“White liberals who interject themselves into spaces for and by Black people and center themselves in our conversations, fail to hold themselves accountable when it comes to to being active listeners, and fail to recognize that their perspectives comes from a place of privilege, instead of understanding the significance of doing no matter what it takes to act upon their claim that they practice anti-racism.” – Stephanie Younger
By Stephanie Younger •
As a young Black female organizer, there have been times where white liberals have invited me to work with them. Each time this happened, and as time passed, I realized that I was experiencing tokenism, that I was consistently being spoken over and stereotyped. So, I wrote this article based on my experiences with white liberals who don’t understand that white privilege gives them the benefit of viewing their favorite racist politicians as the “lesser of two evils.” I also wrote this about my experiences with white liberals call themselves “allies” when it’s beneficial, but get defensive, and protect systems of white supremacy. I wrote this about my experiences with white liberals who show up how and when they want to, and speak over Black women, instead of standing with us. I wrote this from my experiences as a Black girl (from a womanist viewpoint) with white liberals, who say claim to be “anti-racist,” but avoid and fail to act upon those words. However, this isn’t for the consumption of white liberals who read this.
1. White liberals who are Apathetic to the privilege of disagreeing with someone else’s political views without being marginalized because of THEIR race.
In 2015, Robert Jones Jr. (@SonOfBaldwin) tweeted, “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.” Jones’ quote applies to the way white liberals often gloss over another white person’s racism to gaslight a Black person. To put this in perspective, white liberals have attempted forced into the same space as an alt-right white supremacist in a so-called “social justice group.” White liberals who claimed to be feminists questioned why I would be uncomfortable, and entertained the idea of me having to defend my existence to that white supremacist, and were complacent with that, as long as they were unaffected, and therefore, as long as that white supremacist was misogynistic and anti-Black against me; but not sexist against them. Black women are patronized into believing that “we can’t always get what we want,” smeared as “divisive,” and blamed for the political tension in the world, over our valid critiques of white liberal politicians as well. This erases our front line work in the fight towards liberation for all oppressed people. Similarly, I wrote an article about the 2020 Presidential Election, in response to those who degrade Black women, for saying that we don’t have the privilege of viewing problematic white liberal candidates as, “the lesser of two evils.”
“When I say that I’m not supporting a problematic candidate, I shouldn’t have to be met with, ‘Well, who are you voting for then? If you’re not supporting them, you’re dividing Democrats and helping Trump’…94% of Black women who voted in the 2016 election didn’t choose Trump. Black women stood with Hillary Clinton in November 2016, marched in solidarity in January 2017, and advocated on the front lines of many other fights for gender equality. But will we ever get that same solidarity in return?”Why This New Black Female Voter Should not be Forced to “Vote Blue No Matter Who”
It obviously was not 53% of Black women voters who “helped Trump” in the 2016 Presidential Election. The white women who are acquainted with white liberals most likely did so, and instead of listening to Black women’s legitimate critiques of politicians who advocate for the self-interest of white people as a whole, white liberals fail to hold those white women accountable, and are apathetic to the fact that Black women are not afforded the same conveniences of being oblivious to what happens in our everyday lives.
2. white liberals who are apathetic to the privilege of being called out for enforcing anti-Black racism than actually experiencing it.
From my experiences being the only Black woman to join a group mainly comprised of white liberals, they often acted a certain way, but behaved a different way when I wasn’t looking. After a while, the white liberals got too comfortable, and begin to behave the way they likely have behind behaving my back. For instance, they often made light of the struggles of the most oppressed people in the Black community, who they claimed to to advocate for—without expecting criticism from us. White liberals additionally enforce racism, by unintentionally, or intentionally protecting their “overtly racist” white friends or family members from me—fearing the possibility I might come after them, or in their words, “do something to them.” This stems from the perception that Black women are “angry,” “combative,” “predatory,” or which is rooted in the “sapphire” stereotype. By accusing us of attacking them, white liberals enforce these stereotypes rooted in misogynoir and gaslight Black women’s legitimate grievances by accusing us of “attacking” them. In 2018, Rachel Elizabeth Cargle, an academic, writer, and lecturer wrote in her Harper’s Bazaar article,
“…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.”– Rachel Elizabeth Cargle for Harper’s Bazaar, “When Feminism Is White Supremacy in Heels.”
For example, although I do experience anti-Black racism and misogyny, I have never faced oppression for being light-skinned, cis, middle class, etc., so I should never accuse someone of attacking me when I need to actively fight colorism, transphobia, classism, and elitism. That being said, it is a very privileged position for a white liberal to accuse a Black person of “attacking” them, in the sense that they are not part of a community that is accustomed to being attacked. When it comes to anti-Black racism, white liberals often see themselves an “exceptions” and not beneficiaries, and as long as they are not actively challenging their privileges, they are complicit in anti-Black racism. White liberals often said to me, “I’m really sorry you feel that way,” instead of actively listening to the Black person that was harmed, acknowledging where they went wrong, and stating how they will do better in the future, and ultimately follow through with those actions. Instead of seeing more significance in their impact on Black lives, white liberals saw more importance in their intentions, their feelings. Instead of seeing the significance, in their impact and our lives, white liberals saw more importance in their intentions, and their feelings. They often gave insincere apologies such as “I’m really sorry you feel that way,” white-splainined to me about what is racist and what isn’t, and dictated how we should respond to our experiences.
3. white liberals who see anti-racism as SYNONYMOUS WITH tokenism.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. introduced the concept of “tokenism.” Notably, in his 1962 essay, “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 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 woman to join them. The moment I, the only Black woman in the group, opened my mouth and started talking about race, wanted to do anti-racist organizing, or even include other Black people, was the moment I was met with winces of doubt and disapproval. The white liberals began to zone out, until they saw my ideas as self-serving and convenient opportunities to use Black women as their “teachable moments,” in order to meet their end goal of appearing “more diverse.” This is insincere. White liberals who were unwilling to do the work of ensuring that Black women are seen, heard and accepted at all times, often called themselves anti-racist when it came to their convenience.
4. White Liberals who only show up when they’re affected.
Just to name a few examples, I knew white liberals who wore pink hats to the Women’s March in light of the 2016 election, but were nowhere to be seen when it was time to show up for Black lives. I also knew white liberals who passionately rallied against gun violence in predominantly white schools, but opted out of taking a stand against everyday policing and gun violence against Black communities at the hands of the police state. White liberals often co-opt the struggles of Black women, and fail recognize the importance of giving Black women the same energy they gave to movements, like the Women’s March, 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.” She 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.” Packnett’s words emphasize that this solidarity should extend beyond the potential to get media attention, and waving signs at rallies for a photo op, and reposting hashtags on social media. Throughout elementary school, middle school and high school, I repeatedly learned 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.” It was Angela Davis, who 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 white liberals 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 often do what they think is best for us, and fail to listen to how they can stand with Black women and act upon that.
5. White liberals who speak for 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, it is also problematic to intentionally, or unintentionally speak for people who are more marginalized. Realizing this is something I struggled with as a light-skinned, cis, able-bodied, middle-class Black girl, who benefits from the colorist, cisheteronormative, ableist, and classist systems. I have been called out for speaking for communities I’m not a part of, instead of standing with them. However, in my mind, I knew exactly how I would feel if someone who is more privileged than I am, did the same to me. I learned that people who know what it’s like not to be listened to should not do the same to another person. This is why the phrase, “voice for the voiceless” doesn’t sit well with me at all because it implies that Black women are “voiceless.” White liberals who talk over Black women often do so, by taking opportunities from us, such as speaking on panels about stopping police violence, or abstaining writing pitches to publications for and by Black people.
6. White liberals who claim to stand with Black Women when it’s convenient.
Each time I offered ways white liberals can accomplice themselves with Black liberation, they jokingly and “politely” turned me down with the certainty that, “we’ve addressed that.” I offered books authored by Black women, that were unread by some, and invited them to multiple causes, many of which were passed up others. When those white liberals approached me, I was often 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 idea for another—an idea that they find more digestible, and that won’t interfere with their privileged lives. By “more digestible,” I am referring to work that isn’t “too specific,” and therefore doesn’t center Black people, or subjects that include abolishing the prison system, and stopping police shootings. “Less digestible” may include public community discussions about anti-racism, and direct action, in which many white liberals view as “violence.” Ironically, those same white liberals have presented themselves as “allies,” by co-opting the concept of anti-racist activism for their own benefit. White liberals don’t realize that Black women don’t live in a world where we get to think about racism when we want to. White liberals who interject themselves into spaces for and by Black people and center themselves in our conversations, fail to hold themselves accountable when it comes to to being an active listener, and fail to recognize that their perspectives comes from a place of privilege, instead of understanding the significance of doing no matter what it takes to act upon their claim 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.