to feminism, then she’ll grow up knowing “white feminism” is just a form of racism. If you tell your daughter that transwomen are women, period, no questions asked and no surgery required, then she grows up knowing that CIS feminist exclusion of these women is just another form of transphobia. I can testify that the above is fact because I did these things, and my now-adult child holds these truths to be self-evident.
To effect change, you must change. I wasn’t born knowing what to do, and I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, but as a white woman, I am responsible for other white women. I listen and pass on what I learn to those around me. Sometimes I make the white women in my life forgo the cultural detachment; other times I get dismissed like I did yesterday. I won’t be the only one though–I’m not unique; she’ll encounter a similar rebuke, and when she acquires enough of them, she’ll change.
Feminism can’t be tribal. Her problems are my problems, her identity is my identity.
If pointing this out loses me a friend then that’s the price I pay for being allied to a cause that my indifference will only make worse.