The following text is an exchange with a new friend regarding my criticism of the Women’s March, Race and being a good Ally.
I started writing a response that grew in length until I realized I had written a short essay with citations. I decided to share it because many of my friends have told me how much my words have helped them learn and grow. Share this with the allies or friends in your life so that we can grow and learn from criticism.
“This quest for ‘unity’ through erasure and silence has another word for it: oppression”-Trudy of Gradient Lair
I get you. I’m just saying the March literally represented all women, ESPECIALLY WOC and to not back those causes yet attend, doesn’t make sense. I’m aware there is white feminism, I’m not calling you wrong, however, generalizing the white women in the March, only alienates women who aren’t interested in the cause, even further, rather than reaching to help them understand. I am not excusing anyones actions, I’m just saying, these types of things are not likely helpful.
So, the D.C. March aimed to be inclusive of all women—whether or not all women felt that way I can’t say—but the smaller Marches in other cities did not adhere to that same goal. Janet Mock, who spoke in D.C., even mentioned that the organizers edited out her inclusion of sex workers. Sure Black Lives Matter was represented; that doesn’t change the fact that many, MANY individual attendees will not take their activism further than this one event. Just because many women joined in their local event doesn’t mean they agree or align with Black Lives Matter, nor does it mean that they address trans issues or fight Islamophobia. It only truly guarantees that they cared about their own identities being addressed. If someone feels that by calling for accountability in my allies that I’m alienating them, they need to set aside their privilege and listen to what I’m saying.
I have a strong compassion for what you are dealing with and little true understanding. I’m sorry if my message appears privileged or asking you to extend privilege women for being white. I promise I didn’t mean it in that way and if I could have worded that better, I apologize again. I’m simply saying snarky “call outs” doesn’t create the positive outcome you’re looking for. I know you’re angry and I would never look to invalidate your anger, but it will only further divide those who don’t have the same level of understanding or willingness to understand from those seeking to bring everyone together which is so important now.
I understand what you’re saying and I don’t take offense to you coming forward to talk about it. But it’s time for people to start getting it. Deconstructing oppression is more important than white tears and feelings about how I say things.
These aren’t white tears, or looking for you to pussy around feelings when the circumstances require you to be direct. However, I can’t pretend like you making jokes towards white people’s ignorance, doesn’t make my job as an ally even harder in regards to bringing white people with a lack of understanding to the understanding. Again, unity is what’s needed and that’s not being accomplished with these dividing remarks. I don’t feel like I’m burdening you by asking for some assistance in not further alienating people who truly don’t get it right now. We need to stand as one. Do I make sense when I say it makes my job more difficult?
I’m confused as to what you’re asking me to do? Are you asking me to be nice to ignorant people and nicely explain social issues?
Let’s break it down.
I would like to first address the biggest issue I have with your responses: Tone-policing.
Tone-policing is the act of silencing a person’s ideas and thoughts on the basis of their emotional tone and therefore ignoring the actual content of their message.
“Criticizing the tone with which oppressed peoples fight for their rights and respect is a privilege used to excuse the powerful from accepting responsibility and issuing the appropriate restitution. Using tone as an excuse to not listen to people’s views puts the burden of enacting change and promoting activism on the already silenced marginalized communities.
Tone-policing dangerously ensures that the fight for equality becomes solely the responsibility of the oppressed. It unfairly alleviates the responsibility on the powerful to listen to and understand their stories with compassion. It protects the powerful’s privilege by forcing the marginalized to calmly, “rationally,” inform the people in power of their unjust experiences, at the threat of not being heard. Tone-policing only further oppresses the already marginalized by requiring them to refurbish their opinions and stories so that they are more pleasant for the powerful to hear. It thwarts an opportunity for oppressors to recognize and fix their oppressive behaviors by compassionately listening to these emotionally compelling arguments and stories. It forces the oppressed to emotionally separate themselves from their emotionally charged hardships, and it numbs the oppressors from having the compassion to listen. Tone-policing forces people to restrict emotion and compassion, that which makes us most human.
Tone-policing is a way to silence emotion in the movement for equality. To silence emotion in the movement is to silence the movement entirely” (femmagazine).
Your first message, “I’m just saying, these types of things are not likely helpful,” is tone-policing.
No. You don’t get to say that. You don’t perceive it as helpful, but you don’t get to police the way that I express my frustration and my experience as a black woman. Here is a comic that goes in depth on the topic if you are not familiar.
You weren’t looking to invalidate my anger, but by asking me to separate my frustration and anger from how I communicate my criticism and issues feels like silencing. No. Actually, it just is straight up silencing. I shouldn’t have to talk about my issues in a way that the majority deems civil in order for it to be taken as valid. Refer back to the comic and above excerpt.
Now on to the next comment: “I’m simply saying snarky “call outs” doesn’t create the positive outcome you’re looking for. I know you’re angry and I would never look to invalidate your anger, but it will only further divide those who don’t have the same level of understanding or willingness to understand from those seeking to bring everyone together which is so important now.”
Again, tone policing. Please see the above comic I sent you. Everything I have accomplished has been through a “snarky call out.” Let’s change the conversation and make the snarky call out about sexist men instead of white feminism. Would you still feel the same way if I was aggressively calling out men for not supporting women in the fight for equal pay, maternity leave, destroying rape culture? Would you tell me that I’m pushing men further away from supporting my cause as if the only reason they would support it is because of how I talk to them about it instead of the fact that everyone should agree that human beings should be treated equally because that’s the right thing to do?
Your response to my post was, “This hurts my heart dude. BLM was largely represented by all women at the March.”
Correct me if I’m wrong, but this response came from how you felt about my generalization. You answer my generalization with another generalization. How do you know that ALL women in attendance at ALL the marches carry BLM in their heart? These marches were supposed to be trans inclusive, but pussy hats and vaginas being used as the symbol of womanhood proved they weren’t. These marches were supposed to be a lot of things, but they weren’t.
You can-not claim that all women care about all these issues. You can-not claim that all those women will support me. In a Colorlines article by Jamilah Lemieux she expresses the frustration of never feeling sisterhood with white women, while always being expected to support those who don’t always support her. She also asks, “Will the Women’s March on Washington be a space filled primarily with participants who believe that Black lives matter?” to which you can only answer ‘maybe’ because there were many who were not open to being asked to address race and white privilege at the marches (Lemieux).
“. . .I’m really tired of Black and Brown women routinely being tasked with fixing White folks’ messes. I’m tired of being the moral compass of the United States. Many of the White women who will attend the march are committed activists, sure. But for those new-to-it White women who just decided that they care about social issues? I’m not invested in sharing space with them at this point in history.” (Lemieux) We have always done what others won’t because we must in order to simply survive. Other marginalized women couldn’t ignore the threat that was the 2017 election because we did not have whiteness to protect us. We didn’t even like Hilary and we still voted for her because we knew what could potentially happen to all disadvantaged people. 53% of White women didn’t like Hilary and in that, choose their whiteness over their gender, which is a privilege other women do not have.
That is why marginalized women have been uncomfortable with the March. That is why I criticize this March. That is why I have something to say. We don’t get that choice and we don’t know what you will choose. Marginalized women have every right to be skeptical of people’s commitment when we’ve been fighting alone for years, but everyone else just decided to get on the battlefield after they were PERSONALLY attacked. Pro tip: don’t tell people where the battle field is when you just picked up a weapon. “The anger and outrage of colored people doesn’t garner this much solidarity when it comes to brown/black individuals safety. So it’s natural for us to not immediately and wholeheartedly embrace this moment/march, which has a history of excluding black/brown people” (S. Butt).
My response to your response: “Over 2.4 million people showed out for the women’s march. That’s a big number. Those numbers have not been reflected in other movements demonstrations or protests.There are many women who participated in the women’s march who will probably not participant or feel moved to engage in demonstrations that aren’t centered on “their” feminism which is white feminism. That is the point of this post. Accountability and making sure all attendees know that they need to show up and be vocal about more than just the women’s march because that’s what being an intersectional feminist means.”
I still stand by my response.
You claim that my status hurts and deters potential allies from aligning with my cause and supporting me. If my status stops you from fighting oppression, did you ever really care? Anyone who truly is going to ever give a fuck is not going to see my posts and go, “that one black girl’s comment is the reason why I don’t care about all black people!!!” They were already like that and nothing I say or do will change them.
Are there people in the middle who can be more easily swayed to support my causes? Sure. But again, if that post stops them from jumping on board, they are not nearly where they need to be in their critical thinking as an ally in terms of confronting their own privilege and the systemic racism that exists in our society to actually even be helpful. In essence, they were never really going to be about it. Ever.
You said, “Again, unity is what’s needed and that’s not being accomplished with these dividing remarks. I don’t feel like I’m burdening you, by asking for some assistance in not further alienating people who truly don’t get it right now. We need to stand as one.”
Do you know what that sounds like to me? “We are all Africans”. “We are one race: the human race”. “I want you to put aside your issues with movements that benefit me and not you so that we can advance my issues, sorry, “our” issues”. That’s what that sounds like. It sounds like that because 1. Tone Policing. 2. Silencing. And 3. Your unity sounds like conformity/erasure.
In the Mic article I tagged you, Audre Lorde goes in depth about how black women’s anger and criticism of feminism is perceived. “When women of color speak out of the anger that laces so many of our contacts with white women, we are often told that we are ‘creating a mood of hopelessness,’ ‘preventing white women from getting past guilt,’ or ‘standing in the way of trusting communication and action'” (Mic).
You’re literally doing this to me right now. Unity shouldn’t come at the price of my own voice being drowned out for the sake of the greater good. “Acknowledging women’s differences, accepting criticism and embracing each other’s anger will only make the feminist movement stronger” (Mic).
“The angers between women will not kill us if we can articulate them with precision, if we listen to the content of what is said with at least as much intensity as we defend ourselves against the manner of saying” (Mic).
Instead of listening to what I said, the content of my posts and the points being made, you jumped straight to how I was saying it. As an ally, you need to step back, think, reflect, ask questions, listen, listen some more and then speak. People need to acknowledge the differences that my commentary brings up. Embrace my anger instead of erasing it. Use empathy to understand why I feel the need to communicate how I choose to do so instead of suggesting I “tone it down”.
I’m not being divisive by pointing out the movements weaknesses when it comes to addressing and including all “women”. I’m making it stronger. It is only weakened by people’s inability to set aside their privileges and take action when told how to improve.
You said, “Do I make sense when I say it makes my job more difficult?”
. . . You think your job is hard. Imagine how hard it would be to actually be black. You’re job is optional. Mine is required.
Being an ally means being uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable every day. No one said being an ally would be easy, but it is definitely not my job to make it easy. Do you know how that sounds? That’s like asking a black person to be less of a stereotype so you’re friends and family won’t make racist comments.
It is not my job to do anything other than stay black and die.
For future reference here are some tips that I suggest when it comes to being an ally and you see a post from a marginalized person that makes you uncomfortable:
- “When you’re feeling defensive when challenged by POC, just stop — don’t engage, but step back & think. It’s not about you” (Another Round).
- “Listen without the purpose of argument” (Another Round).
- “Recognize That Yes, You’re Going to Do it Wrong: If you’re a person of privilege who is working for justice, particularly in ways that subvert your own privilege, you’re going to screw up. You’re going to do it often. And you’re going to screw up badly. Be prepared for that, and be prepared to” (Everyday Feminism).
- “Apologize without caveats” (Everyday Feminism).
- Keep trying.
- The Uncomfortable Process of Becoming a White Ally
- 11 Things White People Can Do to Be Real Anti-Racist Allies
- How to be a white ally: Fighting racism is your responsibility — start now
We don’t know each other very well so let me take a second to give you a brief background as to who exactly I am to add some context to this conversation.
I am a 22 year straight cis black woman from a low middle income single parent household. I am a privileged graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design with a concentration in Gender, Race and Sexuality. I served as an Orientation Leader, Resident Assistant, President of Black Artists and Designers, member of the NAACP, President of the Student Alliance, Brown University Social Innovation Fellow and now Venture for America Fellow.
In 2015 I organized a Silent Protest to bring #Blacklivesmatter to my campus community. I co-organized a panel discussing Ferguson, Police Brutality, Systemic Racism and the Prison Industrial Complex. This work led to my position as a research assistant with a Professor that led to a Race and Identity class being taught the following year.
In 2015 I was a speaker at the D.I.V.E. conference on identity politics. In 2015 I launched Healthy Roots, a toy company that creates dolls and storybooks that teach natural hair care to young girls of color. I was a 2015 MassChallenge Finalist and raised $50,000 on Kickstarter.
In 2016 I spoke at Providence Tedx about #BlackGirlMagic and how it can change the world.
I did all these things through Facebook.
I’ve created an impactful web presence that more than 1000 people can attest to and how my activism has challenged them, taught them and made them angry. A lot of these people have been made better by my work and helped spread awareness to their own friends and families. All that shit happened because of how I speak and how I challenge people.
There is nothing wrong with my language or approach. I get results.
You’re new to my page and it can be uncomfortable at first. What I didn’t tell you is I usually don’t respond to messages in my inbox that require such huge amounts of emotional labor from me regarding identity politics. I’ve made a special exception because of my current mood and frustration with this topic over this weekend.
So the answer to your question is no. I can not make your job as an ally easier because it is not my job to water down my blackness or my experience.
Let me know if you have any questions about anything.
***Editor’s note: I am actually seething. I took all the anger and rage that I wanted to put in that essay into this section. I am up at 3am writing you a damn essay because not only do I care, but I have a strong feeling that if instead I cussed you out, like I want to, for even having the nerve to THINK you could come in my inbox and tell me how I should talk about social issues so as to not push people away, as if I am the reason that people don’t care about black lives, you wouldn’t be receptive to what I have to say.
I am fucking livid. I’m angry and I don’t want to be angry with you, but I am. I’m angry because you didn’t think about how you would come across policing how a black woman talks about her issues. I am angry because you might think that I am irrationally angry, but what you don’t know is that I have to deal with this type of bullshit everyday. That the reason I make “snarky comments” is to keep myself from saying things that would actually hurt people’s feelings. To keep myself smiling instead of breaking down in frustration from the pure bullshit that is people’s idea of activism and change.***
The Follow up
I have a lot I would like to respond with, but I also have a lot to digest. Thank you so much for writing me this.
I will say, I thought asking for peace was right, but it was wrong. I see how much harder your task is than mine ever was considering I thought of myself as a very woke minded and activist centric individual. I felt myself helping others and using my privilege for the positive, but again, I was wrong. I’m sorry.
My understanding of what I’m doing and how to do it better, is much shallower than I anticipated. I’m positive you get the groveling “I’m sorrys” often, but I do want to learn how to be the most helpful and continue being apologetic.
I’ve read your response. I don’t have a response because I’m emotionally exhausted, but I hear you. If you send anything else I’ll read it. I will be taking this essay and making it a post for facebook because a lot of people share that they learn from my dialogues. It’ll be the same content no names, no specificities. Thanks for being receptive.
I was gonna ask if I could share it as well.
When the post is up I’ll let you know. I need to preface it with the context before the essay and the follow up after I shared it with you. Do you might if I put the responses you sent me in it?
No, that’s okay with me.
If you at all feel personally attacked by anything that has been expressed in my writing, let me tell you, I’ve been there. You have to remember that it isn’t about how you feel. When you are contributing to a problem whether it’s sexism, racism, heteronormativity, cissexism, ableism (or any form of discrimination!), you have to put your feelings to the side, listen and learn.
Then take the steps you have been given to create space and opportunity for those who don’t have the privileges you have.
The Women’s March was a first step in allyship for many attendees.
Now take action.