“White liberals who claim to be anti-racist, while forcing Black women into the same spaces as white supremacists, policing how we respond to oppression, and speaking over us to center their own voices, are part of the same problem. As long as they continue to do this, they will never recognize the significance of doing no matter what it takes to act upon their claims that they practice anti-racism.” – Stephanie Younger
By Stephanie Younger •
Each time I have been invited to work with white liberals, it never took me too long to realize that I being tokenized, spoken over and stereotyped. So, I wrote this article based on my experiences with white liberals who don’t understand that they have the benefit of viewing their favorite racist politicians as the “lesser of two evils.” I also wrote this about my experiences with white liberals who pick and choose when stand with Black women, (claiming to do so as long as it’s beneficial) while speaking over Black women, getting defensive, and protecting systems of white supremacy. I wrote this from my experiences as a Black girl with white liberals, who say claim to be “anti-racist,” but avoid and fail to act upon those words. However, this article doesn’t exist for the consumption of white liberals who are reading this.
1. Forcing Black women into spaces with people who hate us.
Robert Jones Jr. (Son of Baldwin) said in 2015, “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.” His quote applies to the way white liberals often gloss over another white person’s racism to gaslight Black women. To put this in perspective, a group of white liberals attempted to force me into the same space as an alt-right white supremacist in a so-called “social justice advocacy group.” In that group, white liberals who claimed be feminists questioned why I would be uncomfortable, and were complacent as long as they were unaffected; as long as that white supremacist was misogynistic and anti-Black against me; but not sexist against them. Not only were they complacent, but the group as a whole entertained the idea of me having to defend my existence to someone who hates me. Black women are patronized into believing that “we can’t always get what we want,” smeared as “divisive,” for not wanting to unite with people who have a vested interest in our oppression. Despite our front line work in the fight for liberation of all oppressed people, Black women are blamed for the political tension in the world, over our valid critiques of white liberals who are participate in white supremacy, like that of the conservatives they claim to be so much better than. Last month, I wrote an article about those who degrade Black youth, especially young Black women, for critiquing the idea of “lesser of two evil” politics during the 2020 Presidential Election.
“When I say that I’m not supporting a problematic candidate, my critiques have been met with white moderates who demanded a “solution” from me, and said “Well, who are you voting for then? If you’re not supporting them, then you’re being divisive and helping Trump.” By telling a Black girl who would have been voting for the first time that I “want four more years of Trump,” over my critiques, these white moderates are silencing those who are organizing to abolish the systems that got Trump elected. Despite the Clintons’ complicity in heavy policing of Black communities, 94% of Black women who voted in the 2016 election chose Hillary Clinton. Despite the atrocious display of white feminism at the Women’s March, many Black women still marched in January of 2017, and continued to advocate on the front lines of many fights for gender justice, while white women fought against gender justice. Will we ever get that same solidarity in return?”“Why I Am Not “Voting Blue No Matter Who,” by Stephanie Younger
It obviously was not 52% of Black women voters who “helped Trump” in the 2016 Presidential Election. White liberals see more significance in silencing Black women’s legitimate critiques of politicians who have a vested interest in white supremacy, instead of speaking to to 52% of white women (including their friends) who most likely voted for Trump about their decisions. They are apathetic to the fact that Black women are not afforded the same conveniences of being oblivious to the “lesser evil” of our experiences.
2. Policing the way Black women respond to anti-Black racism and misogyny.
From my experiences of being the tokenized Black girl in a “social justice advocacy group,” the white liberals often acted a certain way, but behaved a different way when I wasn’t watching. After a while, the white liberals got too comfortable, and begin to behave the way I realized that they have been behaving behind my back. These white liberals were making classist and elitist jokes about Black youth, and were appalled when I called them out. Not only were those white liberals complacent with the idea of me having to defend my existence to a white supremacist that I mentioned earlier, but they protected them from me, fearing the possibility I might come after them—or in their words: “We don’t want you to do something to them.” They told me their claim that I “do things to people,” was based on the fact that I de-platformed a group of white “activists” who were anti-Black and misogynistic towards me within while I was working with them. The fact that these white liberals protected an “overtly racist white person” from me stems from their anti-Black and misogynistic perception that Black women are “aggressive” and “predatory.” By accusing Black women of being “out to get” white people who make this world dangerous for us in the first place, white liberals maintain these stereotypes rooted in misogynoir. In 2018, Rachel Elizabeth Cargle, an academic, writer, and lecturer, wrote about white liberal feminists who gaslight Black women’s legitimate grievances by accusing us of “attacking them.” In her Harper’s Bazaar article from 2018, “When Feminism is White Supremacy in Heels” Cargle wrote,
“…It is made painfully obvious that many white women believe that the worst thing that can happen to them is to be called a racist…Seeing your child gunned down in the street by the police unjustly is much worse, being turned away for medical care due to race and underlying biases by medical staff, resulting in death, is much worse, being harassed by authorities only to be charged yourself instead is much worse.”“When Feminism Is White Supremacy in Heels,” by Rachel Elizabeth Cargle for Harper’s Bazaar
For example, although I do experience anti-Black racism, ableism and misogyny, I am light-skinned, cis and middle-class, and I should not accuse someone of attacking me when I need to actively fight colorism, transphobia, classism, and elitism. To do so would embody white liberals who accuse Black women of “attacking” them, even though that they are not part of a community that is accustomed to being under attack. When it comes to anti-Black racism, white liberals often see themselves as “exceptions,” but not beneficiaries, who are complicit as long as they are complacent and not actively challenging themselves. Instead of listening while I was doing the emotional labor of challenging their intentions, white liberals often said, “I’m really sorry you feel that way,” white-splained, and policed how I should respond to the harm that they caused. In doing so, they saw more significance in their so-called “good intentions,” comfort and feelings, but not the negative impact their actions have on Black lives, and stating how they will do better and follow through with those actions.
3. Tokenizing Black women under the guise of “anti-racism” and “intersectionality.”
In Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s 1962 essay entitled, “A Bold Design for a New South” he wrote, “Tokenism was the inevitable outgrowth of the Administration’s design for dealing with discrimination.” I have found myself in situations where white liberals have asked me to work with them, and the first thing that was said to me in one group was, “we’re so excited to make things more diverse around here!” Tokenism occurs when a group of white liberals says “that’s enough activism for today,” after allowing a Black girl to join them. The moment I, the only Black girl in the group, opened my mouth and brought up of the idea of doing anti-racist activism, and even including other Black people, was the moment I was met with winces of doubt and disapproval. The white liberals zoned out, until they saw my ideas as self-serving and convenient opportunities to use me as their “teachable moment,” in order to meet their end goal of appearing “more diverse,” and “anti-racist,” which is performative. Overall, it is performative of white liberals to call themselves “anti-racist,” when it comes to their convenience, especially when many are refusing to ensure that Black women are seen, heard and accepted at all times.
4. Only showing up when they are affected.
I know white liberals who marched wearing pink p*ssy hats in Washington D.C. in 2017, and protested gun violence in predominantly white schools in 2018, but are nowhere to be seen when it is time to show up for Black lives. A white liberal feminist who asked me to attend the Women’s March in January of 2017 did not stand with me, as she watched me experience misogynoir from another white woman she knew, even though speaking up wouldn’t have costed her anything. The group I de-platformed was mostly comprised of white liberals who passionately rallied against gun violence in predominantly white schools in March of 2018, and then tried to silence my voice when I called them out for ignoring gun violence against Black people at the hands of the police. When they couldn’t silence me out of speaking up about the misogynoir I experienced within their group and police violence, they drove me out of that space. White liberals often fail to see the importance of showing up for Black lives the same energy they gave to movements (like the Women’s March and the March For Our Lives) and why it is a good start when it comes to fighting for intersectionality. Last year, Brittany Packnett, an activist, educator and writer, entitled her Teen Vogue column, “We Can’t Just Show Up For Social Justice Issues When It Impacts Our Own Lives,” and wrote,
“If you possess privilege of any kind, it is your responsibility to spend that privilege. Put it up at risk to protect the very people who are suffering most. Be willing to say the hard thing. Be willing to stand up in protest. Be willing to ask the difficult questions of those in authority.”“We Can’t Just Show Up For Social Justice Issues When It Impacts Our Own Lives,” by Brittany Packnett for Teen Vogue
Packnett’s emphasizes that this solidarity should extend beyond one’s potential to get media attention, and waving signs at rallies for a photo op. Throughout elementary school, middle school and high school, I repeated the lesson, that it is often white liberals, in addition to “overtly racist” white people, who will not stand with me as a Black woman, or whose “activism” stops at showing up when they’re affected. It was Dr. Martin Luther King, who wrote in his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” (1963), that he is “gravely disappointed with the white moderate.” Angela Davis said, “in a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” White liberals who are silent as they watch Black women being stereotyped, profiled, or criminalized, embody the white moderate MLK warned us about. Instead of recognizing that they are in a privileged position where practicing anti-racism doesn’t cost nearly the price Black women have to pay in a misogynoiristic world, white liberals were often no where to be seen when it was time to show up for Black lives. However, white liberals often do what they think is best for us in the name of “allyship,” while ignoring how act upon their claim that they stand with Black women.
5. Speaking over Black women instead of standing with us.
White liberals who don’t do or say anything to hold themselves and other white people accountable for their anti-Blackness are complicit. That being said, to speaking up in a way that intentionally, or unintentionally co-opt struggles that one is not familiar with, is to silences those who are familiar with those struggles. Coming to this realization is something that I struggled with as a light-skinned, cis, middle-class Black girl, who benefits from the colorist, transphobic, and classist systems. I have been called out for speaking on struggles I don’t know, instead of standing with Black people who do. However, I know exactly how I feel when I see white people do the same thing. Black women do not have monolithic struggles, and people who know what it’s like not to be listened to should not do the same to another person. The phrase “voice for the voiceless” doesn’t sit well with me at all, in the sense that it implies that marginalized people are “voiceless.” White liberals often speak over Black women by using us as talking points at opportunities that they’ve taken from us, erasing us from our own ideas and then appropriating them. White liberals’ claims that they somehow have the answer to what’s best for Black people is rooted in white saviorism and white paternalism, and to do so while co-opting struggles that don’t belong to them is not activism; it’s opportunism.
6. Claiming to stand with Black women, but only when it is convenient.
In addition to the winces of doubt and disapproval, white liberals “politely” turned me down with their certainty that “we’ve already addressed that,” each time I offered ways they can accomplice themselves with Black liberation. Just to name a couple of ways, I shared books authored by Black people that were left unread, and invited them to multiple protests, many of which they passed up. One time, I was immediately cut off when I proceeded to discuss the first (and abruptly, the only thing I listed), which was amplifying work organized by Black people on social media. They winced, said “no, not like that,” and attempted to eliminate my ideas to replace it with an idea that they find more digestible, and that won’t interfere with their privilege and their power. By “more digestible,” I am referring to subjects that they have told me in their own words isn’t “too specific,” meaning subjects that don’t center Black lives. However, the only times they showed up to protests I invited them to, was when they wanted use it for their personal gain. They saw no irony in the fact that they were masquerading as “anti-racists” when it came to their convenience, while being aware that Black women don’t get to pick and choose when we think about our struggles.
White liberals who claim to be anti-racist, while forcing Black women into the same spaces as people who hate us, policing how we respond to oppression, and speaking over us to center their own voices, are part of the same problem. As long as they continue to do this, they will never recognize the significance of doing no matter what it takes to act upon their claims that they practice anti-racism.
Stephanie Younger is a 17-year-old student activist and writer who advocates for womanism and the abolition of youth prisons.