On the front lines of Friday night’s “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virgina, at the University of Virginia, angry white men with torches flocked to a statue of slave-owning Founding Father Thomas Jefferson. By Saturday afternoon, members of the KKK, neo-Nazis, and other armed militia groups were rallying full force in the streets adorned with Confederate flags and in full Nazi regalia.
Behind them, smaller in number but no less present, stood white women.
For those with an understanding of race relations in the United States, this will come as no surprise.
There were active women branches of the Ku Klux Klan. The white woman who accused 14-year-old Emmett Till of crude sexual behavior ― resulting in his gruesome murder in 1955 ― recently admitted she’d lied about what happened. As recently as Nov. 8, 2016, 53 percent of white women who voted, voted to support the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, despite his use of racist and sexist rhetoric.
While there were undoubtedly more white men at the “Unite the Right” rally, which was organized by neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, it is essential that we recognize that white women have always benefitted from white supremacy, and therefore played an integral role in upholding it.
White supremacy is indeed rooted in racism and misogyny ― but white women have historically enabled racism even if it came with the cost of misogyny, and on Saturday in Charlottesville, many yet again chose to maintain their white privilege by choosing subordination to white men over solidarity with people of color.
Many on Twitter made flippant comments about the rally, with jokes about the male attendees being harmless beta male-type trolls incarnate.
Those memes, while funny enough, ultimately do a disservice to the seriousness of the deadly violence that white supremacists inflict on real people (at time of publication, one person has been pronounced dead and dozens injured after a car plowed into an anti-racist group at the rally).
The “Unite The Right” gathering represents so much more than toxic or fragile masculinity. The gathering was a violent act of white supremacy ― and white women have played a significant role in perpetuating it.
Many on Twitter acknowledged this, with some using the #TrustBlackWomen hashtag as well.
Ultimately, as long as white conservative women continue to use their white womanhood to bolster racism and inequality, white progressive women have an obligation to condemn it ― and the brutal events in Charlottesville this weekend remind us why.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article indicated that the “Unite the Right” rally took place at the University of Richmond. In fact, it took place at the University of Virginia.
CLARIFICATION: This article has been updated with additional context on who voted in 2016.