Dear White Women,
It was asked of BLMGJ what YOU can do to be good allies to women of color, this is how Samantha (a woman of color and coordinator for BLM GJ) responded:
Listen to us, please. Please don't pull a "Mrs. Millie" (Color purple) and get upset, telling us about what you do for us when you feel challenged. Personally, I am tired of seeing that. If all this work was done, black women would not be in the situations they're still in, in this nation today.
Being an ally requires constant emotional readjustment. I'd implore you when you read, hear or see something on this journey that doesn't sit well with you, do not immediately respond. Stop and think, ask yourself what exactly bothers you. Then continue the discussion. It is human nature to assume that the things that make you comfortable are based in truth. That is not always the case.
After election night, I decided to become more aware of transgender issues. And I loudly declared myself an ally, asking my new trans friends to teach me. Their response? "Um, no." And at first I got mad, and I was about to pull my ally-ship. But I'd read this article just a few days before about emotional labor. So I decided to do my own, and I realized that it was wrong of me to ask someone so exhausted from trying to navigate this system, to stop and teach me would I could learn myself.
Read black literature. I'm sure they have some Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison at the local library, albeit kinda hidden. I'd suggest reading articles from publications like The Root and Very Smart Brothas, to start. There's also a page here on FB called Not Without Black Women. Just peruse, and also understand that there is a lot of anger out there right now, and it's justified. It is. I'm sorry, but it is. We're human too. We're more than the labels this society has placed upon us, to cover up all that they've made us carry on our backs.
I will warn you, though. In the wider world outside GJ, the interaction with black women may have a bit more of an edge, given all we've been through. I try to temper my words as much as I can. I have my limits, though. Please take a good while before you jump into dialogue, for your own sake. Just read, and if you find something that just doesn't sit well or compute and you have questions, you can always ask BLMGJ. We may not always be able to give you a satisfactory answer, though. Some things just are, and I've learned as of late that there are people who consider themselves to be progressive, who stop short at issues pertaining to people like me. And that is very sad.
Recently myself and a few other BLMGJ coordinators got into an argument in the comments section with a woman who disagreed with our posts on the pink pussy hat discussion. This woman was white, highly educated, as she told us repeatedly, and liberal. She espoused that she had read several black authors (Te-Nehesi Coates and Audre Lorde to name a couple), marched with women of color in New York City, and studied under women of color. She was quick to tell us how she had been working her whole life (longer than any of us had been alive, apparently) towards intersectionality and examining her cis white hetero privilege. She is a literature professor at a local university, she told us, and teaches authors of color in her classes to her students who are people of color. She offered to be the advisor for the Black Student Alliance when there was no black faculty member to do so, in fact! She railed at us about all the groups she was leading at the university; feminist groups, sexual assault awareness groups, safe student alliance groups. She’s on the diversity board and was one of the people who created the women’s and gender studies program! Oh my! Excuse me while I go change my panties.
After a stressful argument, which quickly descended into her spouting TERF hate language and attacking people of color who were responding to her, she deleted all her comments and blocked everyone involved. Whew! Good riddance, right?!
This left me feeling relieved, but ultimately a little frustrated and disappointed. This woman unloaded on us. Her comments were huge, essay length, and extremely misguided. There was only so much time and space to respond to her accusations and claims of racism by us against her - not possible- and how we were uneducated plebes because we hadn’t read Judith Butler and Audre Lorde - I had and told her so, but she didn’t respond to that. Go figure.
So now I’m writing this open letter to all of you highly educated white liberals out there reading this. I know it feels like we are picking on you lately. We love you all and want and need your support. But when that support is conditional upon people of color prostrating themselves to your egos and your resumes and your years of experience, no ma’am/sir, it is not worth the paper it is printed on.
No amount of years of experience in activism, or education, or amount of community impact equates to the lived experiences of people of color and LGBTQIA people. We, as cis hetero white people, cannot be taught a lifetime of systemic oppression and hate. We cannot read our way into it. We cannot buy our way into it. We cannot work long enough in these activist spaces to someday get our honorary marginalized person award. It does not work that way.
No matter how long or hard we have worked, studied, or taught when marginalized people are speaking we need to listen. It is our responsibility to listen and to try to get other white people to listen. And then it is our responsibility to act.
I want to pose this question and this challenge to you. What have you done for marginalized people lately? Why didn’t this liberal literature professor question the university administrators as to why there were no black faculty members to advise the Black Student Alliance?* Why are there no black faculty members to serve on the diversity board?* Why are there no transgendered professors to participate in the women’s and gender studies curriculum? There are studies and studies on how much more effective educators of color are at teaching students of color and how much more effective LGBTQIA educators are at teaching LGBTQIA students.
Listen, folks, if you want to help marginalized people, then help them. Be a loud voice for them in spaces where they are not represented. And where they are represented, use your voice to amplify theirs, not to speak for them. Question your boards, your bosses, and your administrators. Question the progressive groups that you have joined. Why are there no people of color in these spaces? Why are there no LGBTQIA people? What are they doing for people of color and LGBTQIA people in these spaces? Ask the hard questions, put yourself on the line for them. You have that ability! Use your whiteness for good!
**Correction**: I’ve been told that there is a black staff member who now serves as advisor to the BSA and is on the diversity board at CMU.
by Jon Williams
I was told before the MLK march that some black folks didn’t want to participate because they thought it was thrown by the city of GJ, so the city of GJ could be considered less racist. I assured him it was thrown by members of the black community and he should attend. . .
I’ve lived in GJ over a decade and I’ve always walked the line of knowing my place and how to be #AliveWhileBlack here. You listen, don’t create any fuss, speak well, don’t have polarizing haircuts or clothes, let people speak for you and fight your battles.
A few months ago, a black friend of mine explained that he recognized that his experiences while being black and living downtown were different, and people tore him apart because it shook the core idea of the city we live in. . .which is that racism doesn’t exist here (as said by the previous mayor)
When I helped start Black Lives Matter, it was to help educate the community on racial hardships. . . With a heavy heart, I have to admit I was wrong about something. You can’t educate a community who is unwilling to listen. . .
I’ve been told by many people that I admire that I speak in a way that isn’t polarizing to non-people of color (by using phrasing like non-people of color versus white people).
I interacted with four black women today and asked them to share their experiences of racism in this town versus what my experiences are. . .and black women in GJ suffer and hurt here. . . Maybe not all of them (cause I haven’t met all of them) but I’ve heard shared experiences from women who don’t know each other. It’s a discussion of racism.
You have to wake up GJ. Listen to these stories, check your privilege and truly listen.
Our black women need us, and it’s up to each of us to hear their stories, protect them, and share what we’ve learned.
I used to think this city tried to hide its racism. . .
It’s not hidden,
It’s just directed at black women
And it’s time we noticed and stopped it.
What's the big deal about pussy hats?! Please take the time to read this response written by our very own Samantha Harris on why these pink hats have become offensive to women of color:
"Pussy hats…what’s the deal?
Before we begin, let me just say that I am a black woman. So, this is coming from the perspective of a black woman...living in Grand Junction. I have my own privilege to face, in that I am cisgender and I have light skin. Folks, I know it’s hard swallowing that red pill, it’s large and it sticks in your throat for a while until it dissolves a bit…but we are ALL living in the matrix of white supremacy. That means you, reader. That means me.
Here’s the thing. No, you as a white person are not responsible for the construction of white supremacy; this beast was born a long time before you were. But you ARE responsible for how you act in the face of this beast. It does you no good at all. Ninety-nine percent of us do not fall under the umbrella of what is considered completely acceptable in this society. Unless you are a white male who is able-bodied, straight, cisgender, neurotypical and Christian, you are NOT considered to be the embodiment of human perfection. Why else has there been a feminist movement? Let’s think about that…
Facing one’s privilege is difficult. We live in a shame-based society that wants to tear down anyone who isn’t seen to be morally right. But morals and ethics are two different animals. Ethics come from an external source, an agreed upon set of rules on how to live life. Like not killing people. Morals come from within, and they vary from person to person. While one person may be okay with having sex before marriage, many still believe this to be a taboo. That’s not something you can order society to adhere to; that’s when you fall into fascism. Controlling the bodies of women. Which is in part what feminism is about, the eradication of such an evil. We all mostly agree not to kill other people. However, folks within the feminist movement still struggle to actually see women of color and transgender women, out of this belief that their lives are somehow less pure. Even if it’s not said outright. See the difference?
Silence is complicity, I’m sorry to have to tell you. If you can only speak out about your female body that is white and cisgender, then you are complicit in the destruction of women like me, and women like my transgender friends. This is harsh, but it is true. It’s the same as if you were being beaten in the street or raped, and I just walked on by, because that’s not my problem. Only it is…
Below are some facts about what women who are not white and cisgender face every day.
• The average life expectancy for a transgender person is 35.
• 1.4 million people in this country identify as transgender.
o Think of the number of people who have not yet identified themselves as such, due to the constraints of this society.
• Anti-LGBT violence disproportionately affects transgender individuals, especially transgender women of color.
o Imagine dying after a date, and having your killer go free because it’s still legal in this country to use trans panic as a defense, this idea that you simply didn’t know your date was trans. I do not know one trans woman who pulls that. What’s really happening is that there are men who are ashamed to love their trans women out loud. Imagine having your male partner go free because he used the defense of period panic to kill you. Would that fly? How do any of you feel when you find out someone you are interested in is ashamed of you?
• Last year 25 transgender individuals lost their lives. Most them were trans women of color. Unnecessary violence against their person, due to who they are.
o If burning women at the stake is not okay, if letting them die due to coat hanger abortions is not okay, it is NOT okay to kill a person because YOU think you should have a say so with regards to their gender identity.
• Transgender teens face hell in school. Seventy-eight percent of them reported bullying, with 35% reporting sexual assault and 12% reporting sexual violence. For a good third of those teens, the abuse came at the hands of teachers and faculty. In a place where they should have felt safe.
• Black women have diminished access to education yet have more of a presence in the workforce than white women, and we still make less than you do.
• Affirmative action benefitted white women above any other minority group.
• The #metoo movement was started by a black woman who found little to no resources for black women who were victims of sexual assault in inner cities.
• One in four African American women are uninsured.
• While white women are more likely to get breast cancer, black women are more likely to die from it. That comes from being profiled in the doctor’s office. African Americans are also 46% less likely, whether a child or an adult, to get appropriate treatment for pain in any medical setting. Five black women die each day from breast cancer in this country.
• Black women are four times more likely to die from pregnancy related causes, than white women.
• Black infants are 2.4 times more likely to die in their first year, than white infants.
• Only 2 percent of African American women are represented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, fields, while women in total make up 24 percent of the STEM workforce.
• White women make more than African American women among full-time, year-round workers, regardless of what degrees they have obtained.
• We literally do make ten cents less per dollar than white women do.
• The unemployment rate for black women was 181% higher than that of white women, just a few short years ago. Not much has changed.
Women who are not white and hetero-cis face obstacles every day, that white, hetero-cis women do not have on their radar. See above, we’re trying to stay alive. Our fight goes past rights to abortions we can’t even afford and equal pay that we’re going to be the last to get. When you were fighting for voting rights, the rights to have your own bank account in your own name (not until 1974), we weren’t even seen as humans. The Civil Rights movement just put Jim Crow underground, in DC on life support. He is not dead yet, trust me. So be glad that you have been allowed to go so far ahead in this struggle, with regards to rights obtained. Because while you are fighting not to lose rights that have been given, many of us are fighting for rights we’ve not even had yet.
The issue with the pink pussy hats is that yes, it is divisive for some. Me, I don’t particularly care. I wore a black one at this year’s march, for various reasons. But please understand I do not represent all black people, when it comes to my personal choices. Honestly, I let a lot fly for the sake of personal safety, especially out here in Grand Junction. The opinions of token black friends and family, who are probably not comfortable telling you or your white family the real truth about their experience, can’t be used as evidence. At all. Anecdotal evidence is not empirical fact.
Not all women have pussies. Not all women have pink pussies. While the pussy hat movement was started to protest sexual assault, the extremely traumatic experiences of women of color, as well as transgender women are often still silenced. Your personal opinion on what it means to be transgender does not stand up against empirical fact. Please google “PBS two-spirits” for a nice infographic on gender diverse cultures across the world, that have been here for as long as humans have.
I hate to break it to you, but the very way in which we label and categorize the human body is based upon the white supremacist model.
And yes, here at #BlackLivesMatterGrandJunction we are challenging that. We understand that not everyone is going to be with us, but for those of you who want to understand and progress with regards to this issue, we are always open for constructive dialogue."