Why is a White Woman Writing about Race?

I was remembering the other day the images of all the women who showed up to march and protest last January after the inauguration, showing up with their friends and daughters and mothers and sisters and spouses.

For many women, the defeat of the first woman presidential nominee, by a man who had bragged of assaulting women, was a serious disappointment and a felt threat to women’s safety. The march that took place in Washington last January and all over the world came together under the banner of the “Women’s March,” a movement that has developed a list of Unity Principles to articulate the demands for women’s rights as human rights.

But at the beginning of the creation of the January 21st event, the Women’s March received criticism for its lack of diversity. The history of the women’s movement has been riddled with these kinds of criticisms: it has been traditionally led by white women who care about what impacts other white women.

Peggy McIntosh, author of “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack of Privilege” shared with the New Yorker her own story of when she recognized being part of the “nice but oppressive” group of white women in the women’s movement who were making things difficult for the women of color who had to argue for their voices to be included as among those meant by the word “women.” McIntosh’s story reminds us that even if we feel we are nice people, we can still be oblivious of our indifference and harmful attitudes towards people who are different from us.

I write about race because I have felt convicted that I am like those white women of the women’s movement, focusing on my experience as a white women without regarding the experiences women of color face because of racism and sexism. If white women only care about justice for other white women, then we will not get very far. It’s important for white women to recognize the pain they feel from being labeled, diminished, ignored, dismissed, overlooked, and disrespected, and to recognize that we inflict the same pain on others who may be persons of color, or elderly, or have various forms of disability, or are gender non-conforming, or queer or any other marker of difference. We can use this pain that we have experienced as an entry point for recognizing the much larger struggle that we can be part of, to work for all people to be seen and treated as fully equal.

So I write out of my own pain, knowing that my experience of pain is magnified a hundred-fold by persons who have other markers of difference that society uses to discriminate against them.

If you have ever felt pain for being treated unfairly because of something you couldn’t control, I invite you to tap into that pain as a resource for empathy. You cannot know exactly what someone else is experiencing, but recognizing your own pain is a way of connecting to the pain of others.

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