We Need To Let Black Women Lead
First, can we simply listen to our black sisters without using the word ‘divisive?’ Please?
Proud pink pussyhat crocheters, wearers, marchers, protesters, feminists, humans, sisters:
First, I have to acknowledge that you showed up, and for that I truly want to say thank you. If you were able, thank you to every single person who marched in solidarity this weekend, on the second anniversary of the historic Women’s March, in 300+ marches throughout all 50 states. For those of us who were not physically or mentally able (my ridiculous crowd-phobia, plus my spinal stenosis, and a recent knee surgery, it was kinda impossible), I say: Thank you. I tip my hat to you.
Though I didn’t march, I stand in solidarity with you, and I will continue protesting Trumpism in all its many forms, and advocating for marginalized groups in the ways that I do — through my writing, speaking, and running a program I founded in 2016 for trans and gender nonconforming youth at my local LGBT Center.
But to those who bravely showed up and marched — thank you.
The irony is not lost on any of us that one year later, women, men, feminists, sisters, (and cis-ters, as the amazing Jacob Tobia says), came out just as strong — if not stronger — while our government (technically) started its shutdown, one year to the day Trump was sworn in. The “Art of the Deal” guy, hashtag “Don the con,” the snake oil salesman peddling “I alone can fix it” to a handful of hungry cult-like Americans, cannot even run the government with his own party in control of both houses of Congress and the Senate.
Scrolling through my feed Sunday morning, catching up and looking at pictures from all over the US, from the tiniest tykes to the senior citizens, from my trans sisters to my lesbian, gay, and queer friends, from my cis male & female feminist pals to my black & brown friends, I’ve felt inspired and have had my hope renewed that this movement continues, and it wasn’t just a one-time phenomenon that would run out of steam.
That said, I couldn’t help but notice the sea of white in nearly every picture from every city across America — along with selfies, the second coming of knit pink pussyhats, and plentiful social gatherings. Which made me remember the iconic photo above, from last year’s march, featuring author and activist Angela Peoples, casually sucking her lollipop, wearing a determined grit on her face in a no-nonsense, “we’ve been down this road before, and we’ve got A LOT more work to do” kind of way.
Her sign read, “Dont Forget: White Women Voted for Trump.” Her hat read, simply, “Stop killing black people.”
The white women situated behind her in the photo captured the basic white girl stereotype: socially privileged, middle to wealthy class, smiling, together but detached from one another, unengaged from the why behind the movement, but totally engaged in selfies, posting to social media, and humblebrags that might as well communicate: Look at ME! I’m here! I showed up! #woke.
This powerful image captured a larger truth in society. Yes, we white women collectively showed up to march, and that’s awesome. But what would we do upon returning home? Were we prepared and ready to do the tireless, important, necessary, hard work that comes after the march of empowerment?
Were we prepared to follow through and organize our people — our fellow white people — even some of those same people standing in solidarity with us at the march who actually held their noses and voted for Trump? Would we be able to look at a photo like this and confront our white privilege, or would we just get offended, insulted, or accusatory? Would we revert to overused rhetoric like, “not everything is about race,” or, “not this white person!”
Shortly after the first Women’s March, the articles came out in protest of the pink pussyhat as a symbol, and what it seemed to represent: cisgender, white women only. Many felt it was non-inclusive of female-identifying genderqueer people, intersex women, trans women (since not all intersex & trans women have a vagina), and last but certainly not least, black women who felt the pink hats carried overt tones of racism. Some felt the hats not only suggested a discriminatory white-associated flesh tone, but more generally speaking, the outrage was over the fact that themes of racism have been built into the fabric of seemingly all feminist movements.
All of this prompted a response from the creator of the pink pussyhat movement, Krista Suh, in which she stated, “I think ‘pussy’ refers to the female anatomical part, but it’s also a word that’s used to shame people who are feminine … whether they are men, women [or] genderqueer. And I think what it comes down to is that femininity is really disrespected in our society.”
I couldn’t agree more about the overall theme of misogyny, and that women’s anatomy is too often casually spoken in vulgarity when referring to someone who is deemed weak — especially when hurled at those who are presumed to be cisgender boys or men, but are seen as “too feminine.”
Let’s set the record straight on something right here and now. Femininity is not “weak.”
Seems it should go without saying, but I keep feeling the need to say it: whether a feminine person is male, female, cis, trans, queer, or other, femininity is not a deficit.
Furthermore, female anatomy is not “weak.” Anyone who thinks so should read up on what the female body is capable of doing all throughout pregnancy and childbirth, let alone on a monthly basis. Ain’t nothing weak ‘bout that.
Suh continued to explain that the concept of the pink pussyhat was inspired by outrage over President Trump’s “grab ’em by the pussy” comment from the infamous 2005 Access Hollywood recording. Additionally, she said that the movement sought to reclaim the word, as women were feeling frustrated with the most intimate part of their bodies being often used as a catchword for weakness.
Suh, an Asian American, also rejected the idea that this was about race, and further defended her choice saying the hat was a metaphor, not just for women who are cisgender, but any person or group who can relate to feeling marginalized.
It was problematic that Suh’s immediate response was to deny race played any part in this dialogue. What stood out the most to me, though, was a different message — a message that conveyed the pink pussyhat seemed (more often than not) to reflect highly social, smiling, privileged, white women, taking selfies and posing with friends as if they were attending a craft beer music festival rather than a somber but empowering protest.
It wasn’t Angela Peoples’ intention to antagonize the Women’s March protesters standing all around her who were mostly white, but rather, to highlight that on a national level, white women are not unified in opposition to Trumpism and can’t be counted on to fight it. — Angela Peoples, in a NYT opinion column
White woman and feminists who marched, I’m asking:
How many of us marchers — last year, or last weekend — returned home and somehow continued the movement? How many of us showed up carrying signs of support at any Black Lives Matter protests over the past year? Did we join forces with our local LGBT Centers, or PFLAG organizations? Did we show up in crowd-breaking numbers and stand in solidarity with our genderqueer and trans sisters at Pride?
Maybe you did. Maybe you started your own grassroots movement. Maybe you even ran for office. Good on you. We need more of that, please. Instead of this:
Reading through my social media feed last year, I quickly understood that lots of people took offense to Angela Peoples’ message. Instead of listening to what she was saying, many of us white ladies yelled over her, calling her (and possibly even the BLM movement) “divisive.” Over and over, I saw and heard phrases that went something like this:
- Hey! We’re all on the same side here!
- Why are we fighting?
- We need to stick together, not bicker.
- But I’m not racist! I marched!
- Stop overreacting/being so dramatic.
- You’re being divisive.
But when black people are telling us they felt hurt over seeing that sea of white turnout for the Women’s March, and we proceed to talk over them, denouncing them for being “divisive” or “ridiculous?” That doesn’t feel like we’re all on the same side.
When we show up in historic, record numbers for the Women’s March and it’s the talk of the news cycle for days upon days, but we don’t do the same for Black Lives Matter, trans rights, or Pride? I can imagine it’s pretty damn hard for them to feel like we’re on the same side at all.
Obviously we can’t do everything — all of the marches, all of the campaigns, all of the movements. But we can do something, the least of which is let black people talk. And listen — really listen — instead of talking over them for once.
I have several amazing, courageous women in my own personal life who crocheted their own pink pussyhats, crafted signs, took unpaid time off work, drove to D.C. for a trip they could barely afford, and marched their pink pussyhats off. And they felt good, empowered even. They felt like they had really stood up for a cause. For many of them, it was their first foray into anything political. Some of them were scared about their safety but went anyway because this was important.
To then feel attacked by the anti-pink pussyhat messages felt counter-productive and even offensive to them.
All feelings aside, we still must acknowledge and confront the fact that more than 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump, while nearly 94% of black women voted for Hillary Clinton. If you’re white, that means at least one white woman in your life — family, friend, coworker — voted for Trump.
Can’t talk your Trump-loving friend out of the rabbit hole of trumpism, or the cult mentality? Then simply take care of you, and follow Angela Peoples’ advice. It’s easy, it’s free, and you’ll learn so much about yourself as well as marginalized communities:
Find individuals who make a difference like Angela Peoples. Most everyone is online now; Seek out black writers. Look for black organizers. Listen to them, follow their lead. They are the ones rejecting trumpism, every single time there’s a local or national vote. Despite gerrymandering. Despite voter suppression tactics. They still show up. It’s beyond time to listen to them, and let them lead. If we’re all truly unified, then their issues should be our issues, too.
I hear you that “we can’t do everything.” If it’s all just too much to keep up with, you can pick just one specific issue and join an organization (or even an email list, to stay informed) that fights against specific racist barriers like gerrymandering, such as Common Cause of NC.
I hope by this time next year, all who identify as “woman,” and all who identify as feminists (of any and every gender) will feel included, welcome, and represented. We’re getting closer to that day, but we should never get too comfortable or complacent; there’s always more work ahead.