At the protest this evening for justice for George Floyd and an end to police violence against black people, so many speakers shared such raw, deep emotional stories of the trauma and the violence they have suffered at the hands of the police….black teachers talked about the racism they see exhibited by very young children – which is because they learned it at home…..and one man raised a really important point about privilege: he pointed out to all the white women in the crowd that much of the violence perpetrated by white men against black men in this country is and has been done in the name of protecting white women. That if something happens to a white woman, twenty white men from all around are gonna turn up to “protect” her.
And that just struck me, as a white woman in this country, that this is one of those invisible, unspoken privileges that I have enjoyed all my life and never really thought about. But it’s true. That is the history of this country, and it is the current reality. All these older white men in my life growing up in the US, looking at me patronizingly, giving me silent cues that they are somehow ‘on my side’. And I think about when I was biking around the country, through these little white towns where maybe one or two black families might live... how I was able to feel safe doing that, feel like I could bike all over the country with no worries. Because of my white privilege. And imagine how quickly the white people of one of those small little towns would turn on their local black family if I, an out of town white girl, had made some claim that a boy in that black family had raped me. Imagine this reality that exists in the US – that they could live side by side with people for years, but if an anonymous white woman had come into town and claimed something like that – I guarantee in almost every place, the white people of that town would turn against that black family. That’s how white racism works.
Virtually every lynching carried out by a mob of white men in the US was done in response to some white woman claiming a black guy had transgressed in some way against her. That poor child Emmett Till was beaten to death, his body horribly disfigured, for allegedly whistling at a white woman. And so many, many others whose names I do not know…...and now the brutal march of hashtags, one after another, #TrayvonMartin #MichaelBrown #EricGarner #AhmaudArbery and now #GeorgeFloyd, an army of black men marching into death at the hands of white men for the ‘crime’ of being ‘uppity’, of ‘not knowing their place’, the ‘crime’ of making these white men feel afraid simply for being who they were: black men.
And why are white men so afraid of black men? Why so jumpy? Why so paranoid and quick to shoot? Because in their blood, these white men know that they have wronged these black men. That if black people ever sought justice for how badly they have been wronged by this country and continue to be wronged by this country, then that justice will be coming for them.
We are our ancestors, white people. Do not forget that it was just six generations (that is, our grandparents’ grandparents) ago that black people were enslaved, deprived of freedom, treated as property, shackled in chains and forced to labor in the most despicable conditions. And the lynchings of black men by white mobs were even much more recent than that. And remember something else, when we talk about white men engaging in horrific violence against black men to protect the supposed sanctity and purity of white women, many of these same white men engaged in horrific violence against black women. Enslaving them, raping them, ripping them from their babies. These men who claimed to care about women and protect them were somehow able to disassociate "their" women, the ones with paler skin, who they pledged to protect, from their darker-shaded sisters, who they thought of as their property.
Only a true sisterhood of black and white women can break this cycle of systemic violence in this country. Our black sisters continue to be brutalized, stereotyped, attacked, disappeared, sold into sex slavery, locked into economic hardship and deprived of their sons and brothers and boyfriends and husbands who get killed and locked up at unconscionable rates. Only when we, white women, stand in solidarity with our black sisters and follow their lead can we truly break the hegemony of white supremacy in this country. Only then can we break down the ‘good old boys’ fraternity of white men in power. Only then can we truly break the chains of the legacy of slavery that continue to hold this country hostage.