Fellow white feminists: how was last week for you?
It deserved to be the worst of our collective life and we felt it. Worse than the Hollywood Access tapes, worse than January 20, 2017, worse than the Kavanaugh confirmation … and why? Because in all our astonishment and outrage, we have nowhere left to look but directly at ourselves — at the idea that George Floyd’s murder, and the nation’s alternately desperate and pearl-clutching response, were ours to prevent. Because we’ve had every opportunity to put racial justice at the center of our fight for gender equity, and we have failed every time.
We are living with the consequences of our creation, of our silence, of our comfort, of our feminism. The consequences I’m talking about have nothing to do with “looting” and “violence” — absurd concerns for a nation that acquired unparalleled wealth through looting and violence. (By the way, if you want to talk about “the wrong way” cries for justice are being delivered, then hold your breath please. We white people can take a 400-year break from critiquing the behavior of Black people — in meetings, in movements, at the ballot box, you name it. We can be done now).
The consequences I’m talking about are how you feel right now. How unfun this has all been for you. And why? People are murdered every day and we don’t miss a brunch. But we know this is different.
White ladies, hear me: You don’t need to have read a single one of the billion “resources for well-meaning white people” slashing across social media right now to know George Floyd’s blood is on our hands. That white feminism may as well have been one of the four police officers looking on for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while Mr. Floyd cried out for his mother and struggled for his last breath.
Now, we are outraged because his murder (not to mention Breonna Taylor’s midnight attack, which simply wasn’t caught on film) was in our name. So we shout from the highest mountain tops and laziest Instagram feeds that we can’t believe it. When what we mean is, “Don’t blame us! We weren’t there! We don’t even know any Black men!” If you are feeling defensive right now, why? Is it because you totally know two Black men?
We’re having a bad week because we aren’t ready to do our time. We aren’t ready to give anything up. Not one thing, “when we still have so much less than men,” we might say (and we should say “cis men” but we aren’t ready for that either). We aren’t ready to talk to our kids about race. We aren’t ready to consider where our money came from (and then give it back to Black and indigenous people). We aren’t ready to “color” our newsfeeds with the ideas, experiences and opinions of Black people. We aren’t even ready to watch Insecure, let alone give up our place in the racial hierarchy.
I’m not here to give a history lesson or share another list of resources to spoon feed White Privilege 101 to the privileged. These things have been done. As my mentor, Jodi-Ann Burey, says, “if you don’t know ‘where to start,’ that’s on you. Google exists.” I am here to ask you, liberal white lady to liberal white lady, to lay down in this nicely made bed of ours and look up at the blood-spattered ceiling.
We do not need to be coddled this time. That time is up. Enough Black lives have been lost already to give us an opportunity to “read up.” White ladies, we can do this: We can imagine that Black people are experiencing specific, violent, post-slavery systemic oppression that we’ll never understand personally and will still believe with everything we have. We can do that. Not for one day or one week but every day for the rest of our lives and beyond, by ensuring that our children do a far better job than we have.
And we do not need to read 100 books on race (though we need to do that too) to make a decision. Do we actually care about our state agents killing Black men and women, again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again, or are we fighting nicely, quietly, foolishly and brutally to maintain what we have? Let’s decide before brunch.
Caitlin Lombardi is the Senior Director of Strategy & Impact at The Riveter.