Women of Color: I see you.
Last week I read a message from activist ShiShi Rose posted to the Women’s March Instagram account titled “White Allies Read Below”. It was thought provoking and honest, but there was this small part of me that felt rubbed the wrong way. I wanted to say “Hey, you’re right, we should have been here sooner but we are here now, why are you dividing us? I thought we are all in this together?” But then I quickly tucked those thoughts away and continued furiously following the Women's March and experiencing the concurrent roller-coaster of emotions that comes along any time something you care deeply about receives this much media attention and generates this much conversation. So far, when it comes to engaging in feminist discourse, I've mostly experienced one of two scenarios...
The first is the thrill, it has been thrilling for me to see women around me speak passionately to friends and family and coworkers about these important and neglected issues that have disheartened me for years, I have honestly reveled in participating in these conversations with other feminists. It has compelled me to send messages of gratitude to my Mother and messages of encouragement to my friends and their daughters. It’s left me feeling united and powerful and hopeful.
The second is less appealing… It’s the infuriating frustration of debate with men who don’t understand and maybe worse, women who feel satisfied. It is truly astounding to me to see intelligent men and women justify the current state of affairs, to be faced with sets of facts and numbers that depict a true gap using data, not emotion, and have them respond to me unable to hear the misogynistic roots of their own words and justifications. The patriarchy runs deep.
However, I’ve also witnessed a third brilliant scenario… A scene where the above debate is healthy and educational and you get to see the lights turn on in the person you are talking to. Watching the slow unfurling of the mind as it opens up to understanding the depth and complexity of gender inequality is a wonderful thing to witness and should be celebrated.
And that’s what happened to me last night. Only this time, I was the one stepping into understanding.
I was having drinks with a friend and we got into a discussion about work and gender inequality. It was a thoroughly frustrating conversation but I could see his desire to find common ground with me, which I appreciated, so we continued. We eventually wound our way to the Women’s March… He shared that he felt left out of the fight, he expressed that he was “definitely on our team” but that “women’s victory shouldn’t mean the defeat of men.” He asked “why would you say ‘the future is female’ when you could say ‘the future is equal’?” I’ll admit I felt outrage at his ignorance and raised my voice as I responded, “BECAUSE OUR HISTORY HAS BEEN SPENT CATERING TO YOU AND WE ARE NO LONGER WORRIED ABOUT MAKING YOU FEEL INCLUDED. YOU ARE EXPECTED TO CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE AT THE DOOR AND LET THIS BE ABOUT US!”
And then I thought about ShiShi.
Her words were not about me. I was expected to check my white privilege at the beginning of her message and let it be about her. The lights were on. I got it.
Having men join our fight doesn’t erase their male privilege. And me standing united with women of color doesn’t erase my white privilege. Equality is not deleting what has happened or refusing to acknowledge the biases and discrimination we face due to our gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. Equality is acknowledging it, feeling it, shouting it so loud that it can no longer silently exist in our families and workplaces and communities. Recognizing your own privilege is step one in understanding someone else’s fight. It’s my friend needing to realize women’s rights will NEVER be about how he feels. It’s me realizing ShiShi’s letter will never be about how I feel.
I reread her letter this morning through my new and improved perspective. She said “I want to remind you that no ally ever got very far, in any movement, without acknowledgement of their own privilege daily.” And she is absolutely right.