I stood behind a light wooden podium, that rocked forward when I would put too much weight on it, and read an excerpt from one of my articles to a crowd of approximately 50 people, 47 of whom were White. I felt a bit self-conscious, as I oftentimes do, speaking to this particular audience, as the piece I was sharing spoke to the struggles of being a Black woman living in an overwhelmingly white area. So every now and then, my nervousness would cause me to lean too much on the podium, causing us both to slightly tip forward. I made it through my reading without either of us, the podium or me, falling and walked back to my seat to listen to the other two authors read.
Their voices and stories calmed any remaining nerves, so I was relaxed when the audience was invited to mingle with and ask questions of the authors. A White woman whom I guess was in her 70s, wearing an outfit that spoke of rich-bohemian leanings, approached me with fuchsia-painted lips, grabbed my hand, fixed her gray-blue eyes on my brown ones, and enthusiastically exclaimed, “I just loved your story.”
We went on to discuss varying subjects that I can’t quite recall. She was dynamic and bold—the type of woman I hope to be when I’m in my 70s: still fashionable, but more importantly, still passionate, concerned and involved about and in the state of our country. At the end of our conversation, she grabbed my hand again and stated, “Regardless of color, or of whether a woman is Black, brown, red, or yellow, we women need to be strong. We are in this together.” I smiled, mumbled something that showed my appreciation for her enthusiasm about my piece, and allowed her well-meaning intent to muzzle my honest response.
But internally I thought to myself, “No, no we are not. We are not in this together.”
I had met her before—or rather women similar to her: liberal, well-meaning, feminist White women, who are most comfortable with the narrative that all women are united in the mission to gain the same rights as men in this sexist society. They fervently want to proclaim that there is no difference, no divide between me and them – Black women and White women. They want to march for equal rights for women; write books and articles; lead diversity discussions, and comment on social media. They do lunch with their friends and female co-workers, of all races, and complain about inappropriate behavior, unequal pay, imbalanced work-loads or advancement opportunities.
Undoubtedly, these women are earnest in their beliefs. They are pro-woman. They mean what they say and are committed to eliminating inequalities – at least until those interests conflict with the benefits of their privilege and the threat true diversity efforts pose to it.
We are not in this together.
My experience as a woman in America is drastically different because I am a Black-woman in America. The hyphen is long, loud and significant. Yes, all women are concerned about equal pay but those interests are not all equal. White women earn 81.9 percent of what White men earn, yet Black women in the U.S earn a substantially smaller percentage at just 61 cents for every dollar paid to white men. African Americans own approximately one-tenth of the wealth of white Americans (this is not surprising due to the 300 year head start that White people had in accumulating wealth quickly because of Black slaves providing them with free labor and mental capital).
We certainly have a shared interest in raising our respective children. But our children’s paths are wildly divergent and we have very different challenges and issues to overcome:
- Infant and adult mortality rates are far higher for Black vs. White children;
- Black children are prosecuted far more frequently, and more severely, than white students for the same infractions;
- Black children have an exponentially higher likelihood of being shot by police than white children.
So, white women, if you want us to be in this battle together, you must first look at the situation with honesty. Look at the remaining differences and the realities of racial disparities. To truly forge that connection you must first be willing to be uncomfortable and acknowledge your privilege.
Second, you’ve got to honestly be ready to deviate from the majority. 53% of White women ( compared to just 2% of Black women) voted for Donald Trump; and mid-term elections show the continuation of White women voting for candidates who are clearly xenophobic, misogynistic and racist. This difference, and the social dynamics underlying it, highlight that we are far from united in our interests and actions. Honesty about these differences is key to true understanding and change.
At bottom, while there are shared interests among women across racial divides, there are very real differences too. Recognition, acceptance and communication about these similarities and differences are key to moving any cause or effort forward. I am too tired living as a Black woman to cater to the feelings of guilt or need for comfort of a White woman. If White women genuinely want for all of us women to be united in the fight for female equality they must be willing to see themselves and their privilege; see us; see our entangled, troubled past, and our current challenges (different and shared). They’ve got to get real for us to get right.
My intention is for Black people to love themselves and each other. It sounds somewhat silly, I guess; but oftentimes my people are overwhelmed with negative images, bad news, and stereotyped characters about us. I’d like to flip that script. I’d like to remind us, as often as I can, how incredible we are. Read more