Dear Black Women,
I’m about to talk to you in a way that is currently unacceptable, a way that might make you really angry. I’m not going to play by the liberal white woman rules right now, because there are about a billion white women already playing by those rules and yet our relationship still seems to be growing steadily worse.
And I may be about to say something truly ignorant in that spirit of openness. I’m prepared for that possibility because frankly, I’m a white woman, which means I can’t truly know what it feels like to grow up and live in this world as a black woman. My imagination will never be the same thing.
In fact, I also can’t speak for all white women. I’m just one. We’ve all come from different backgrounds and had different experiences and it’s entirely possible that I’m about to hear far more white women yelling at me than the black women I’m actually trying to address.
I’m prepared for that and it’s okay. If I’m wrong, I’d rather hear about that than say the things I’m supposed to say and never become a more enlightened person than I am right now.
And what have to say is this:
I love you. But I don’t understand what’s happening right now.
Maybe it’s privileged to not understand it, but I don’t. I’m saying it’s “privileged” because it’s the right thing to say right now, but I don’t really get it. I know that we used to be friends, back when we were just people instead of walking representations of our respective communities. Back since I was five years old and mean girls on the playground made fun of me for having holes in my pants, and it was the black girl who had my back.
I know that when classmates were making fun of my bad skin and unfashionable clothes in 7th grade, another black girlfriend took my side. When they said I looked dirty and must never wash my face, my black girlfriend was the one who told them to go fuck themselves then tried to teach me about benzoyl peroxide face wipes. She was the one who traded video games with me and we stayed up all night to eat peanut butter cups and write gothic romance novels together. Her house was a lot cleaner than mine, her parents so much more Ward and June Cleaver than the ones I was used to.
Yet another black girlfriend in the Army was the one who told me how much she wanted the bus we were riding to boot camp to run over her ex, after he left her stranded with triplets in high school. We shared stuff like that because we were afraid of what we were getting ourselves into, just like we joked about sneaking a smoke in the bus bathroom because how could it get any worse? (We never did).
And later, my half black friend was the one who held my hand and cried while I was going through my divorce. She was the one who said she though the woman probably always had an inside story to tell when people were gossiping about how she caused the divorce, which was how I found out people were talking about me, because she remembered how rough her own parents’ marriage was.
I don’t know how to talk about these friends because saying you have black friends sounds like you’re trying to excuse yourself from potential charges of racism, and all I want to talk about are the peanut butter cups and acne pads and being afraid on the boot camp bus, because I didn’t think this friendships were about politics, just people getting through their lives together and sharing a moment… and that sounds racist too, because it sounds like I’m calling myself “colorblind.”
These days, that half-black friend, who talks bout being a “mulatto” and often needs to reaffirm her authentic blackness, is pretty irritated with me. I’ve been talking about how the Democrats went wrong, you see, whereas she’s put the whole Trump election down to racism.
And she’s really mad. As in, my attempts to talk Democratic strategy piss her off. To me, politics is a Machiavellian game where you have to work the egos involved into an equation that will accomplish your goals, which means finding common ground at the expense of moral righteousness. Which means she isn’t talking to me right now.
Which pretty much reflects the position of white women on Pantsuit Nation. We’re guilty of tone-policing and a lack of quietly-intersectional listening in the face of being part of a group where 53% of the members voted for Trump.
And I get that 53% of us let you down, but we weren’t part of that 53%. We were the other ones. The ones who are trying to understand what you have to say, even if we haven’t lived lives that help us get exactly where you’re coming from. We may not always respond right but frankly, the Trump supporters among us couldn’t give a shit and aren’t even trying.
We, on the other hand, are feeling a little trapped. As if showing support for your cause means we’re trying to get recognition for our efforts, or that taking issue with the idea that we’re hostile means we’re not listening properly. NO ONE wants to feel like they have to shut up and do what they’re told, even when they’re part of a historically advantaged group. Even being horrified by racism in our country supposedly proves our privilege of not already being desensitized to it, which is starting to make us wonder how it’s even possible to show support.
We’re feeling a lot of hostility in general. The Men’s Rights Activists are calling Western Women entitled and are threatening to replace us all with fembots unless we start making more sammiches. Movies like Get Out are saying that even white women who appear to be thinking outside their race-box are all just secretly luring black men into doom. There’s an awful lot of pressure to make us the enemy.
And I can’t help but wonder who is profiting from all this. Maybe we’re confused by how you identify more with your blackness than your femaleness… I don’t know. We’ll naturally appreciate the struggles of being female more than those of being black, since we’ve experienced the former firsthand. Either way, you don’t have a prayer with the white male vote, whereas the white female vote could practically go either way.
Maybe you view that alliance as pandering. All I know is that politics is still more a game of numbers than a contest of whose had it worse. Collectively, you guys would clearly win that prize. But if we sever this alliance, what happens next?
If they can do this to us, what will happen to you? If white women should shut up now because they have it so much better than third-world women, what happens when you’re accused of having it so much better than those in Southeast Asia or Sub-Saharan Africa? What happens when YOUR concerns are brushed aside, just because someone, at the present moment, has it worse? Even though no one’s looking at first-world billionaires passing more billionaire tax cuts?
If they manage to take us out, which looks quite likely, then you’ll be practically an afterthought.
We’re the part of the opposing team who is trying to have your back, however clumsily. Sometimes it feels so much bigger than us.
But if we keep fighting each other, if transpeople and feminists and white working-class and black working class and parents and the childfree and conspiracy theorists and cultist militia keep taking each other out, we’ll be doing the white male billionaires’ work for them for free.
And they must be so thrilled to watch it all happen. Look how well it’s already working.