Dear White Women
Dear White Women,
Today’s racism 101 lesson is just for us. So get your pencils and paper ready and put on your big girl panties because this is a tough one. We’re moving past the bullet points now, into some deeper waters.
After the Zimmerman verdict, Facebook and other social media was full of the famous photograph of the lynched Emmett Till that first appeared in Jet magazine in September of 1955. (If you don’t know who Emmett Till was please do your homework now.)
What is the connection between Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin that most black people understand while most of us don’t?
Well, for starters, both were black young men, shot down in their prime who should have lived, who should have had a future. But look deeper. What is an important common denominator in these stories that we need to talk about as white women ? It’s white women.
Emmet Till was lynched because he supposedly whistled at one of us. Trayvon Martin was denied justice after his death by a jury mostly made of us. (five out of six) Coincidence? Not. The relationship between black men and white women in the United States has been seriously messed up for centuries.
Consider the history of the lynching of black men in America. If you never considered this history, ask yourself why something so major was not part of your education and do something about that. Start with reading the work of Ida B. Wells. (If you don’t know who she was, again. Homework. ) What was the most common “charge” against these men? The alleged rape of white women- alleged – as in never happened. It was a fiction created by white men, many of which actually *were* raping enslaved African women on a very regular basis, as a way of dealing with their own fears, guilt, and whatever other strange emotions come up when you’ve been raping people you “own” and convincing yourself that’s OK.
On how many levels is that twisted? If it was just one man doing this, you would say he was sick. But when many men do it, it becomes normal and many men were doing it. Still, there had to be a pretext and, guess what, the pretext was US. Black men were tortured and killed in publically *celebrated* – as in pack a lunch and bring the kids – shows because why? The Defense of White Womanhood.
It was done in the name of “JUSTICE” and “Law and Order” by “good Christians” who saw no irony in crucifying people in Jesus’ name. There were all sorts of rationalizations but the one that worked every time to get a lynch mob going was to mention the “honor” of a white woman, supposedly besmirched by a black man. (You did read “To Kill a Mockingbird” right?? ) Something about us, white women, really gets them going. Our delicate “womanhood” our “virtue” our “honor” us ”up on a pedestal” to be defended with unthinkable violence – the very foundation of both patriarchy and white supremacy.
But is that who were are, or ever were? Is that what our womanhood is all about? A pretext for racist violence? You would think white women would have protested such an obvious okie doke. Sadly, we did not. According to the meticulous research done by Wells, not one allegation of rape that led to lynching was ever substantiated. In those very few cases where there was sex between black men and white women it was consensual. Never once did a white woman stand up and tell the truth. Never. Not one instance of any of our sisters saying “excuse me, what rape? He never raped me” and you can be damn sure none of them said “yes, we did have sex. I liked it.”
Imagine that. There were cases where white women invited black men into their beds and then stood by silent, not saying a mumbling word as they were castrated and murdered for this “crime.” Did I say there is some messed up stuff in our history? Yes, I get it that any white woman who told the truth would have really suffered for it but, really? not one?? when this much was at stake??
But what does this have to do with the Zimmerman trial. I’m fixin to tell you.
The idea of the black man as symbolic assailant and the habit of not seeing black men as full human beings is deeply ingrained in us as white women. Oh yes, I know. You think lynching is horrible. You are glad it doesn’t happen anymore (at least not as frequently) and, hey, you weren’t there. You didn’t do it. I get that. But do you really think the many levels of lies from the pit of hell that it took to support such a system just went away? Do you think time alone heals such deep wounds in the human spirit? It does not. Work does, hard gritty, grimy, hear-things-you-don’t-want-to-hear anti-racist WORK ends racism and that work always begins inside of us.
I can’t say what each of the women on the Zimmerman jury were thinking, but I can comment on the one who came forward – b37. When she spoke about how “confusing” the law was, how they all “cried” about it, when she talked about “George” as if the shooter was her son, and never even mentioned Trayvon Martin’s name, I heard the voices – or should I say the non-voices – of countless white women acting according to our training to not see black men as people, women who, when confronted with hard reality of race would rather “get the vapors” and pass out than woman up and deal with it.
Am I being too harsh? Am I misrepresenting the consciousness of far too many white women? Let’s test that. As another meme making the social media rounds puts it – imagine if your 17 year old daughter was walking home at night after buying candy at the store. She was followed by a strange man with a gun. When he came toward her, she tried to defend herself. He shot her. Then he was found “not guilty” and she was portrayed as the aggressor – now imagine it’s your white 17 year old daughter and the assailant is black. How do you feel about what happened to her? Is that how you would have ruled in this case?
Now, here’s the test question – Are you really able to identify with Trayvon Martin in the same way you are able to relate to this fictional white teenage girl? Because, if you can’t, you have work to do.
But here’s the good news – we are women. We are strong. We are able to figure things out, even when those things are hard, and we have the courage to act on the truth when we see it and, like I always say we can do better.
So how about it, white women? Are we ready to do the work?