By Torraine Walker
White women are BIG mad.
In the wake of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation, women in general are outraged that an alleged rapist was admitted to the highest levels of American power, in spite of the testimony of his main accuser, Dr. Christine Ford. But white women are especially upset. For many, this is their first taste of the sort of injustice and disregard of their humanity that women of color have faced since America was founded. They are marching. They are organizing. They are looking for ways to express their rage and for many, the symbols of the Black power movement are the best ways to display that anger.
Once Kavanaugh was confirmed, Bette Midler tweeted that “women are the niggers of the world”, a reference to a song by John Lennon and Yoko Ono released in 1972. After being told by actual Black women that was a very bad take, she deleted the tweet and apologized. Not long after, another white woman suggested that women should take a knee to protest Kavanaugh. Black activists quickly informed her that taking a knee is the symbol of Colin Kaepernick’s fight against police brutality and institutionalized racism and to create their own.
The response to these women being chastised was hostile, to put it mildly. But what’s fascinating is the hostility didn’t come from conservative trump supporters, it came from white liberals who should know better. The indignant responses from white women defending both of these actions sounded eerily similar to the condescending passive aggressiveness white men use to dismiss Black issues.
There seems to be this idea that the symbols, movements, and energy of Black struggle are raw materials that any group should be able to co-opt to suit their needs, and that any Black person who objects to this is “being divisive.” But symbols mean things, and cultural theft isn’t any less outrageous because the thief smiles at you while doing it.
America runs on oppression. It always has. Women of color have always been victims of this system and white women have always been the beneficiaries of it. All too often, white women think oppression doesn’t really exist until it effects them. But once it does, they feel like they should leapfrog over people who’ve spent lifetimes in resistance to lead the revolution. It’s like barging in to a stranger’s birthday party demanding to decide who gets to eat the cake.
The history of cultural appropriation in America is a long one that bleeds into social justice movements, helped along by the assumption that any organization with Black people visibly out front must have a white leader in the shadows pulling the strings. It’s a racist assumption about the intelligence of Black people that unfortunately many allies have internalized, along with the white savior myth, that oppressed people should be grateful for any white support, no matter how that support shows up, its motives, or how it behaves. Whether it’s Gloria Steinem or Bette Midler, Jane Fonda or the “woke” college freshman, some of our allies can’t seem to help redirecting the focus of movements they join with onto themselves.
Of course, none of this could happen without the cooperation of the negro whisperer, the handful of Black people chosen as spokespeople for the Black masses. All too often, they are more concerned with securing the speaking engagement and wealthy donor bag for themselves than any real progress for the people they claim to represent and because of this, they are happy to allow themselves to be used as props, to give an image of collective Black endorsement of this sort of “allyship.”
This is how African-Americans and people of color can end up becoming accessories in the movements they create, and afterthoughts within movements they don’t. True allyship is two groups working together to achieve a common goal. It does not mean that one group alters its core beliefs in the service of the other. The price of that sort of allyship is too high for people with so much to lose.
White allyship has to face its complicity in upholding white supremacy. Instead of always telling us they’re our allies, they can prove it by actually listening to the people they say they want to help, as well as helping with issues closer to home. There is more than enough work to be done there, like converting the 53% of white women that voted for Donald Trump and correcting the white women who call the police on Black people for minor disputes. They’re not going to listen to anything Black people have to say, but they might listen to friends and family members who challenge their points of view.
It’s fitting that Susan B. Anthony is the icon of white feminism. She was willing to accept a future where wealthy educated whites dominated the world, so long as white women were equal partners in that domination. If you look at the leadership, focus and behaviour of many organizations that idolize her, you’ll see that worldview hasn’t changed.
Torraine Walker is a writer, independent journalist, and content creator for digital media. His work has appeared in publications including the Huffington Post, Fusion, Abernathy, and Brain Mill Press. In 2015, his blog SUMCity won WordPress' Freshly Pressed Award for best new blogs.