There are two essential principles to which white people [especially white feminists] must commit if they intend to claim legitimate “ally-ship” with people of color.
1] Listen to expressions of pain and emotional hardship experienced by people of color without challenging those expressions or attempting to minimize their pain. Do not try to brush that pain away, telling the aggrieved person “you shouldn’t feel like that; we never meant it that way.”
2] Do not contradict the POC’s interpretations of what happened to them as racist. Whether the behavior being criticized was yours or someone else’s, whether there might be an alternate interpretation of the persons, whether the accused person did or did not intend to be racist, what matters is the person’s deep pain and anger. You’re not in a courtroom. No one is determining guilt or innocence. You are present to HEAR what is FELT.
That means not imposing your own idea of what someone should feel in that situation, because you’ve never been in that situation. You’ve never had to live black in a white world.
It’s really rather simple. Honestly, I don’t get why it is so hard for white feminists to understand, especially if they’ve paid attention to the toxic language men often use with women who are talking about their pain. The defensive language used by white people is structurally similar to the defensive language men often use when speaking to women who’ve been traumatized by men.
As should be obvious by the chart below, denials of racism and complaints about “false accusations” spoken by white women and men are structurally similar to the denials and complaints about “false accusations” women receive from men regarding their own expressions of pain over misogyny and sexual harassment.
Way too many men give exactly the wrong response, especially when a woman says that what they’ve experienced is typical male behavior. At which point the male friend likely gets defensive. Women who’ve tried to talk to men about their experiences often [nearly always?] end up frustrated with the fact their men aren’t listening to what they’re saying because they make it all about them and the “unfairness” of what they see as a personal attack on THEM.
Just as white women make it all about them when they face criticism for responses to black women’s expressions of pain.
I created the chart below listing common, hurtful responses to complaints about racism and misogyny to make the parallels undeniable. [Apologies for the tiny type.]
Women [both white and black] live in a dangerous, misogynist world in which women’s expressions of pain are minimized and disbelieved. In addition, Black women have to live in a world that is both misogynist AND racist: a double whammy of both disbelief and danger; a world in which they must negotiate safety for themselves with little help from white women [who often don’t notice it], and the people in power…some of whom are white women…who minimize and disbelieve their assessment of that danger.
White feminists, if they have not opened their hearts to HEAR their black sisters’ expressions of pain without interjecting defensiveness, are often part of the emotional danger posed to black women. [See Marley K., “Forget About Your Feelings, Your Racism Is Killing Us.”]
What I have learned by practicing open-hearted listening and rejecting defensiveness is that, once you’ve actually HEARD what black women say, the less defensiveness you feel.
If a white woman has heard…I mean REALLY heard…[see chart above] how similar their defenses are to men’s defensiveness against charges of sexual harassment and assault; it’s harder to even THINK those defenses, much less reproduce them.
There’s no need to defend yourself if you’ve actually listened. Because once you’ve actually heard the words deep inside, there’s nothing left to do other than acknowledge your blind spots…and choose to do something about them. That something is: keep on listening, and share your insights with other white people.
Yes, it is wrong for white women to fail to bring the SAME kind of attention to injustice against black women as it is to fail to bring attention to injustice against white women. There is no excuse for it. We must re-train our minds and hearts to SEE it, HEAR it, and ACT against it.
Now we must rectify it. We musn’t waste time & energy defending ourselves against our prior failings. What we do NOW is vastly more important than what we did…even what we did yesterday. Or this morning.