“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 so, they will never see the significance in doing no matter what it takes to act upon their claims that they practice anti-racism.” – Stephanie Younger
By Stephanie Younger •
Each time white liberals invited me to work amongst them in organizing spaces, it never took me too long to realize that I was being tokenized and stereotyped. I wrote this article based on my experiences with white liberals who don’t understand that they have the benefit of viewing the racist politicians of their liking as the “lesser of two evils.” I also wrote this about my experiences with white liberals who pick and choose when to 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. Although, I wrote this from my experiences as a Black girl with white liberals, who claim to be “anti-racist,” but avoid acting upon those words, this article doesn’t exist for the consumption of white liberals who are reading this.
1. Instead of recognizing the privilege that comes with having the option of disagreeing with someone else’s political views without being marginalized because of their race, white liberals force Black women into the same spaces as 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 who passed themselves off as a “social justice advocacy group,” attempted to force me into the same space as their friend; an alt-right white supremacist. In that group, white liberals who claimed to be feminists questioned why I would be uncomfortable, and they were complacent as long as they were unaffected; as long as that white supremacist was misogynistic and anti-Black; but not sexist against them. Not only were they complacent, but the group entertained the idea of me having to defend my existence to someone who openly hates Black women. Black women are patronized into believing that “we can’t always get what we want,” and dismissed as “divisive” when we refuse to unite and share space with people who openly 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 division in the world, over our valid critiques of white liberals who participate in white supremacy in this way. 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 those who have a vested interest in white supremacy, instead of speaking 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 so-called “lesser evil” of our oppressors.
2. Instead of recognizing that it’s more of a privilege to be called out for perpetuating anti-Blackness than it is to actually experience it, white liberals police the way Black women respond to anti-Black racism and misogyny.
From my experiences of being tokenized in a so-called “social justice advocacy group,” the white liberals I mentioned earlier often acted a certain way, but behaved a different way when I wasn’t watching. As time passed, they stopped hiding who they were. Not only did they entertain the idea of me having to defend my existence to the 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 based their claim that I “do things to people” on the fact that I spoke up about my experience with a group of white “activists” who silenced Black voices and directed their misogynoir towards me while I was organizing with them. The fact that these white liberals protected an “overtly racist” white person from me stems from their anti-Black and misogynistic belief that Black women are “aggressive” and “predatory” in situations where we are being targeted. By accusing Black women of being “out to get” those who make this world dangerous for us to live in to begin with, 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
This is applicable to me as light-skinned, cis, middle class Black girl. When poor Black women, Black trans women and dark-skinned Black women challenge my intentions, I should be actively centering their voices, instead of centering myself. Instead of getting defensive, I should be holding myself accountable and holding other light-skinned, cis, middle class Black women accountable for the ways we maintain colorism, transphobia and classism, and actively fight these systems. To get defensive and center oneself embodies the white liberal who accuses Black women of “attacking” them when they are not part of a community who is accustomed to being under attack. When it comes to anti-Black racism, white liberals often view themselves as “exceptions,” but not beneficiaries, and complicit as long as they are 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. Instead of stating how they will do better and follow through with those actions, they saw more importance in their comfort and feelings, more significance in their “so-called” good intentions, but not the negative impact their actions have on Black lives.
3. Instead of recognizing that tokenism isn’t solidarity, white liberals tokenize 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 first thing that they 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 say and believe something along the lines of, “that’s enough activism for today,” and their certainty that they “solved the race problem” in their spaces by “including” one Black girl. The moment I, the only Black girl in the group, opened my mouth and brought up of the idea of doing anti-racist activism, or 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 Black people as their “teachable moments,” in order to meet their performative end-goal of appearing “more diverse,” and “anti-racist.” It is dishonest to call oneself “anti-racist” while orchestrating situations where Black voices are being erased.
4. Instead of giving Black women the same solidarity they gave to “progressive” movements, white liberals only show up when they are affected.
I knew 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 were almost nowhere to be seen when it came to showing up for Black lives. A white liberal feminist who asked me to attend the Women’s March in January of 2017 watched me experience misogynoir from another white woman she knew, even though speaking up wouldn’t have costed her anything. The group I mentioned earlier was an abolished March For Our Lives chapter, mostly comprised of white liberals who 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 youth at the hands of the state. When they couldn’t silence me from speaking up about the misogynoir I experienced within their group, they excluded me and drove me out of their organization. White liberals often fail to see the importance of showing up for Black lives with 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 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” starts and ends 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, and 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 nowhere 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 they act upon their claim that they stand with Black women.
5. Instead of standing with Black women, white liberals speak over Black women.
White liberals who don’t say or do anything to hold themselves and other white people accountable for their anti-Blackness are complicit. That being said, to speak 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. It took me a while to come to this realization. As a Black girl who benefits from colorism, transphobia and classism, I have been called out for speaking on systemic struggles I don’t know — hence, talking over Black people who do have said systemic struggles — instead of standing with them and centering their voices. Doing so with the mindset that “I’m still a Black girl,” ignores that Black people do not have monolithic struggles. People who know what it’s like not to be listened to should not do the same to another person, and I know exactly how I feel when I see white people doing the same thing—unintentionally, or intentionally—and when I see white liberals doing so in manipulative way that present themselves as accomplices to Black liberation movements for their personal gain. The phrase “voice for the voiceless” doesn’t sit well with me at all, in the sense that it implies that oppressed people are “voiceless.” White liberals often speak over Black women by using us as talking points at opportunities 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 doing so in a way that co-opts struggles that they don’t have to further themselves is not activism; it’s opportunism.
6. Instead of showing up when and how Black women ask them to show up, white liberals claim to stand with Black women when & how they want to, when it is convenient.
In addition to the winces of doubt and disapproval, white liberals turned me down with their certainty that “we’ve already addressed that,” each time I responded to their requests on how they can accomplice themselves with Black liberation. Just to name a couple of ways, I gave them books authored by Black people that they refused to read, and invited them to multiple actions, 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 something that they find more digestible, and that won’t interfere with their power. By “more digestible,” I am referring to subjects that they have told me in their own words aren’t “too specific,” meaning subjects that don’t center Black lives. However, the only times they showed up to actions I invited them to was when they wanted to 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 so, they will never see the significance in doing no matter what it takes to act upon their claims that they practice anti-racism.
Stephanie Younger is a 17-year-old who advocates for womanism and the abolition of youth prisons.