The Problem with White Women
Much has been written about how white women perpetuate and/or support racism. Present day examples of what is named as a problem include behaviors such as voting for and thereby electing Trump, using our white fragility and tears as weapons of oppression or calling the police on POC for ordinary things like having a picnic. Historic reasons that could be useful to consider include, and go beyond, white privilege and supremacy. While this oppression is real, at the same time there is a reality within each of us that can lead us all toward redemption, the energy of hope.
White women and women of color are divided by certain historic reasons besides the various conflicts that come from our basic differences and oppression. Activist white women such as Lucretia Mott who founded the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833 and Susan B. Anthony, worked closely with black men to get the right to vote for males of color and men were involved in the fight for women’s suffrage. Frederick Douglass, the only African-American at the Seneca Valley Convention, was one of the thirty-two men who signed the Declaration of Sentiments.
However, once men of color got the right to vote, many deserted the cause of getting the vote for women because the law did little to change reality that went way beyond the right to vote including lynching. Although at the time, even more then today, woman were being killed by domestic violence, Douglass explained “When women, because they are women, are hunted down through the cities of New York and New Orleans; when they are dragged from their houses and hung upon lamp-posts; when their children are torn from their arms, and their brains dashed out upon the pavement; when they are objects of insult and outrage at every turn; when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down over their heads; when their children are not allowed to enter schools; then they will have an urgency to obtain the ballot equal to our own.”
While Anthony and Douglass remained life-long friends, many white suffragettes such as Cady Stanton developed alliances with southern whites knowing they had an additional overt agenda to disenfranchise all people of color. Meanwhile all carried the embedded racism of their time and many of the activist women, even those in the middle class, were able to do their activist work because at home there was a woman of color cleaning their house and caring for their children.
Historically there were important reasons for the collusion and participation of white women with violence against women of color and even other women of European descent. During the burning time in Europe, which lasted 200 years, from 1500-1700, women who didn’t conform to the patriarchy were hunted, tortured, raped and executed. Some records show as many as nine million women were murdered during this period although more conservative estimates put the number at 60,000 killed. *1.
Contrary to popular belief these women, for the most part, did not participate in practices associated with witchcraft. Most were not herbal healers or engaged in Wicca rituals. They were ordinary women, sometimes people who expressed opinions or insisted on their own sense of agency. They were tortured and killed with the justification that women by our very nature were too weak, vulnerable and stupid to escape the influence of the devil. This justification was written into the confessions composed by the priests and executioners. These were read aloud at weekly sermons and public executions. *2.
This indelibly wrote in the subconscious of everyone that women deserved violence and cruelty because we were spiritually depraved. There were a death penalty laws in much of Europe against being a witch. In Germany special prisons and courts were built including in one town an oven where in a 9-year period over 1,000 females, including 2-4 year old girls were killed. However, it isn’t only the actual deaths that had an impact but the cultural shift as women developed ways of protecting themselves, sometimes by implicating another woman. Another serious impact that is currently being investigated with both Jewish and Native American holocaust survivors is that trauma can be genetically passed down through intergenerational transmission of trauma effects. *3.
(Washington | Saturday, April 8, 1995. Clothesline Project, a collection shirts depicting violence against women. Note: In this country during the same time period, the same number of women were killed by people who supposedly loved them, as soldiers killed in Vietnam. )
The system of privilege benefiting one race and gender is like a neurosis that seeks to avoid pain at any cost. A phenomenal amount of energy is required to maintain and protect this system. This energy is wasted. To overcome this dynamic, each of us must understand our own potential for violence. We must develop systems of support that will help us constructively process our feelings and look at how we internalize the sexism and racism around us. It’s time now to acknowledge the past, make amends as possible, and after this, forgive ourselves and each other and acknowledge the positive contributions that people, and particularly women of color, have made to our society. Otherwise we feed the forces of racism and internalized sexism that have kept women separate and divided since antebellum.
Reality is that Light in each of us that transcends all the various words we use to describe it, a different sort of energy. This is our true strength and power; our energy of hope and love. Although often beaten down and abused and sometimes felt as a set-up for further oppression or a luxury, this energy of hope and love is actually the force that we must draw on if our work is going to truly and positively impact the chaos that is all around us.
Cornel West says “Justice is what love looks like in public” so injustice could be described as what it looks like when love is banished, when there is a failure to recognize another person as an equal human being. Behavior is a form of prayer. Negative behaviors have a negative impact, they hurt Spirit — for anytime we hurt each other we are hurting a child of God and in so doing, hurt ourselves and that Being of pure Love which is eternal. Imagine the depth and intensity of spiritual pain that was caused by slavery and the public execution of so many women, both of which were justified by the religious community. Imagine the hurt to this Source of All caused by the oppression that still exists here and now. Imagine the pain that is produced by dismissing those voices that after a burning bush type interaction try to speak out of that wilderness experience only to be ignored or rejected and marginalized by tiny, seemingly insignificant interactions such as an off-handed comment “why don’t you (just) …”.
It doesn’t have to be this way! We can do better! We can dry each other’s tears and hold each other close.
“What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) We can go beyond our words and intentions and with action and commitment, build a world of justice so that we can walk in love, peace and harmony with all creation. Let’s listen to God’s call to truly bring this future into being. ~rch~
Excerpt from the article…
In the American South before the Civil War, white women couldn’t vote. They couldn’t hold office. When they married, their property technically belonged to their husbands.
But, as historian Stephanie Jones-Rogers notes, there was one thing they could do, just as white men could: They could buy, sell, and own enslaved people.