White Women: Let Us Think Before We Tweet

White women who voted for Trump are getting a lot of attention. White women who did not vote for Trump are asking for a lot of attention; what’s coming is critique, which we have earned both lately and over decades of excluding women of color from feminist movements, among other ways. 

I am a white woman who did not vote for Trump. There are a lot of us, though not enough; 47 percent of women who voted at all, plus presumably half of the white segment (77 percent) of the 234 million eligible voters who stayed home.

A trick of white supremacy is to teach white people that love is scarce, so that unlearning racism and learning to love those who have been oppressed means we can no longer love ourselves. I do not offer the following thoughts in that spirit—I offer them with love for white women, with a wish to do this work together, and with certainty that doing it imperfectly and as best we can is better by far than not doing it.

According to a 2014 study on “Race, Religion, and Political Affiliation of Americans’ Core Social Networks,” 91 percent of people comprising the social networks of white people are also white. So we white women may well not have friends of color, which is a lack of richness in our lives we can be mourning and examining. Right now, it means that for many of us, our contact with people of color is at work, or spaces that are informal though not intimate. This includes the internet.

It seems we are doing two big things in these spaces and on the internet: saying how shocked, stunned, or ashamed of the country we are, and asking people of color, “What should we do now?”

Here is why we need to stop this behavior: it demands free emotional labor from people of color, and most often women of color. We have no right to this in less eventful weeks, though we do it anyway. In this week, where the deep racism and sexism of the United States has been confirmed in a way likely to lead to worsening material conditions in the lives of people of color, particularly women of color, adding our emotional needs to their exhaustion is indefensible.

It is, however, understandable, because it’s what our culture taught us to do. We just need to not do these things, for related but different reasons.

1. Expressing how shocked, stunned, or ashamed of the country we are: We really may be. We may have believed better, or simply hoped better. Which, okay, but then we instrumentalize it. We may think telling this to our friends or co-workers of color identifies us as on the right side of something, as someone in solidarity. Sadly, for everyone, the effect instead can be to position us as one more white woman looking to be taken care of by women of color. We probably don’t think this is what we are doing, but it’s built into the shitty fabric of our country, and our intentions do not matter as much as the impact. Further, the United States that voted in Trump on Tuesday was not different than the United States of Monday. If we truly had no idea how acceptable racism is to most white people, that is on us to reckon with. We have to do that work, but we have to do it with each other.

2. Asking people of color to tell us what we should do: Living in a culture of white supremacy and patriarchy, we’ve osmosed that there are always right answers, and our worth depends on finding them, but they are outside of us. So we think it’s our job to figure out who has them, and ask. It’s clear to us now that men have no answers, so we look to who might be expert in our midst. In asking people of color, we may think we are being deferential, humble, admitting freely that we don’t have the answers and are open to their leadership. However: there is simply zero shortage of sharp, brilliant writing on what white people can do, and why they need to. There is a whole internet of it. Some of it is written by longtime white antiracist organizers; some by people of color willing to do the teaching we tend to ask for casually from our friends and co-workers of color. The answer is and has been the same forever: organize yourselves. We don’t love this answer, because we hate ourselves a little or a lot right now, and want nothing to do with other white people, especially any who may have voted differently than we did. It’s still the answer, and it is for us to get over our shit, listen, learn, and get going.

To be clear, racism, which I am writing about here, and sexism, which I am largely not, intersect deeply (as do the myriad other assaults on parts of human identity). All women are likely to be in more danger in the coming time, and as many have said for years and recently, an oppression olympics does the oppressed no good. And still: if we white women can do better, if we can act more in the solidarity we aspire to, more out of love for those on the receiving end of so much hate, we will—won’t we?

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