Activism · Feminism · Practice · Unlearning

Yes, I am a white woman.

Disclaimer:  I’m putting this baby right up top here.  This is my blog; this is me unlearning.  I want to make change, and I want to help.  But first — I need to unlearn some massive concepts, things that have simply been my way of life until now.  So if you come to my blog, and if, while here, you see something that I’ve written that is offensive or blatantly wrong, please help me to unlearn.  Yes, I understand this is my own duty, ultimately, but if you find yourself here on my blog, please help me to unlearn.

A lot has happened in the last week.  We got a new president in the United States, and then millions of people from around the world protested the day after.  I myself did not march in the Women’s March on January 21.  As much I wanted to be out there with a sign, cheering and chanting and fighting for my rights as a woman, I wasn’t.

But in the days following the march, in the soaring joy and hope I felt at the massive success of the march, it was quickly apparent that I, as a WW, I have a very narrow, limited experience in the issues that face women in this country and around the world.

Yes, I need feminism because sexist comments are common in my workplace.  Yes, I need feminism because my maternity leave at my job just isn’t long enough.  Yes, I need feminism  because men’s voices are continually considered more important than my own.  Yes, I need feminism because I want my reproductive rights.  But, as I said, it’s become quite clear that my struggles are laughably simple in the face of what women of color (WOC) experience in the United States.

There are few things in my life that are absolutely certain.  Two of those things are that I am white, and that I am a woman.  I am a white woman (WW).  I can’t help that, and I can’t apologize for that.  And so I am trying to unlearn what that really means.

To be sure: I am privileged.  I have read a lot of people around the internet talking about all the “hard work” they have put in to being successful, but — let’s be real — working an after school job for 12 hours per week in high school, studying real hard for your college midterms, going on a couple unsuccessful interviews is not the kind of struggle that is relevant here.  Hey, I’m happy that you’re successful in life, but guess what?  If you consider the above examples (and other similar examples with slight variation) “hard work,” you’re not really the targeted demographic of the recent Women’s March.

You’re not really the targeted demographic, and you may not really understand why such a fight is necessary.  You may make the above “hard work” argument, you may state that there is no “problem,” that you’re able to take care of your family, and that your rights are not trampled upon day in and day out.  You may even be a woman who mocked and belittled the Women’s March and its participants.

The Women’s March, and feminism in general, is about ensuring human rights are honored for women the same as they are honored for men.  The Women’s March, and feminism in general, is about equality across the spectrum of the sexes.  It’s about all women: Black women, Native women, poor women, immigrant women, disabled women, Muslim women, lesbian queer and trans women.  It’s about LGBTQIA rights, worker’s rights, civil rights, disability rights, immigrant rights, and environmental justice (see the Women’s March’s principles here).  Feminism is about you and your rights, whether you believe that you, and this country, this world, need it or not.

There are articles and activists around the internet blatantly calling out WW on our obvious lack of concern about such issues until November 8, 2016.  Of course, there were WW activists prior to trump’s election, however, if I’m using a blanket statement, I might as well just do it: white woman are just not politically and social justice motivated.  Why would we need to be?  I just outlined my experience as a WW and it sounds pretty fluffy compared to the extreme experiences of WOC.  Bottom line is that I have never been scared for my life because I am a white woman.  So, yeah, I’m in a position to do more work here.

There are articles and WOC activists around the internet stating how tired they are of carrying WW on their shoulders during political and social justice fights.  And I don’t blame them.  I am woefully under-educated in this sphere.  I’m quick to post something to social media, I am quick to make comments and calls — but beyond that, I have no idea what I’m doing.  Am I supposed to rely on WOC to show me the way?  How is that any better than before.

And that’s about where I am in my unlearning.  I am a white woman, and I’m trying to figure out what this means in this new political nightmare.  Stay tuned to this space for more unlearning.

What are your experiences with feminism and the Women’s March?  How has this changed since November 8, 2016?  And, most importantly: can you recommend me any reading to help with my unlearning?

exploringly yours,
Alaina x

12 thoughts on “Yes, I am a white woman.

  1. Great post, and you raise excellent points. As for your question, though it is not necessarily about women’s rights, I will share this: my husband is black. My son is mixed, and will be perceived as black by society because racial constructs unfortunately exist and do influence the way people are perceived and treated by both institutions and private individuals. This is a matter that affects my everyday life, and I see racism played out in at times fascinating contexts, often even by people who don’t consider themselves to be racist at all. I won’t let my son play outside with a toy gun – the bright orange one purchased at a Disney store – because I can’t trust that I am not putting him in danger should someone see him and assume he presents a threat. Seems crazy, but too many black boys have been murdered in similar circumstances. I was upset months back when my mother innocently said to me: “I told your step-dad that we should support Black Lives Matter because of Jorge and Gabriel. But he shrugged.” I know she didn’t even realize what she was saying, but I was struck by it. Why do you think that this is only relevant to the black community? Why would you need a “ticket” to the cause in the form of having a black relative? Isn’t it enough that all of this is happening, period? That it’s part of the fabric of our US society, period? Isn’t being human the only prerequisite to involvement? The thing is, her comment is illustrative of a lot of white people who don’t understand what being black is like (or trans, or gay, etc). Despite really good intentions, and progressive ideals, many are simply not aware of how compartmentalized they are in their own worldview and experience. It’s not a criticism of them, it is honest. But therein lies so much profound work to do, so much learning, so much empowerment. I hope that the Women’s march serves to open to door a little wider onto this and so many other subjects that need to be discussed.

    1. I agree with Olivia’s comment above – the only requirement to be involved is that you are human.

      The world needs to summon up more compassion and empathetic action. Releasing ego/fear and remembering to live by the golden rule.

    2. Olivia, thank you so much for sharing part of your story. My life experience has been very compartmentalized, and I’ve basically just been moving from one white bubble to the next, so I can identify with your honest observations of white people. I can admit that my perspective has changed much recently, where, yes, I always “cared” about BLM and other POC issues and movements but now I’m eager to get involved where I can, “ticket” or not. It sounds extremely short-sighted, and admittedly it was, but like you said I think the Women’s March IS a catalyst for this fight.

  2. I heard someone say that the things that are currently happening in the US are happening for a good reason – to wake people up and remind them that freedom is not something to be taken for granted, it’s something to be fought for. The best one can do in the fight for freedom is gaining knowledge, getting educated. The more you know the harder it is to make you not react or react inadequately. Read actual bills and laws to know what’s wrong with them, always check your sources and act based on facts to be the most impactful, to bring actual change.
    Wishing you all the best and hoping that the situation in America will improve and settle down over time – fingers crossed from Europe! 🙂

    1. Joanna, thank you for your comment. While yes there are a lot of people waking up to these issues in the US, I would hesitate to consider it “good” overall. There are certain groups of people that seem to be enjoying/hope to enjoy trump’s brand of “freedom.”

      Your point about education is very valid, something I’m working on!

  3. Hi Alaina, thank you for sharing your process of unlearning and inviting us to unlearn as well. I know you asked for reading recommendations, I would suggest connecting with people of different cultures and learning directly from them. Social media is great for that.

    Something that upsets me sometimes is that when people of any backgrounds try to do something, once they become conscious or aware of what is happening, sometimes People of Color will slam them down, blame them for what has already been done. For example, in the Women’s March I saw a picture of a POC holding a sign that said something like “don’t forget that 53% of white women voted for trump”, and there were white women in the background. It seems that even when we are trying to come together, we are so divided. When I think about those 53% of women I can’t help to follow it with “and forgive them for they knew not what they did”.

    I know there are some people of color who are very adversarial towards white people, I am not one of those people and I think those feeling do more harm than good. So that’s something that pushes my buttons. I welcome everyone to the struggle. And there is no greater gift than to have someone of a different race, ethnicity, gender, age group,etc etc, try to understand our experience, try to put themselves in our shoes and show compassion. People of color can show compassion too and not play the victim. What’s done is done and we are all in this shit together, so how do we move on? Sigh. Those are just my thoughts. Thank you for starting the conversation.

    1. Coloured people’s anger needs to be heard, acknowledged and respected. The only thing that makes it worse is acting like they have nothing to be angry about.

      White people have yet to acknowledge the harm they’ve caused, that they still cause, without realising it. When it’s pointed out to them, they choose to ignore it or act like it’s not a problem. This is true at the personal and political level, and I’ve experienced it too much. They don’t give a fuck, that’s why coloured people are angry.

      That’s why they have to shout to be heard, and they’re still not heard.

      Coloured people aren’t being divisive when they do this; it’s got to a point where it’s actually outrageous and deserving of all the rage.

      Please understand this.

      1. Hi Sukrita, thank you for replying to my comment. I agree that everyone has the right to feel and express their anger, and any other emotion they feel. I am a person of color too, and I know there are a lot of white folks out there who don’t give a fuck, like you said, my thoughts were that when white people start noticing and want to become allies, why do we have to blame them for all the other white people who have done us wrong? I didn’t mean that people of color are divisive, i meant that even when we are trying to come together, in large supportive events, we are still so divided I don’t know that we will ever realize that we are all the same. Something else about my point of view, which could be totally wrong, is that I believe that we are all one entity, we are the white person who is oblivious and oppressive and we are the protectors/protestors fighting for our voice and justice. It’s a point of view that is far from being the norm, but it is what I believe. When we oppress someone we are only oppressing ourselves, and no one realizes that.

        Finally, I want to apologize if my comment came of as ignorant or disrespectful of anyones experience. That wasn’t what I meant to convey. Thank you for engagin in the conversation.

      2. Thank you Dianna and Sukrita for contributing to this discussion, I really appreciate reading your opinions. I don’t feel that I can comment too much here – only read and (un)learn. Though I will say that as a white woman trying to help in this fight, I know of the inherent privilege that I have. I may not completely understand the scope of it, but I do not think it is necessary to continually have this pointed out to me. I feel that by joining the fight as openly and sincerely as possible is me trying to daily acknowledge and “check my privilege.” I think this may be the part of the division that Dianna is talking about? I’m not sure that white people as a whole will ever completely acknowledge their privilege, just not all people operate that way. Maybe this is the subgroup that needs the continual reminders of the divisions between white people and people of color. My goal is to amplify the messages that people of color are yelling, to support where I can. This fight is not really about me.

      3. Yeah, that’s what I was trying to say, not very clearly probably. In the end the “fight” is not about anyone individually, it’s about all of us. I can’t say I am an expert either, and there is always more for me to learn as well. I am glad that these kinds of conversations are taking place, even if they get uncomfortable.

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