Recently, an acquaintance on Facebook upset several mutual friends with a post that started with an admission that every time someone says the phrase ‘white privilege,’ she laughs out loud. She went on to detail how, while she was a white woman, she has experienced a number of specific oppressions in her life and felt it was unfair to conflate her with white male bankers. She identifies vociferously as a feminist.
Also this week, I was pulled over for speeding (oopsie!) and waited in frustration as the officer spent seemingly forever in his car with my registration and license. When he came back, he gave me a warning and let me go. I’ll admit; I was a little frazzled. Earlier that day my daughter had fallen and hurt herself at school, and waiting in my car for the police officer meant I was getting more and more late to pick her up. I told him so, and he left me with a genuine expression of concern. His last words were, “have a better day.”
This, when women like Sandra Bland wind up dead in jail after a routine traffic stop. When some white people continue to defend the Confederate flag after the terrorist murders in Charleston. When people I know sully the ‘feminist’ movement with open hostility toward intersectionality and a self-aggrandizing desire to shout over the lived experiences of others.
I cried as I drove away.
White privilege is an institution that is scary for whites to acknowledge. Hardly anyone wants to be called racist, and just about everyone, white people included, can cook up some stories of how they overcame hardships and got where they are by dint of hard work. The institution of white privilege does not mean that every white person is inherently bad, nor that every white person lives a dandy oppression-free life, but it does mean that every white person doesn’t have to deal with the race-based economic, political, and social inequality people of color have to deal with every day. It also means that white people have a responsibility to listen, learn, and advocate for change.
To deny that at this moment of crisis — when we keep seeing new videos and learning new names of Black people who die in police custody, when activists from the Black Lives Matter movement are tugging the strings of the nation’s conscience and doing the hard work to redistribute power where it belongs — to deny that automatically lands you on a continuum somewhere between ignorant and asshole.
Many of the best feminist activists, organizers, theorists, thinkers, and writers I know are women of color. For that matter, many of the best feminists I know who have told me they most struggle with the term “feminist” are women of color.
Because there is this baggage of white feminists who declare all women are the same, when we are most clearly not. Or things like Patricia Arquette’s exclusionary speech for ‘women’s rights’ at the Oscars.
What we don’t need is ‘unity,’ a phrase that is often deployed as a way for women with more power to get their way.
What we frankly need is to educate these women, or else.
I know many feminists who will rise up to defend why you need to support abortion rights in order to identify as a feminist. The same thing needs to happen with racial justice — if you are not willing to listen to others with different experiences and identities without putting yourself first, if you are not willing to look racism in the face, you really need to get the fuck out of the tent.