“Hi, I’m Suzanne, and I’m skeptical of white women.”
Let me repeat that a little louder for the white women in the back—“I’m Suzanne, and I am skeptical of white women.”
If you’re a white woman and still reading this, hooray! Most stop listening after hearing those words, so kudos to you. If you’re a white woman and still reading this without a ball of defensiveness forming in your chest, well then damn. You are far and few between. Pat yourself on the back (because Lord knows I’m not going to do it for you).
Let’s be honest though—I’m skeptical of whiteness in general. And rightfully so because (in case you forgot) slavery, segregation, mass incarceration, and legalized murder, all in the name of anti-black racism and—you guessed it—white supremacy. So whiteness in general is a thing I am cautious around, and hyper-vigilance has become a true means of survival in a white-run nation. So when I say skeptical, think cautious and vigilant. And when I say cautious and vigilant, think doing what I’ve learned to do to survive.
So if all whiteness gives me pause, why is it specifically white women that I so often call out as me having the biggest hesitation with? Well for one, I am a woman. And as someone who also believes in equality and equity across the spectrum of genders and sexes, I am a feminist. While feminism has done so much to bring women of all backgrounds together, it would be foolish of me to believe that white women are not the greatest beneficiaries of feminist activism. The feminist movement historically has not been about women with intersecting identities. If that were true and the claims that feminism is for all women were true, then white women would show up in overwhelming numbers when it came to black lives matter marches and rallies around DACA. White women would be leading efforts to stop the fetishization of Asian women in the media and would protest to stop fellow white women from appropriating ALL THE THINGS from Native women.
Unfortunately, we know that none of this is happening. White women as a whole are not showing up for all women. White women are showing up for white women.
Let’s pause because, I know, I know—hashtag not all white women.
- That’s not the point, but
- Sure. Not all white women.
Some white women are seemingly woke as fuck. Some white women primarily surround themselves with communities of color, read Ta-nehisi Coates’ collected works, and vote liberal on just about everything. Some white women even have partners and children of color. These are all great things, but remember Rose Armitage? Do I need to remind you of how that ended up for the black partners in her life?
Again, I know, #notallwhitewomen. And bringing up Rose Armitage and “Get Out” is not meant to say that no one should ever trust a white woman. It is simply to say that looking at society as a whole, white women look out for white women. It’s something to be aware of. Even when they look out for the “other,” as soon as their activism gets in the way of their own privileges, the other doesn’t matter quite as much. It’s all fun and games until a white woman feels slighted. Then the trapdoor of racism opens up, and women of color fall into the reality of white feminism. And in this reality of white feminism are lots of white woman tears and lots of defensiveness, usually sprinkled with some condescension and at times a bit of yelling. (Passive aggression is also sometimes a thing) Oof.
I’m going to pause yet again to talk about white woman tears for a minute. I joke around by saying things like, “I don’t wipe white tears,” and “As soon as a white woman cries, I walk the other way.” But what is truly at the heart of my jokes is the reality that the tears of white women are utterly oppressive. White woman tears have been the tool that white women have used for centuries to receive comfort and apologies when confronted with information that rubs against their privileged status. And the thing is, it works! It gets sympathy, it redirects the conversation to center the white woman, and it leaves the person on the other end with two lose-lose options—apologize and comfort the crying white woman or look like a monster for eliciting the tears of a white woman.
Not long ago, white woman tears were used to get black individuals beaten and lynched. Hell—even now they are used to center the pain of the white woman at the expense of the person on the receiving end, no matter what that looks like for them. Even when a conversation isn’t explicitly about race, the dynamics immediately become racial as soon as a white woman cries defensively. And it’s not just racial power dynamics at play here; the patriarchy comes out on top when a white woman reverts to crying in moments of conflict. But I have neither the time nor the energy to get into that because I can just feel the white women tears flooding the interwebs with each word that I write.
So what do I do to keep myself mentally, emotionally, and energetically safe from all of this? For one, I sigh a lot. Really. I breathe a ton, exhaling not only my own unattended pain and emotional exhaustion, but the pain and exhaustion of the collective black experience—from the experiences of my one black coworker to the pain of our collective black ancestors who have been witnessing the harmful effects of white tears for ages. So I breathe deeply. And I stay woke. By that I mean I stay vigilant always. Whiteness is in my life and will always be. I grew up in Southern California and currently spend an absurd amount of time in Berkeley, so I have more white friends than I ever imagined having. Most of them are white women. I’m even in a romantic relationship with a white person. Whiteness is all around me, and it’s not like I hate it or am trying to avoid it (all the time). I’m just trying to survive through it, and for me that means making it clear that my guard isn’t going to be completely down around whiteness. And I’m going to be especially cautious around people who claim solidarity based on one shared identity without fully showing up for the rest of my identities. Yep, I’m saying it again—I’m going to continue to be hella skeptical around white women. It’s my only means of survival.