I know that title is a bit accusatory and grouchy—which is a fair assessment—but the title I chose for this article is also very intentional. This article is my call to other white women (and, if we’re honest, to myself as well), doing better in fighting for a future free of racism. Although we do experience misogyny, to be a white woman is to hold a massive amount of privilege and power; the colour of my skin will never be an issue in my life regarding securing employment, education, or relationships. It is our job—myself and my fellow white women—to use our power, our privilege, and our voices to empower and encourage the voices BIPOC (black, indigenous people of colour), and not to overshadow or speak over their voices. It begins firstly by tackling our own prejudices that we hold within.
If you’re a white woman reading this and thinking, “Totally! Let’s learn,” then you should read this article. If you’re a white woman reading this and you already have your backup, then you really should read this article.
Why Specifically White Women?
There are a few reasons that I’ve decided to hone in on white women in this piece: the number one reason being that I am a white woman. What I’m writing here is essentially a conversation I’ve had to have with myself while learning to be anti-racist. Under white men, straight white women hold the most societal power over people of colour and even men of colour. Our power comes from our skin color, our culture’s preconceived ideas of what whiteness signifies, and the European standards of beauty that we epitomize.
Because we hold a certain amount of power in our society, we as white women can use our voices to empower women and people of colour and help project their voices. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case:
- Between 52 and 55 percent of white women voted for Trump in the 2020 election instead of about 10 percent of black women.
- Historically, there have been issues regarding a woman’s only Ku Klux Klan (WKKK) White women have been known to use their emotions to overpower people of colour (as seen in the famous lynching of a black child, Emmett Till, when a black fourteen-year-old boy was beaten to death by white men because a white woman claimed that he had whistled at her, later admitting that she had lied.
What Does it Mean to be Anti-Racist?
To be anti-racist is to literally be against racism wherever you may encounter it, even from yourself. This means holding yourself accountable when racist or prejudice thoughts and actions arise from you, and being proactive and speaking up when you encounter racism from others.
Aspen Ideas Festival writes of black activist and author of How to Be An Anti Racist Ibram X. Kendi “Author and historian Ibram X. Kendi claims there’s no such thing as being ‘not racist.’ He explains that even inaction (simply being ‘not racist’) in the face of racism is, in fact, racism. The idea of an innocent bystander is dreaming for Kendi; instead, there’s only racism and anti racism:”
Ibram X. Kendi, and many voices in the anti-racist movement, agree that to stand by while racist action or speech is taking place is to be complicit in the racism itself. To be anti-racist is to be whole-heartedly against racism wherever you see it, not just when it’s convenient for you to bring up or when it makes you look good.
How Can I do Better?
As a white woman, it wasn’t easy for me to become or even to remain anti-racist, because racism is a difficult topic and should make you feel uncomfortable, doing internal work and revision can be especially tough because it requires you to be critical of yourself. I’ve learned a few things on my journey to becoming anti-racist and a few things that I’m still learning as I make strides even now.
Here’s what I’ve learned in terms of antiracism and how to do better:
My Feelings are Not as Important as People of Colour’s Lives!
This was a tough one because I was taught as a white woman that my emotions will get me anywhere I want to go; it was also difficult because it took a lot of introspection. Nobody likes to be called racist, or be told that your actions are racist, but it’s necessary for growth. Me getting my ego bruised for ten minutes because I did something wrong is worth the introspection and the ending of that behavior. Sparing a white woman’s feelings is not worth the violence that racism can cause to people of colour.
To be Silent in times of Racism is to be Racist
One of my best friends said to me once, “If there are nine Nazis at a table and one person who doesn’t say anything, there are in fact ten Nazis at that table.” To be silent in times of racist behavior is to condone the behavior itself.
None of us are Without Racist/Prejudice Thought
Because we live in a white supremacist world, we are subconsciously taught through media, politics, and the people in our own lives preconceived ideas about people of color, women, and people in the LGBTQIA2S+ community, about everyone. To be anti-racist is to question where these ideas came from and why they’ve become part of your thinking of the world. No one is without racist or prejudice thought, and every day we must fight those thoughts and notions within ourselves to be truly anti-racist.
As White Women, it is Not our Place to Tell BIPOC What is or isn’t Racist
As white women, we have a place in the civil rights and anti-racist movements—but it’s not in the front! Just as men should not be at the front of women’s liberation, white women should be behind people of colour supporting them and listening to their voices. If a person of colour tells you that your actions are harmful or racist, it’s not your place to dictate whether they’re right or not; it’s your job to listen and do better.
Where Can I Learn More?
If you’re looking for resources on antiracism/ civil rights, I’m very happy that you are. When it comes to being anti-racist, the fight and the learning doesn’t stop. My personal favourite book that I’ve read on antiracism is Robin Diangelo’s White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Race! I love this book; it made me do a lot of looking inward, and I would recommend it to anyone who doesn’t know where to start!
A Few More Recommendations:
- As Mentioned Above: How to Be an Anti Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
- So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
- Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
- Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde
- Anti-Racist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi
- A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara
- Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester