There’s something very specific about being a white woman in the United States. We have a privileged status because of our skin color, but experience disadvantages due to our gender. That intersection of whiteness and womanhood makes us convenient objects for the white supremacist movement, as those deplorable leaders will uphold the image of the pure white woman as victims of men of color who want to “prey” upon us, while also treating us as vessels to reproduce and maintain the white race.
Take the tragic death of Heather Heyer, a white anti-racist activist who died when a Nazi plowed into her with his car. The editor of The Daily Stormer called her a “fat, childless slut” who had failed to do her only duty in life, which was to have white babies.
It would be ignorant, however, to pretend that white supremacy is only upheld by white men, and white women are simply tools in their master plan, having no agency of their own. In the 1920s, white women were active participants in the Ku Klux Klan and in some ways more successful than their male counterparts (yay feminism?) Almost 100 years later, white women continue to participate in white supremacy: women like Lana Lokteff (who resembles an evil Kristen Bell) run their own “alt-right” media companies and spread propaganda maintaining the superiority of the white race.
And 53% of white women who voted in the 2016 election voted for Donald Trump.
Like many Americans, I was almost paralyzed with shock and dismay on November 9, 2016. The previous day had started on a note of energy and celebration and quickly devolved into despair and fear. I couldn’t believe that this was my country, and I especially couldn’t believe that a slim majority of white women voters would choose a misogynist sexual assaulter over an immensely qualified woman.
I was shocked, but people of color were not. My Twitter feed was filled with people of color expressing their dismay but complete lack of surprise that white women would betray their gender. One that struck me in particular: “Black women have been trying to tell us for YEARS that white women will choose their race over their gender, every time. And here we are.”
Here we are, indeed.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I first started to realize that many people of color don’t see white women as any more trustworthy than white men. I naively, and selfishly, thought that the systemic sexism we faced put us closer to our friends of color than white men. I wasn’t ignorant of racism among white women, but like the #notallmen crowd, believed deep down that the racist white women were the outliers.
Perhaps they are. Perhaps most white individually are not personally, hatefully racist. But we are ALL complicit in systemic racism and white supremacy, even if we find racism and white supremacy repugnant.
Realizing that white women en masse are no better than white men on the subject of race was an uncomfortable epiphany.
I have some advice for other white women experiencing a similar epiphany: don’t ignore that discomfort.
Sit with it. Ruminate on it. Think about how you can do better. Resist the temptation to say #notallwhitewomen; reflect on how similar that is to #notallmen and how much we dislike it when men try to disown their complicity in inaction.
Listen to black people. Listen to black women in particular when they talk about their complicated feelings about the feminist movement.
Quash the impulse to make your discomfort all about you and your white guilt. Take that discomfort and turn it into righteous anger to fight against racial injustice.
It’s not easy to come to terms with your culpability in an oppressive system when you’ve tried to be a good person in your life. But as Albus Dumbledore said, we all have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy.