I don’t like white women.
Whenever I say that, white women look at me like I just decapitated Taylor Swift. If I’m being honest, their reaction is part of the reason I say it. But rest assured, it’s not the only reason.
I don’t like white women because I’m not particularly fond of the construct of whiteness or what it represents. I also don’t appreciate those who are complicit in my oppression and benefit from it. When I say I don’t like white women, it’s not in reference to any specific white woman (aside from maybe Taylor Swift). It’s a declaration that white women pose a very real threat to my existence, and I don’t have to embrace that threat with open arms. You have to earn my fondness. This goes for several other groups, obviously, but for some reason white women seem the most baffled by it. Whenever I meet a white woman who’s not baffled by it, we instantly become friends. Those are the white women I like.
As an unapologetically black, queer, and cash poor femme, I accept that I can only speak definitively on my own experiences. In fact, I’m of the belief that our experiences are the only things any of us can definitively speak on. But that doesn’t mean ours are the only experiences worth acknowledging. There exists a space between the oft chanted chorus “silence is violence!” and the realization that when we advocate for other people we usually have no idea what we’re talking about. Navigating that space can be difficult, but it’s vital to achieving universal liberation. The fact so many white women continue to evade this space is why Black women like me are under the impression they aren’t all too concerned with our liberation. And just once, I’d love for them to prove me wrong.
I’m not a scholar, so occasionally I get left behind by academic terminology used to define my identity. I’ll never understand why I have to classify myself the way others see fit. Once, someone asked why I refer to myself as “cash poor” instead of “working class.” I think working class is a misnomer, since work is no indication of any shared socio-economic status. An undocumented sex worker, for example, and a white housewife trying to get her Etsy Store off the ground don’t have much in common. Saying both are working class does a lot to alleviate the conscience of those in positions of privilege. Yet still, when I turn on the news, that’s the group I hear politicians declaring their allegiance to. That’s the group I see folks clamoring to fight for. Terms like working class often erase intersections of oppression and replace them with a fictional shared experience. The same can be said of words like “feminism,” and even “women.” Ultimately, it’s not our shared experiences (real or imagined) that will unite us. It’s acknowledging our differences.
We leftists and liberals often like to think of ourselves as an intersectional body of unity. When Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the phrase “intersectionality” in the late 80’s, the concept was meant to bring attention to coexisting layers of social identity. Today, intersectionality has become a buzzword meant to lend credibility to social agendas that are anything but inclusive. I witnessed this, first hand, last month at the Women’s March.
The Women’s March was bittersweet for women of color and trans women. Although the official platform of the march referenced intersectionality twice, the experience was anything but that. For all its symbolism and potential, the Women’s March was largely a tightly packed shrine to alabaster skin and pink vulvas. My compatriots and I jokingly nicknamed the crowd a “sea of astroTERF” (a reference to the way trans women were all but excluded from the concerns of the participants). I made a mental note whenever I saw a white woman holding a sign that acknowledged women of color or immigrants — or Black lives mattering. My mental notepad remained largely unused.
I immediately began to think of the violence and harm that self-proclaimed feminists inflict on the most marginalized among us. I thought of all the times I, as a queer individual, believed I was doing enough for queer Black folk by just providing my queer Black body to spaces where not enough of us were present. I considered the ways in which I was complicit in the erasure of trans women, non-able bodied femmes, and undocumented immigrants; the times I was in my feels because a trans woman made a Facebook status dragging the fuck out of my perception of solidarity. I thought of instances when I actually said “Why would I want to fight alongside your struggle if you aren’t welcoming people like me who are actually trying to advocate on your behalf?”
Each of those times I had the wrong way of thinking. I came to that realization by listening and learning and surrounding myself with people who were gracious enough to share insights that I lacked. I believe this has led me to not only be a better feminist, but a better human being. I haven’t quite yet reached the pinnacle of intersectional Shangri-La, but I know some stuff. And in the interest of sharing my own insights, I’ll leave you with three things I try to consider when partaking in liberation work.
Maintaining a Growth Mindset
I try to always keep in mind that there are things I don’t know. More importantly, there are things I think I know now, that I’m just flat wrong about. Hopefully in the future I’ll figure out what those things are, and continue on my path of self-determination. But we can never grow mentally, emotionally, or spiritually if we approach things with a closed mind. I always try to listen to the accounts and experiences of others with the notion that I’ll pick up something new. That’s how we learn about privilege and our role in oppressing others. That’s how we learn about intersectionality. I can’t overstate the importance of listening to people who are willing to share their experiences with us. We just have to be cognizant of who we’re willing to listen to most intently — which brings me to my next point.
Diversity from the Top
Society has a hierarchy of experiential priorities. Those priorities align with the social pecking order, starting with straight white able-bodied cisgender men, and proceeding down the line accordingly. When I do anything, I try to start by flipping that hierarchy upside down before I proceed. If I’m picking a restaurant to eat dinner, I’m going to go out of my way to support a minority owned business. If I’m participating in a direct action, I want to make sure it’s led by, or in alignment with, the leadership of the most marginalized. Many Black women who attended the Women’s March did so begrudgingly because Black women were largely excluded from the planning until the 11th hour. That doesn’t go unnoticed. In order for our liberation to become a reality, we have to incorporate diversity from the top. And it can’t be symbolic diversity or tokenism. Are you centering the voices of the unheard? Are you following their direction and listening to their needs? I promise you that your own liberation depends on everyone else’s. When you fight for the lives of the most marginalized you simultaneously liberate yourself. A rising tide lifts all boats, y’all. Don’t end up with a yacht in the desert.
Lastly, even when I say I don’t like white women, I don’t do it from a place of hatred. I do it from a place of self-love and preservation. I don’t have to like you to have love and respect for you. If you prescribe to the idea that impact trumps intent, you still can’t deny the fact that people who act with love in their hearts usually have the most positive impact. And the best way to convey love is with our actions, not just our words. So when doing this work, it’s OK to stop and ask yourself if your motivation is coming from a place of love or a place of fear. It’s easy to hate. I hate the police. But that’s not why I do this work. I do this work because I LOVE my beautiful people, in all their magnificent shapes, sizes, shades, and orientations. I see you. I hear you. And I promise to do my best to honor you.