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.