White Women, Can We Talk About What’s Next? | jennwhitmer.com

Jun 2, 2020

White Women, Can We Talk About What’s Next?

The rest of y’all can listen in, but I want to gather my white sisters for a bit. 

I’ve been sitting at the table for a bit. Sipping, learning, fuming, raging,  crying, praying, waiting, trying to decide how to set the most inviting table to a fraught and tangled conversion. Amy Cooper and all my fellow white women, I want you to come sit down with me.

We need to have a moment. I want to invite you to a truth-telling that will make us all uncomfortable. This invitation is extended in love,  grace, and compassion. Love that is iron wrapped in velvet, but love nonetheless.

Many of you may welcome this invitation, because you’ve been sitting at this table already. Many of you will reject this invitation because you could be exposed, seeing the need to examine yourself, your heart, and face the ugliness that is in your darkest places. I am not interested in shaming you. I am interested in freeing you.

Photo by Ben Rosett on UnsplashPhoto by Ben Rosett on Unsplash

As deeply tragic and horrific the murders of Ahmaud, Breonna, George, and the countless more are (and I am in no way minimizing them), they are easy to rage about. It’s blatant and unconscionable. I want you to consider the path to those terrible crimes.

I am not interested in shaming you. I am interested in freeing you.

Many of us can see the overreach and inherent evil of those lynchings.  Ranting, posting, and sharing our own feelings is socially acceptable for many white women. (For those of you who joined this table, and it’s not acceptable in your community, great. Your work is not unnoticed and is  not over.)

My invitation is to the harder work. I think for many white women, it’s difficult for us to imagine ourselves choking a Black man to death or hunting him down with a gun. It’s too far removed from our own experience and perceived ability.

But it’s easy for white women to avoid seeing ourselves in Amy here.  Because that is so close to home. Amy, you called the NYPD and lied about being threatened and attacked by a black man. (I beg you to forget about the dog. That’s a different conversation. We’re at this table  talking about human people.)

White women, we know the power of our tears. Even if we reject using them, we know their power. We have full confidence that our skin color, address,  degree, connections, or career will protect us. We know we will be believed. We know our upstanding volunteer work will be found quickly in a cute Instagram package.

Ask Different Questions

 

Photo by Christian Fregnan on UnsplashPhoto by Christian Fregnan on Unsplash

We, white women, weaponize whiteness. Whiteness is a system. Whiteness is a power structure that wields control over others. And white women, we wield the power of that system.  Amy used it when she called 911 because a Black man asked her to put her dog on a leash to follow the posted rules in a public space.

We use whiteness for power or influence when we say:

I’m not privileged. I earned everything I have.

This doesn’t really affect me personally.

If they would just…

If they wouldn’t riot…

If they would just be calm and not angry…

I can’t be racist, I have a black friend/cousin/child.

I don’t see color.

Didn’t they deserve…

That wasn’t racist, it was just…

When we confuse discomfort or accountability with attack.

When we believe our intentions should override the impact of our behavior.

Amy is the problem. We are the problem. I am the problem.

If you are tempted to say, I would never lie like that…my dear, you just did. We are fallible and broken. We all have the capacity to protect ourselves with whiteness. We’ve been taught how, and now we’ve internalized it as our right.

As we sit at this table, can we just admit we do this? That I do this? Can we enter into a conversation about what we as white women can do to divest ourselves of whiteness? Our discomfort and fear of being labeled racist prevents us from becoming anti-racist and working toward equity in our neighborhoods, communities, and country. And it’s killing Black people.

Amy is the problem. We are the problem. I am the problem.

Instead  of asking, “Am I racist?” Consider asking these questions: “How much is my privilege impacting this situation or hurting someone else? How much is my prejudice active right now? How am I centering whiteness as the standard? What I am believing that is racist? Am I using my whiteness as a shield to the harm of another?

Racism isn’t binary or a static state; it’s nuanced and dynamic.

Beyond Posting: What We Do Now

Photo by John-Mark Smith on UnsplashPhoto by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

So if you’re still here with me at this table, you’re probably squirming a  bit and hopefully wondering what you can do. Possibly thinking, I can’t change the world. Ah, my friend, but you can. One moment, one conversation, one act at a time, you can. And if change is to happen, you must.

  1. Educate Yourself
    Here is a resource list of books, podcasts, and articles. My suggestion for your first read: White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. Then read and listen and watch material from Black,  Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). And elevate those voices.
  2. Do Not Expect People of Color to Educate You
    I  cringe at this one because I know I did this for so long. The emotional burden of BIPOC, especially women, is already great. Don’t ask them to spoon feed you. You’re gonna have all kinds of feelings. Don’t put the weight on them.
  3. Stop Posting Videos and Images of Black People Being Harmed
    Yes,  the film evidence is important for awareness. (Which goes to believing  BIPOC, which is why we’re even here, but we’re gonna stay focused.)  Consider the recurring trauma of scrolling through your feed and seeing a  person or child injured or murdered multiple times over the course of a  day or two. Imagine that person looks like you. Or your brother. Or your child. It’s painful. Post words about what is happening, link an article without a picture, use a hashtag, but white people, stop posting the images.
  4. Intentionally Include BIPOC Creators in your Consumption
    News,  blogs, podcasts, nonfiction, fiction, theology, science, history,  music, find other voices and be purposeful in listening to the  perspective they bring you. Even better, pay them for it. My favorite is  Austin Channing Brown’s Roll Call. https://austinchanning.substack.com/about
  5. Work with People Already Doing the Equity Work
    White people often come up with the idea that we’ve discovered ways to help.  I’m kindly asking you to consider something for a moment. If some of  these ideas about white women are new for you, then you may not have the most effective original idea. We are very late to this party. And we are not coming to save BIPOC. We are coming to learn and work alongside groups already active in inclusion and equity work.

Perfection Won’t Solve This

Photo by Nina Strehl on UnsplashPhoto by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

I  have to be honest with you. We’re going to get this wrong. No matter how much of an ally I think I am, I am always learning ways my whiteness is problematic, hurtful, or harmful. We will offend someone on this journey. Learn from it. I know I’ve done a few doozeys of that kind. I’m so grateful to the generous black women who put up with my ignorance and walked me through it when they didn’t have to. And I didn’t deserve it.

I’m lovingly begging you: Don’t let your fear of doing it wrong keep you from moving forward in anti-racism and equity. We white women don’t want to look bad. But this is deep and nothing at the MAC counter will cover it.

This isn’t just about you. Rugged individualism is a myth of whiteness. Your personal education will lead to understanding the systemic racism rooted in American culture, society, and laws. Those systemic problems need systemic solutions. Systemic solutions expand beyond our personal discovery into efforts that dismantle a racist system.

There’s more. This is just a place to begin. I’m forever learning in this anti-racist journey. Not everyone agrees on the way forward. I’m sure there is something in this very article that is problematic.

But, my white sisters, we have to do better. We have let genuine love for our brothers and sisters of color motivate us. They are dying, and we are worried about the dog.

One last thought before we leave this table. I want to hold your hand and say: Amy Cooper isn’t just a step away. She represents what is in each of us. I know this stings, because it stings me too. When you’ve held power, equity feels like loss. I’m pleading with you to do the hard work of examining your heart. How do I contribute to this? Own it and name it. Repent and lament.

Peacemaking is often painful. I keep learning that peacemaking is one of the hardest roles as God’s child, because it begins with my own heart.


To my friends of color at my table, I support you. I am not ignoring you. I want to use my status/privilege/insider status to challenge systemic racism and personal racism and talk to white women about our role. Please know I’m always open to hearing from you in ways to do this better.


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