Last week I had an exchange on Twitter that gave me a tiny glimpse into the disrespect and dismissal Black people face at every turn in our anti-Black country. It was infuriating and offensive. The white woman with strong ties to the establishment Democrats was rude and close-minded. Without calling her out directly, I’m going to review how she upheld white supremacy in ways I’ve done in the past. More importantly, I’m going to share with you what I try do differently now.
First, when another white person is acting in line with white supremacy, it angers me. I use that anger as a cue to look at myself. I wanted to tell her to “eff” off, but that’s a luxury I don’t afford myself anymore. I don’t shut the door on white liberals who are still stuck in the denial I was in; the denial I can continue to be in if I’m not mindful about my own racism.
Second, I’m new to confronting or interrupting racism. I don’t always see it when it’s there. When I do see it, I’m never quite sure what the right response is. And, if I see it and I do know how to respond, I decide if I’m in it on a committed level or in passing. Either is okay, but I think about it. I don’t want to get bogged down in white culture’s insistence on perfectionism, but I also don’t want to thoughtlessly cause more harm.
When this woman tweeted using the phrase “women and African Americans” it rubbed me the wrong way. I’ve come to hear that phrasing as erasing Black women. Honestly, I don’t know where I’ve heard it over the years, but I know in my gut that I’ve heard Black women say that phrasing like that is harmful. In my own opinion I think it’s ugly. I think there’s an underlying assumption in our white supremacist culture that Black women don’t count fully as women. Any time we aren’t explicit that we mean “all women” when we say “women” it’s adding to the “white as default” use of the term and that’s harmful.
The woman responded not with openness but with defensiveness. In her defensive response, I recognized my old behaviors. I remember being so afraid of being racist that if someone told me I was doing something racist, I might have found fault in their opinion. Protecting my self-identity as not-racist was more important than anything.
She defended her use of the phrase, saying “All experts in the field use this terminology,” and “we all know that views of subgroups within particular groups can vary.” Yes, of course, “women and African Americans” is used commonly, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. As Audre Lorde said, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”
Summarizing the exchange: I told her that I’d heard Black women say the phrasing “women and [racial/ethnic group]” was harmful to them. I’ve come to hear it that way myself. It grates on me to hear it phrased that way. It seems to me a simple adjustment of the phrase would be easy, “women of all races and African Americans of all genders.” See how easy that is? But instead of being interested about what Black women have said, she defended her [mis]use of the phrase and expected evidence or proof from some authoritative source.
That’s the next aspect of white supremacy in this woman’s response: Only institutionally recognized sources will be considered valid. I, too, used to put academic or expert citations on a pedestal. General statements based on feelings, intuition, or word-of-mouth are typically dismissed by white supremacy. Instead of evoking curiosity, my tweet was met with disrespect. I’m not a blue check account with thousands of followers and I have no advanced degrees or obvious popular forms of expertise. It reminded me of when I was dealing with DHS (getting food stamps/SNAP benefits and MaineCare) and was treated with more disrespect than I’d ever experienced before. My knowledge alone didn’t count to this woman; imagine how a solitary Black woman speaking up would be treated? White culture, supporting white supremacy, has a limited view of whose voices are valid.
The exchange went on and there were more displays of white supremacy, but this post here is already getting too long. To dismantle white supremacy, we need to change how we value human experiences and voices. We need to live in love, justice, open-mindedness, and curiosity. We need to listen and break patterns if we want our systems to change.
P.S. I told the woman it wasn’t my job to prove anything to her. I was wrong about that. Part of my “job” as a white person in recovery from whiteness is to share useful information with other white people. So, to the woman on Twitter I present just a couple sources she might consider “valid” enough to pique her curiosity. I am confident if she explores the issue with an open mind, she will find it generally confirmed beyond these two links that the phrasing she defended is harmful: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3477987/ and .
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4 thoughts on “White supremacy stays strong thanks to white liberals”
This is an excellent analysis and unfortunate example of WS. Good work, it helps us all to be informed by your astute example.
I appreciate you sharing your story. I too am learning about the ways I perpetuate white supremacy. And, when I recognize a racist situation, deciding whether I should speak up. Kudos to you for speaking up, and who knows, perhaps you planted a seed.
I hope that this criticism can be taken as constructive. You demonstrate a lot of vulnerability and positive intention in this post. But i think you’re wrong.
Notice how much time you take to set the stage for this argument. You prep the reader to see this exchange as “a tiny glimpse into the disrespect and dismissal that black people face.” Then you allude to this person “acting in line with white supremacy.” Then you discuss “confronting or interrupting racism.” By the time we learn that what the brouhaha is actually about, the phrase “women and African Americans,” it’s out of sync with the high expectations set forth earlier. Is the use of that phrase really evidence in support of the assertion made in the title?
This women asked you if you had a source to corroberate your claim that this was a problematic phrase. That’s a reasonable ask given that 1 it wasn’t self evident to her that you were right 2 the phrase is ubiquitous. If she were truly close minded and defensive she would have written you off straight away. In your mind, her choices are to admit wrongdoing and repent for her sins or continue to be blind to her white supremacy because of her ego. That’s not very open or reflective on your part.
And for you to compare your inability to find an authoritative source to back you up to trying to use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house? Totally heavy handed. Good arguments and sources are everyone’s tools. There is no shortage of credentialed academics talking about racism.
Not having a source doesn’t make you wrong but it does mean you have a high bar to clear given that few people are seeing what you’re seeing.
Is this phrase on the list of problems black people actually face? If everyone started using a clunky ten word phrase in place of that four word phrase, would any black person’s life actually be improved?
By suggesting that phrase likely isn’t that big a deal by asking if the phrase is even a problem being faced, you are engaging in exactly the kind of erasure she is discussing here. She explicitly stated early on that she came to this understanding by listening to multiple Black women talking about it as a problem. Yet you, a person I’m going to boldly assume is not moving through the world as a Black woman, immediately expressed defensiveness and doubt, and to add insult to injury, reinforced the idea that the only way to authenticate the claims made are by citing “credentialed academics,” as if studying a situation offers more truth and understanding than living it does.
And academia is, indeed, a tool of oppression. It has not only been the impetus for sacrificing black and brown bodies in the name of progress and research; in its very practice of publishing their findings, it is classist as hell. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on peer reviewed studies that could deeply impact the world in positive ways, but what do they do with those findings? They lock them up and release them only to those who can pay to access them..
What we need to do if we’re going to dismantle systems of oppression is to shut the hell up if we’re part of a privileged class and listen to impacted people when they say something is a problem. You asked if it is even a problem being faced, whole Heather is telling you those impacted are saying it is. I’m inclined to put weight in that because of who she learned or from, and I don’t think a credentialed academic studying it will have a better handle on how it makes a Black woman feel than a Black woman does.
Ask yourself why it was important to you to cast doubt on the claims Heather is saying came from Black women. What is threatened for you? How do you benefit from not confronting what’s being said? Why do you trust academics more than those living it? And how does making that choice benefit you?
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