Image description: A single sunflower growing against a concrete wall.
Editor’s note: As the co-curator of this series, one thing I’ve realized over the last seven months is that when space is held for the anger that marginalized folks feel towards mainstream white feminism, that anger flows and along with it comes critical, valuable insight into how to do better. Before this project, I knew that tone policing the anger of marginalized communities was a problem because of how it harmed those communities – being silenced is further violence. SINCE this project, I am realizing how tone policing that anger also harms privileged communities because it cuts us off from the wisdom that folks have to share. This post is angry, and the author worked for months to get it written because she has experienced so much harm when she’s tried to bring up these topics before. I am incredibly honoured to host this piece, despite – no, because! – I have been guilty of so many of the racist behaviours she calls out. If you’re a white feminist and you end up reading this and needing to process it, reach out to other white folks for that emotional labour. I’m available, and so are lots of other folks.
This is a guest post by an anonymous Black woman. She is writing anonymously because she has lived experience of the backlash that can result from speaking openly about these issues.
This post is part of the Feminism from the Margins series.
Did you know Black women have superhuman strength? We feel neither fear nor pain and do not suffer (at least not to the same degree as you do), so we cannot be harmed as much as you. This makes us perfect warriors for causes that primarily benefit you. We are eager to give our labour to you without expecting or needing reciprocity. In fact, it’s an honour to do all the things for you. Our needs are always negotiable because we don’t really need things as much as you and it would be unfair to expect you to accommodate our needs or fight for our rights, especially if that interferes with your comfort because dammit, you’re marginalized too.
We don’t expect or need fairness from you because it’s not like we need that to the same extent you do. Your whiteness does not bestow any power or privilege on you that our being strong and sassy doesn’t more than make up for. We are totally okay with being your Black friend, to be trotted out as evidence that you are not racist. It’s not like we even notice you doing this and it has no effect on our ability to trust you. In fact, we don’t need you to be loyal or trustworthy because that would be demanding too much labour from you and dammit, you’re marginalized too.
It’s okay for our interactions and the division of labour between us to be decided by you or on your terms because you’re a natural leader, objective and fair. We don’t need the same rights you do – they can be substituted for nice gestures and we won’t even notice. We need you to teach us and rescue us from things, because you know better than we do, even when it is about our experiences and not yours. When you benefit, we all benefit. Your needs are representative of all women’s, because you’re marginalized too.
We will always be available when you need attention and validation. We conveniently don’t have needs that we should not be willing to sacrifice for your comfort, because solidarity. You are fragile and innocent, so it’s okay for your learning to cost us our safety and wellbeing. We have no problem with you taking out your petty jealousies and insecurities on us, because that’s not really what you’re doing. We are responsible for managing our emotions as well as yours. It’s okay for you to centre yourself and your needs in every space and situation at the expense of WOC because you can’t help it and anyway, you’re marginalized too.
It’s okay to want to smash the patriarchy and dismantle White Supremacy until those powerful White men act in ways that benefit you. It’s okay to throw the rest of us under the bus because we are too demanding anyway. We don’t mind when you point at us and cry because you’re just trying to be heard. You don’t intend for us to be brutalized or killed as a result. You’re not like those other White women who weaponize their tears because dammit, you’re marginalized too.
We will feel immediate kinship with you and trust you because you follow and repost Black people/pages on social media, are currently fucking a Black person, have Black children or just think Black people are cool and want one of your own. All of these things exempt any of your behaviour from being perceived as racist, because you’re woke as fuck and besides, you’re marginalized too.
We are not trying desperately to survive our marginalization; we also have the privilege of using the color of our skin to claim victimhood for the singular purpose of getting unfair advantages over you. We don’t mind your assumption that everyone has the luxury of doing that. The absence of Whiteness is just some minor inconvenience to us that doesn’t get us brutalized or killed. Don’t worry, we won’t upset, annoy or oppress you by calling you on your shitty, racist, exploitative, unjust behaviour because dammit, you’re marginalized too.
Hopefully by now you’ve caught the sarcasm and implication of bullshit-ery. Good.
So, you want to know how not to be a shitty, racist, fake-woke White person?
Well, brace yourself because here it comes. STOP. Do not pursue any kind of relationship with a POC until you are prepared to face some hard truths, and DO THE WORK to be less harmful and maybe even eventually truly inclusive. If you look around the room at any gathering of humans you’re enjoying yourself at and there are either no POC or only one, your group has a problem. No exceptions. I know your brain is starting to protest loudly along the lines of “But sometimes that happens without us planning it.” No, it doesn’t. Every racially homogenous group is the result of active or passive exclusion of others. If you were as uncomfortable in rooms with no POC in them as POC are, you would avoid being in them as studiously as we do.
Do not bombard a POC you’ve just met or barely know with your anti-racist/anti-oppression resume.
This includes plying us with ‘Gifts From A Woke White Person’ in exchange for being your ‘’POC friend, or worse, accommodating racist behaviour from you and your White friends and family, because gross. Gift those books written by POC to your White peeps. Better yet, read them yourself. We will figure out how to teach our children to love and value themselves. You go and teach yours how not to hate and devalue them. Deal? Gifts are not a substitute for rights or equity, and they never will be, so spare us the labour of having to smile and be polite about your patronizing, colonizing, benevolent racism. If the thought ever pops into your head to mention your POC friends, lover, children, etc. during a conversation with a POC you’ve just met, please just arrest that shit and do not allow it to escape through your mouth. We may react by smiling politely if you do any of the aforementioned, but we’re really imagining your head on a spike outside the tower of STOP YOUR NONSENSE. Not really, but my point is, it’s incredibly offensive.
If a POC can tolerate your presence long enough or trust you enough to risk calling you on any kind of shitty behaviour, understand that they are taking an enormous risk and have decided your clueless ass might actually be worth it. Don’t make them regret it by getting all ‘in your feels’ and defensive, and accusing them of not liking, or worse, oppressing you. Do not try to be in any POC’s space if you aren’t prepared to respect their boundaries or be called on your shitty, racist behaviour. If what you want is to be fed ally cookies and reassured that you’re not racist, that is racist AF. Smile, wave, and keep your oppressive ass moving in the direction of books, documentaries, artwork, etc. by POC or White Nonsense Roundup.
Never, ever use having challenges (disability, mental health, etc.) as an excuse for not being willing to do the work of confronting and addressing your racism. There are POC folks with visible and invisible disabilities dealing with the same shit PLUS racism. There are way too many POC folks living with serious mental health issues, many of which are exacerbated by our experience of racism, and with fewer resources because of systemic racism. Everything you are dealing with, valid as it is, we also deal with. And we deal with racism too.
If you ever find yourself throwing out a counter-accusation of harm when a POC is calling you on harmful behaviour towards them, just STOP. There are serious consequences for POC who dare to point out racist behaviour (right up to losing our lives) ESPECIALLY when we call out ‘progressive’ White people who consider themselves ‘woke’. Really, y’all are THE FUCKING WORST when it comes to dishing out counter-accusations and punishment in epic fits of fragility and saltiness. POC have highly developed bullshit-o-meters when it comes to detecting White nonsense. It’s how we survive living among you (those of us who manage to survive, anyway).
Expect us to call bullshit and shut all the way down if you frame resistance to harm as an attempt to harm you. Using accusations of ableism in a discussion about racism is racist as fuck. Just…NO. These may be important conversations, but when they are presented as: “I can’t do better because of X, Y, Z challenge and you expecting me to is ableist” we know you are refusing to acknowledge your own harmful behaviour and turning us into the aggressor. You’re asking us to make your challenge/s the most important one/s so that everyone else must prioritize accommodating it/them, even if that is harmful to someone else. Don’t bring your bullshit Oppression Olympics into a conversation about racism. White women are hands down the fucking worst for doing this, owing to the infusion of White womanhood with the expectation of automatic victimhood. If you are expecting any POC to accommodate your challenge/s at the expense of their safety or wellbeing, you are being racist AF. Stop it.
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but it is rarely the case that a POC in your life has fewer challenges than you do or that they struggle any less with their challenges than you do with yours. Not being whiny and entitled is not the same as not struggling or feeling intense pain. We manifest pain differently because society has taught us that our pain doesn’t matter. And being noisy about it results in reprimand because having to acknowledge our pain, and ultimately our equal humanity, makes White people uncomfortable. Learn to recognize those differences. It will help you be less harmful and maybe even earn the trust of a POC.
It is not my responsibility to accommodate harmful behaviour at the expense of my wellbeing. We just don’t care for measuring who is the biggest victim, or who gets to use their struggle as a shield against having to work on their shit. That is YOUR preoccupation. Stop projecting your shit on to us. There is no benefit to POC from engaging in Oppression Olympics. Our communities are extremely internally diverse in terms of needs and ability, and we mostly manage to figure it out without there needing to be any competition. Try to remember that being the biggest victim has no appeal to people who do not expect to be accommodated or have their needs considered, let alone prioritized. Trying to force a POC to justify their need for you to be less harmful by pointing out your challenges in an attempt to guilt them into silence and acceptance of that behaviour is entitled and abusive.
So, what can you say instead? Try: “Because of X, Y, Z, challenge/s it will be harder for me to make the changes necessary to be less harmful. But I am committed to making these changes and would appreciate an explanation of how my behaviour is harmful or guidance with developing and implementing a strategy for addressing it, would you be able to do that or recommend some resources?” We are fucking exhausted all the time but we will dig deep and find the energy to point you in the direction of ‘less harmful’ if that’s what you genuinely want to be. Being able to breathe a bit more freely around you is worth that to us. That being said, do not ever demand our labour or accommodation. You are not entitled to either. They may be freely given and received in reciprocal relationships – the kind you have been socialized not to have with POC but can happen if you are genuinely interested.
White women, do not call yourself an intersectional feminist if you expect WOC to devote an iota of our energy to doing anything that benefits you without first being prepared to address your racism. I, for one, am DONE listening to any White woman complain about how much you are struggling or what I can do to accommodate you without your active demonstration of willingness to address your racism, and White Supremacy’s thirst for hierarchy and dominance over POC bodies. I am tired of your lies and duplicity. I am uninterested in your empty promises that you will focus on addressing your racism just as soon I do what is necessary to make you more comfortable. You cannot be trusted to hold up your end of the bargain. I make that statement with the weight of a history behind it that names you a damned liar.
Own your white feminism, and be prepared to do the work to be truly intersectional in your practice, or stay the hell away from me. You are not my sister or my friend until you do what is necessary to earn my trust.
- Robin DiAngelo, a white woman, interviewed on NPR about white fragility.
- Robin DiAngelo’s original article on the topic (link opens a PDF).
- The 3-part series on Sister Outrider on racism in the feminist movement. Part one, part two, part three.
- White People: This Is How To Check Your Privilege When Asking People of Color For Their Labor at Everyday Feminism.
- At the Intersection of White Privilege and Disability at The Body is Not An Apology. (This is an important link, because this intersection is brought up in the guest post, and this article unpacks it from the perspective of a disabled person who has white privilege – for those of us being called out in this guest post, this article offers an invitation, and a road map, to do better. This post also includes links to disabled activists of colour, which is critical to understanding the other point in this guest post – that not all disabled folks are white.)
- Weaponized Sensitivity And The Art Of White Women’s Fragility at Blavity.
This post is part of the year-long Feminism from the Margins series that Dulcinea Lapis and Tiffany Sostar will be curating, in challenge to and dissatisfaction with International Women’s Day. To quote Dulcinea, “Fuck this grim caterwauling celebration of mediocre white femininity.” Every month, on (approximately) the 8th, we’ll post something. If you are trans, Black or Indigenous, a person of colour, disabled, fat, poor, a sex worker, or any of the other host of identities excluded from International Women’s Day, and you would like to contribute to this project, let us know!
Also check out the other posts in the series:
- All The Places You’ll Never Go, by Dulcinea Lapis
- An Open Love Letter to My Friends, by Michelle Dang
- Prioritizing, by Mel Vee
- Never Ever Follow Those White Kids Around – a brief personal history of race and mental health, by Mel Vee
- Living in the Age of White Male Terror, by Mel Vee
- I Will Not Be Thrown Away, by Mel Vee
- Selling Out the Sex Workers, by X
- Holding Hope for Indigenous Girls, by Michelle Robinson
- Three Variations on a Conversation: cis- and heteronormativity in medical settings, by Beatrice Aucoin
Tiffany Sostar is a narrative therapist and workshop facilitator in Calgary, Alberta. You can work with them in person or via Skype. They specialize in supporting queer, trans, polyamorous, disabled, and trauma-enhanced communities and individuals, and they are also available for businesses and organizations who want to become more inclusive. Email to get in touch!