As Trump ramps up public calls for Confederate monuments to be “saved,” as more white-nationalist marches get their permits, and as more footage spreads of these angry white men and their torches, it can be tempting to retreat into ourselves. It can be tempting to remind ourselves that “we” would never do “that” and to ask “how could they be so racist, so violent, so evil?” But as white people – as white women – we cannot back away from our connection to these events, however painful that might be to do.
As journalist Laura Smith recently wrote, “When it comes to identifying the perpetrators of racial hatred in this country, it is tempting to comfort ourselves with gender tropes. But women have always played a determining role in white-supremacist movements.” And she is right – not just in our history, but today. I must repeat here a statistic that still haunts me to this day: 53 percent of white female voters voted for Trump. This means that over half of white women who voted, whether or not they personally agreed with Trump’s racist rhetoric, enabled his racism.
As a white woman, I am ashamed.
Over half of white women who voted, whether or not they personally agreed with Trump’s racist rhetoric, enabled his racism.
Sure, scripted Trump – after intense pressure – denounced white supremacist hate groups. Yet his words rang hollow (even before he repudiated them himself), as do the words of the many conservative leaders who denounced this hate but still support his Presidency. Because it’s not nearly enough. For years, conservative leaders have fanned the flames of racial hatred for their own benefit, and now the nation is paying a price. A very steep price.
It’s actually more accurate to say that people of color have always been paying this price and that white people are now only more aware of it. For the hateful rhetoric and actions coming out of Charlottesville are not new, but centuries old. And, the inheritors of these blatantly racist views increasingly have permission to express them as mainstream.
So where exactly did that permission come from? The most obvious answer is Trump, and that is not the wrong answer. Trump’s leadership is vile and horrifying, dangerous and morally bankrupt. Trump employ(ed) Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, feigns ignorance on David Duke, and retweets just about anyone who says they like him. Trump asks for a Muslim Ban and a wall to keep out “bad hombres,” and makes sure to acknowledge the “very fine people” at the white supremacist rally. Trump, who holds the highest office in our land, is the major culprit of our current national shame... As are those who still support him, regardless of their volume.
And, the buck doesn’t stop there. I am afraid many more people than Trump, and many more people than conservative leaders, and many more people than even those who voted for him, must ultimately own up to their complicity – their share in the blame. Otherwise, we will never heal as a country.
It’s high time we unequivocally choose our common humanity over our racial privilege. It’s high time we white women face our history of enabling white supremacy and ask ourselves how we still contribute to and benefit from patriarchy and racial hierarchy (even if we vehemently oppose it). And, it’s high time we engage in conversations amongst ourselves and take action to radically alter the status quo.
It’s high time we unequivocally choose our common humanity over our racial privilege.
I would be remiss if I did not honor Heather Heyer, a young white woman who literally put her body on the line and paid the ultimate price. I would be remiss if I did not honor in this moment the countless white women I know and don’t know who have dedicated their lives to the cause of equality. But I would also be remiss if I did not acknowledge that every single white woman must still do more. Much, much more.
Because in the words of Martin Luther King Jr, the greatest threat is not the KKK or explicit racists. The greatest threat is the “white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than justice.” So we must ask ourselves, how many times have we kept the peace or prioritized our personal interests rather than fought on behalf of others? How many times have we rationalized a racist or sexist remark, not challenged family members at the dinner table, or continued to work with someone whose behavior made us uncomfortable? Whose actions violated others?
And, how many times have we actually put our reputations and our bodies on the line?
Prioritizing neutrality, passivity, and comfortability over change will not move us forward as a community or a nation. Nor will they put an end to this extreme hatred and bigotry.
It’s high time for each and every one of us to decide – are we going to be on the right side of history and correct the inequities of the past? Or are we going to be on the wrong side of history, and continue to perpetuate and fuel racism and bigotry? The opportunity is for the taking.
“That’s how you’re going to make my child’s death worthwhile,” Heather Heyer’s mother said at her funeral. “I’d rather have my child, but by golly if I gotta give her up, we’re gonna make it count.”
Today, I am ashamed. Tomorrow, I will continue the fight for intersectional feminism and racial justice in this country. Forever, I will commit to ensuring justice and equality for all.