Scanning television channels at my grandmother’s home, I stopped on Boyz n the Hood. My grandmother asked me to turn off the, “black violence.” A few days ago, my mom and I had a conversation about race. She probed the question, “Who kills black people?” Expecting me to reply, “Black people.”
As a white woman in my mid-twenties brought up by a single mother and grandmother in a lower-middle income household, I do not know how to respond to my mother and grandmother’s assumptions of the black circumstance. I do not know how to approach issues that matter to all women yet have a different meaning or reality to women of other ethnicities.
I do not know what it’s like to be a woman of color, but I do want to learn what white women can do to carve out injustices being served to women and communities that suffer every day because of racial inequality.
We’ve continuously placed black communities in a situation that is unlike our own. And our bias system has consistently deprived minority communities of resources, education, health care and equality. To catch a glimpse of systematic racism we only have to review our criminal justice system and observe black incarceration rates in our prisons or research social services and the housing industry to understand the mistreatment of communities of color.
Just as an example, let’s look at the United States’ unwavering War on Drugs. For decades the United States has been fighting a war on the production of drugs domestically and abroad. However, the fight has had hardly any effect on production, but has, domestically, influenced the incarceration of black and Hispanic people. 1
In the 1980s and 90s, the media showered the public with images of gang violence and the brutality of the “streets”, and they shoved anti-drug rhetoric down people’s throats. They wanted quick results, but failed to think of what the long term consequences would be for minority heavy neighborhoods. Thus, the War on Drugs combined massive increases of police spending with new sentencing laws that disproportionately affected black communities. 2
For instance, crack cocaine and powder have essentially the same chemical make-up; however, possession and intent to sell had dramatically different consequences between the respective narcotics. The new laws issued that a person in possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine would receive five years in prison, whereas, a person in possession of five grams of crack cocaine would receive the equal five years in prison.
You can guess who was buying and selling crack and who was buying and selling powder. And you can rightfully assume where the new laws had their most dramatic impact.
Between 1983 and 1997 the number of incarcerated black Americans grew by over 2,000%. That’s six times the rate of increase for their white counterparts.
Today, I see my own community and family aiding in the continuation of placing blame on individual actions and not looking towards the source or the history of our own actions.
I see white feminism hurting our country and its fight for justice as it fails to comprehend people and women of color are received differently and have varying interests.
The Women’s March on Washington was supposed to be a time aimed at solidarity amongst all women striving for equality concerning reproductive care, LGBT issues and equal pay. However, it was rightfully criticized for its inability to bring accord across racial boundaries. The feminist movement has historically focused on the issues of white women who have consistently cast black and brown aside to push an agenda they see fit to all women without consideration of those further oppressed.
I did not attend the March, but was proud to see so much diversity and spirit involved. Then, I started to read a lot of criticism. I read Chi Nguyen’s piece, "An Unpopular Opinion About the Women’s March on Washington" and felt sick to my stomach. Nguyen was angered by the actions she saw white women commit during the march. She remarked on white women disregarding “Black Lives Matter” posters and chants, asking people of Asian decent where they were “actually” from and ignoring speakers who were people of color or who spoke on police brutality.
While I’m not surprised, it hurts me to know that white women acted that way and continue to fail to see how race influences a person’s experience in the world.
It’s also difficult to hear the truth about white women and how we don’t understand.
We need help and direction. We need cold facts and historical information on how we’ve contributed to the current reality of exclusivity, racial tension and oppression. I want to know how white women of privilege, like myself, can interrupt the status quo and make change for the better.
That’s why I am asking women of color to give me guidance. What can we do? How can we approach our communities? What should we focus on? Is it possible to hold a feminist platform that is inclusive along racial, gender and religious lines? Can we somehow unite under these differences in order to construct understanding of the consciousness of others and their situation? Do we have the capacity for that type of empathy? Or is it best to separate our platforms seeing as our circumstances do not align?