Commentary Politics

Delayed Rage: Finally, White Women Are Trying to Catch Up

Jasmine Burnett

From my vantage point, this final push looks to be too little, too late.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

The hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh in the wake of the allegations brought forward by Christine Blasey Ford and others have been an embarrassment for U.S. leadership. The abrupt interruptions of female senators and admonitions about Ford’s credibility from senators like Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are a sign white men are angry that white women are challenging their “boys will be boys” attitude.

All of this is happening as the founder of the #MeToo movement, Tarana Burke—a Black woman—is shifting culture in real time around how we respond to all survivors of sexual violence. To share a core principle of reproductive justice, another human rights movement we all benefit from that was founded by Black women, “our experience is our expertise.” When it came to Ford, that experience was questioned: These senators claimed that her alleged violator is just as much of a victim as she was. She was all but physically dragged by her tender-headed white womanhood in front of millions of white women. These men used the Kavanaugh hearing as an opportunity to directly confront white feminists who challenge them, by toppling the pedestal of their womanhood as a protected class.

These men don’t give a fuck about women’s liberation, or whether “sisterhood is powerful.” The “ideal” white womanhood to them is one that confers the power over women’s bodies, lives, work, and sexuality to white men like them. Black people know firsthand that Black, brown, and transgender people are brutally murdered when white women are silent, or when they follow the violent tactics that white men use to brutalize and control. That can’t continue to happen as white supremacists control our democracy in the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of federal government.

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On Twitter, Rutgers University professor Brittney Cooper sums up my sentiments about the Kavanaugh hearing precisely: “But what Black Feminism and being a Black girl for 37 years has taught me is that if white women’s tears can’t compel white men to do better, nothing will. And for the rest of us— that shit is apocalyptic in its implications.” When it rains for white women, hurricanes happen for everyone else.

This has already started with the short-term reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) last month, especially for indigenous people who are victims of violence. If VAWA is not reauthorized for the long term, as Native organizer and writer Kelly Hayes noted, “Native nations [will] have lost the right to prosecute non-Native men who commit crimes of domestic violence, dating violence, or who violate a protection order against a victim who lives on tribal land.” The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has removed content from its websites related to discrimination against transgender people , including guidance to patients, doctors, and insurers on the rights of transgender people. This essentially is a green light for discrimination in health care, housing, employment; it also has racial implications for transgender people of color. We don’t know exactly what threats these impending and retaliatory rollbacks on progressive policies will pose, and how they will work to misshape our nation—especially for Black women and femmes who were diametrically opposed to our current federal leadership.

Meanwhile, millions of white feminists donned their pink pussy hats after 53 percent of white women voters picked Trump in “The White Supremacists Gone Wild” 2016 presidential election. Black families are not perfect, but damn if in 2016 we didn’t try to save this country from itself. For generations, we have been harmed by the perpetuation of cruelty that white supremacy has leveraged for power and control: the genocide of Native Americans, the Middle Passage and the enslavement of African peoples, imperialism in every corner of the world, the acute violence that transgender women of color and gender-nonconforming folks experience, and the sterilization, institutionalization, and murder of disabled people (especially those of color). Those dynamics can make this latest harm seem insurmountable. However, our ancestors survived as a matter of duty to future generations. I intend to survive and manifest opportunities with others to create the world that we have earned and deserve, not a world that is being forced upon us.

adrienne maree brown makes clear for us that emergent strategies for our survival are born out of heartbreak. What emerges from this heartbreak are ways of “looking at the world, the natural world that we’re a part of and searching for collaborative efforts, like where does collaboration happen, where is a right relationship happening between humans and the planet, between different parts of the planet, and what can we as a species learn about how to be in right relationship with each other and with the planet that we’re living on.”

Those of us who are bracing for the rapid changes this administration has introduced to the world must create new visions for how we collaborate and co-exist with each other. Indigenous people and people of color are clear that our culture is our power, and our families—as we define them—are our resistance tool to build a future that includes our collective wealth. White feminists need to actively work to address the class privilege that divides white women from women of color. Since the Civil War in this country, Black people have been calling on white people who have an eye toward a more just and equitable democracy to get their people. I imagine that it is difficult, but I figure their families will definitely listen to them before considering a word that comes out of my mouth.

In 2016, Black women’s votes were an act of defiance and a call to action that predicted where we are today. What I know about being a Black woman and a survivor whose liberation is adjacent to indigenous, queer, transgender, and disabled people of color in the United States is that we have always been non-consensual participants in the inhumane systems white men create that limit our life circumstances. In Ford’s case, white women seem to have thought that simply saying they are feminist and white would protect them. To directly accuse a white man, endorsed by other white men, of sexual assault in public is a position white women have historically not taken. And now they are seeing the results.

Yes, white women should have been angry a long time ago. And this final push, from my vantage point, looks to be too little, too late. Now, we’ve got to fight our way out of this bastardized political structure, rather than navigate our way through a democratic process. The most tragic, yet predictable part of this is that white women have stifled their survival instincts to keep a false sense of peace with white men. What I understand about white womanhood is that even white women who are progressive in public may operate quite differently in their privileged households. As a Black woman whose survival depends on how I honor the dignity of all that I am as I navigate the limitations of whiteness, anyone who names themselves alongside me as a co-conspirator in the work of liberation, equality, and justice must be a traitor to white supremacy. The line has been drawn and the call is clear.

Now is the time to envision a world that existed before our ancestors were harmed by the systems of white supremacy. Now is the time to build relationships with co-conspirators invested in the future of a country that exhibits just governance and fair representation—to move beyond predictions for a system that was flawed from the start for anyone who is not a white Anglo-Saxon protestant. Now is the time to imagine a way of governance that supports the evolution of this country.

The lives of the rising U.S. electorate depend on us being in right relationships with each other, holding safe spaces to identify ways to live into the liberation that is ours, and navigating the mighty waves of the revolution. White co-conspirators must take leadership in their lives and families by transforming the persistent harm white supremacy inflicts on women, youth, queer, transgender, and disabled people of color. One thing is for certain: When white people battle amongst themselves like they are now, Black and indigenous folks know to take cover, protect and defend our families, survive and overcome the brutality of this country. White women, of course you have choices. So, you can either be a bystander and use your delayed rage in service of the ever-present revolution, or continue to be a passive observer and pawn of white men’s brutality.

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