The Trayvon Martin verdict, decided by a jury of white women, has brought the curious insider/outsider position of white women to the fore.
We (I am one) are outsiders and objects of discrimination because of in our gender. Â We are insiders and subjects of privilege because of our skin color.
Too often we choose to identify with our skin color and the privilege it implies. Â Too rarely do we identify with our gender and the solidarity with other outsiders it provides. Â It is safer to identify with the oppressor. Â It is also destructive, both to ourselves and to society.
The first step is to see this dual identity as a choice and as a privilege. Â The next step is to use that duality to undermine injustice, rather than to strengthen it.
The news of George Zimmerman’s acquittal has come with a lot of emotions for me: numbness, outrage, shock, and deep grief. I am a white woman and what I am feeling right now is completely heartbroken. It’s been painful for me to see how devestasted and crushing this has been for some of my close black friends. I’ve never seen one of my friends so dejected in our fourteen year friendship. It hurts me that we live in a society that has such disregard for the lives of black people.
Thanks for writing your post. A couple of things I thought of when I read it…I don’t consider the duality of privilege and oppression white women experience as a choice. We were born into both of these societal positions. How we decide to handle our privilege and oppression is important — that indeed, is a choice — but the duality is not a choice, nor is it a privilege. Being white comes with all kinds of unfair, outrageous societal privilege, no argument there. But I don’t see how the female part of the “white woman” identity is a privilege.
Racism. Ugh. I hate it. We have privilage simply because we happened to be born white. It isn’t right. It isn’t fair. I for one don’t want it because it comes at the expense of other people’s well being. But the fact is is that we have it. I’d guess that the typical left-leaning white person doesn’t have a stong pull to consiously identify as white. Many of us feel guilty or ashamed by our whiteness on some level. But what happens is that we get lost in a fog of unawareness about our privilage. We don’t notice it and, consequently, often can’t see racism happening except in it’s most blatent forms or if we read about it in the news. We can’t see how it effects our own functioning in the world even though we may have the best of intentions. We can’t see our own racism (how can any white person living in this country not be effected by the racism we are drenched in from the earliest moments of our lives?) which means we can’t work to undo it’s effect on our minds, and our relstionship with the world, ourselves, other white people, and people of color.
I think we need to acknowledge our power and privilege, hold on to fiercely loving and liking ourselves (when we feel like shit is when we’re most vulnerable to being the most oppressive and crummy to other people; hating ourselves does not make the world better or move the work of eliminating racism forward), participate and support other white people in ending racism — including our own — and follow people of color’s lead, working with them side by side. (Just as men cannot end sexism on their own, and it is silly and sexist of them to think they can, neither can we eliminate racism without being in full partnership with our brothers and sisters even if we may need to temporarily do work in separate groups for safely.)
Sexism. At the heart of sexism is the minimizing of females – our thinking, our power, our issues. Sexism gets poo-poo’ed. *We* get poo-poo’d. So we often internalize this. We may have a hard time noticing it, or we may feel like, “well, it’s not really that big a deal.” Or, the way it ran with me is like this, “sure, I can see sexism has effected many of the women around me – they’re so preoccupied with their appearance, or their worth seems tied to getting a man, or they don’t feel strong physically, etc., etc. But me? Uh uh, I escaped. It didn’t get me like it did those /other/ women.” Of course this is utterly and completely bullshit. But it took me a long time to realize how deeply I’ve been damaged and effected by sexism. I had this completly misguided idea for a time — even though I always thought of myself as pro-women — that many women groups were places women acted out feeling like powerless victims. (Can you say internalized sexism? Sheesh!)
My point of this now long rant of a comment that I’m typing on my iPhone is that the relationship white women have to our privilege and oppression is not simplistic. I think it’s easy to write off or blame white women when we can’t figure out the right thing to do in regards to racism or sexism. But, my goodness! Oppression does a doozy on us – both from the oppressor and target end of things. And I for one am proud of the way so many white women have done the right thing. Or the courageous thing. Or don’t give up when we get it wrong – because of course we’ll get it wrong — and keep trying, and trying again to make the world a more human, loving place for everyone. Thanks for all you do in making this world a better place.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment, which wasn’t at all a rant. After I hit the “publish” button I realized that I should have clarified the meaning of the word “choice” in my post. I don’t mean that sex and skin color are a choice. I mean that we white women can choose between an identity of power and an identity of powerlessness which are assigned to us by society. Not all people are assigned a (socially-constructed) identity of power.