It’s been a week since the election. I’ve been trying to imagine how you must feel. At some level, I get it. I know what it means to be a highly qualified woman who is forced to the margins by a mediocre man. But I can only imagine how gut-wrenching it is to actually have the majority of people in the United States vote for you and still have to concede to someone wholly inferior.
I’ve been following the post-election autopsy. And aside from the fact that half of the people registered to vote opted out, which is a horrible indictment of our republic, I have been unable to look away from early indications that the majority of white women rejected your candidacy. I was not remotely surprised to learn that. I saw the chart and felt relief.
I know many people were shocked and appalled. Horrified even. I had some feelings of sadness and a tinge of fear, but mostly, I felt relief. Now, I don’t have to explain myself nearly as much as I used to.
All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men…
Black American women have, for centuries, been keenly aware of the complexity of white womanhood. We’ve been on the receiving end of your oppressed oppression since we arrived on this continent. We have spoken, written, and cried about it. We have yelled, screamed, and stood mute in the face of it. We have tried to explain to you all that your choice of misogyny over liberation, white supremacy over equality, is dangerous to us but also to you.
What is most present to me in this moment is the recollection of the barely audible voices of white women when we were crying out earlier this year about the deaths of black women at the hands of police and the men in our lives. I watched the pages and feeds of popular feminist media outlets and saw just what I expected. Little to nothing.
When I woke up to the news that Korryn Gaines and her son were shot by SWAT when they went to her house to execute an arrest warrant for traffic violations. I was crushed. I wept like she and I were related. Hillary, where are we as a society when a mother and child have to worry about dying because of traffic violations? How little is my life as a black woman worth?
I never expected you to comment on everything in the news, but if there were a time to demonstrate that you were aware of the chasm of experience between black and white women and express your interest in bridging that chasm, that was your chance. This story and a litany of other stories and commentary flooded the internet describing how black women–cisgender and transgender–are being killed by police, by their intimate partners, and by random hateful people on the street. What would it have cost you to publicly acknowledge that America is a uniquely dangerous place for black women?
…but Some of Us are Strong
How’s this for ironic? Even though we were well aware of the ways your stances on (or complicity with) policies from criminal justice to welfare reform to childcare over the years were bad for many of us, black women with and without formal education, appear to have voted (almost unanimously compared to every other subgroup) for you. We’re historically pragmatic. It’s how we survive.
And just as expected, black women are standing up all over the country and getting back to work. Some of us have actually had to grieve. I lack optimism and don’t put much stock in hope, so sometimes I fail to understand how some black women have to grieve in moments like this when white America reveals itself to be what it is. But as they emerge from their grieving, they’ll get back to work. For some of us, that work is the work of basic survival because that is how the United States has positioned us. For others of us, that work is the work seeing justice. And for others it is both. But we’ll get to work quickly because that’s what we do.
And maybe you can too.
The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.
When Audre Lorde said this, she was telling white women that you cannot ever dismantle your own oppression by oppressing others. White women will always be under the foot of white men until you recognize and deal with how you are oppressed and how you oppress.
I came to feminism late in life. I had received my doctorate and become a professor before I acknowledged that gender mattered. I am black. It has defined much of my existence. Academia is an excellent teacher though. The distinction between racism and sexism were crystal clear for me, and I experienced them both. I don’t know if the black women in your life have explained to you how racism and sexism have a multiplicative effect when they operate together. It can kill you.
I was saved in part by a college graduation gift. A classmate, upon learning I was graduating from Wellesley without having taken a single women’s studies course, insisted that I read Words of Fire: An Anthology of African American Feminist Thought. I opened it for the first time 12 years later. Reading the words of black women from as early as the 19th century who stood before audiences, sometimes mixed race groups, and risked their lives to tell the truth, helped me to stand up and get the hell out of West Virginia University.
Reading and re-reading that anthology confirmed for me that feminism–as I had experienced it to that point–really didn’t have much to do with me. In high school and college, I would say that feminism was for middle class white women who had the privilege not to work because black women tended their homes and raised their children. That anthology helped me see how the disconnect I felt was real. Of course, white middle class women had and still have genuine grievances. The rub is that those grievances are yours alone. You haven’t included women of color—especially not black women.
Perhaps this next and final stage of your career is an opportunity to be a leader to the women who support you. Perhaps you can help them struggle through the aftermath of the revelation to you all that there is no solidarity among you. This isn’t dissention in the ranks. You don’t have ranks.
It would be incredible if you led liberal, progressive, and even centrist feminists in becoming truly intersectional in your fights against oppression. I’m willing to bet that doing so would mean discovering the roots of the apparent fear, hatred, and self-hatred that undergird the choices of the majority of white women voters. Although you may not be President of the United States, you may yet lead the nation in uniting white women in a fight for genuine and universal equality.
Sincerely and with great anticipation,
Wellesley College, Class of 1996
Artist: Autumn Gavrielle Armstrong