Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dear White Women: For Whom My Pain is Invisible

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 photo Audre-Lorde.jpg
by Chesya Burke

Although we have met in real life, you and I have gotten acquainted through Facebook, which it seems is where all true friendships go to die. We have not spoken in years, but respond every now and again to each other’s post. But we are “friends” in only the way that modern 21st century folks can be.

I link to a blog post which calls out White feminism and their behavior towards Michelle Obama. You reply and preface your statement with a comment about your Native American ancestry to, I suppose, establish your non-White authority—which only adds to your White authority, so you have all bases covered now. You disagree with the author stating that White women have been in a power struggle with White men, because you say White women rank “below” all men and then you go on to boil the conversation down to “feminist bickering.”

You are, you admit, “ignorant” of feminism, but you are adamant that until men treat all women as equals nothing will change.

Others chime in to express their disagreement. Some point out the history of Black men and White women and the threat of rape. Some mention class. Others discuss patriarchy. It’s a lively, but interesting discussion.

You respond a few times, mostly stating that “the fight shouldn’t be against other women.” In other words Black women you should start fighting the real enemy: men, not White women. You do not see this as your argument, but those who have a history of feminism have seen it many many times before. You see, when suggesting that groups get along to oppose only the most dominate group, the minority group’s voice is always drowned out. Their priories are ignored. Minority women know this because they have been asked to do this too often in the past.

Someone expresses the frustration that your ideology is part of the problem and you get indignant, angry. You write, delete and rewrite a comment stating that you have been insulted. You, quite frankly, make this entire conversation about yourself. It’s about your feelings, your hurt at seeing the struggles of White women diminished, your pain at being associated with those oppressive White women, despite your Native roots that you so desperately cling to.

Seeing that this is getting out of hand, I quickly, but carefully explain the history of feminism to you, although you could not be bothered to research yourself. I do the heavy lifting for you, which I have often done. But, hey, we’re “friends,” right? I say: “White feminist have always asked Black and other minority women to “stop fighting against them,” or to toe the line. Of course we should all just be fighting against misogyny. Let’s just ignore racism, and more importantly, let’s just ignore the racism that White women themselves often perpetrate against minority women.”

You get it. For a moment.

Then you’re indignation makes you angry. Are you that White woman? You need to know. You comment, then email me demanding for me to come clean, to absolve you of the connection to the dreaded White woman who has done all of those terrible things.

You tell me that you are not responsible for the way that I have misinterpreted your words, and yet you want to make me responsible for the way that you have misinterpreted mine.

You are a smart woman. MA. PhD. M.D. All of the important initials behind your name, you carry them proudly. You’ve earned them. You’ve fought for every single one. And so you believe that I have committed an “ecological fallacy” every time I call Whites racist simply because they are White, not understanding that I see racism as a system. That I, unlike you, have studied this. I’ve lived it. That I understand that although individuals can be racist, it is the systemic structures of racism that oppress groups of people. Systems, as we were talking here, such as feminism, which has too often ignored and even endorsed racism against Black women and minority peoples.

But now I cannot be bothered. I have done this before. Many many times, in fact. I do this monthly, weekly, daily sometimes. I am often “that” friend. The Black friend. The woman. The Black woman to whom many of my White acquaintances request I absolve them of history’s past, asked to bear the guilt that they feel, told that I’m mean or angry or bitter if I refuse.

So I respond, without responding:

I believe the meme is cute, non-aggressive, and expresses my own frustration with you and your demands of me. (Of course, you probably did not notice that I never made any demands of you. I did not expect you to justify my own ideologies. I am not privileged enough to expect this.)

You get angry. You unfriend me. Then you take to your FB page. You call yourself a “cracker” to gain sympathy, although that’s a term I never used. You misquote me (whether deliberate or not, I’m not sure), but you invoke the equivalent of online White women’s tears. Your tears, you believe, are true. They are clear, pure, genuine.

Mine do not exist.

You get your sympathy. The White men (and women) come to comfort you. Of course in comforting you, they disparage me. There cannot be one without the other. They express their disappointment in me. You see, I am not the person they wish I was, that they want me to be. I am not quiet, do not acquiesce, cannot be submissive. I am not that Black woman. The Black woman they would have me be.

In the mist of it all the message is lost. The sisterhood that you sought is quickly thrown aside in favor of that familiar connection with the dominate status quo. My behavior, you believe, is representative of my hypocrisy. I didn’t toe the line because I had my own thoughts and ideas that did not fit in line with yours. That makes me a hypocrite.

To you your anger is justified. Mine does not exist.

It doesn’t exist because I’ve done this before. I’ll do it again in the near future. Probably this month, week, or even tomorrow. While you, you can go on and believe that that mean Black woman will never be happy until she understands that White crackers are just a “little salty” sometimes, if never really hurtful.

My pain, you see, is invisible.


Chesya Burke’s 2011 fiction collection, Let’s Play White, was featured in i09 and received praise from Samuel Delany and Nikki Giovanni. She is also recognized for her critical analysis of genre and race issues such as her articles, Race and The Walking Dead and Super Duper Sexual Spiritual Black Woman: The New and Improved Magical Negro published by Clarkesworld Publication. Chesya is currently getting her MA in African American Studies at Georgia State University and is a juror for the 2013 Shirley Jackson awards.

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