We cannot talk about the violence that Dylann Roof perpetrated at Emanuel AME last Wednesday night without talking about whiteness, and specifically, about white womanhood and its role in racist violence. We have to talk about those things, because Roof himself did. Per a witness account, we know that he said: “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country.” “Our” women, by whom he meant white women.
There is a centuries-old notion that white men must defend, with lethal violence at times, the sexual purity of white women from allegedly predatory black men. And, as we saw yet again after this shooting, it is not merely a relic of America’s hideous racial past. American racism is always gendered; racism and sexism are mutually dependent, and cannot be unstitched.
As Jessie Daniels writes at Racism Review, white womanhood has been and remains essential to the logic of American white supremacy.
While the “social media moment” may have passed, the Zimmerman verdict represents just one of countless examples in an on-going pattern of unrecognized white privilege lending justification to violence against black men. The need remains to continue the conversation about this case, particularly with respect to this pattern. One element of the pattern that is specific to white women is our stereotyped role as virtuous victims who need protection from “bad guys.” Looking at the Zimmerman trial with an eye to this narrative reveals how the verdict was shaped by the white female judge’s decision to frame the case in terms of Zimmerman’s fear, the white female jurors’ description of their key decision as a response to fear, and the significance of the white female neighbor in justifying that fear.
As we collectively mourn for Trayvon Martin and feel outrage for him, his family and all people who live in fear of a criminal (in)justice system which is designed to entrap and persecute them or their loved ones, we must reflect on the dynamics of racism and fear in our culture that not only allowed, but encouraged, Travon’s murder. From theWe Are Not Trayvon Martin tumblr:
The Trayvon Martin case isn’t about an isolated incident but about a pattern of behavior. It’s assumed that racism some how magically ended in the 1960’s. Instead, we’ve slapped a fresh coat of paint over it and then remarked about how great it looked. But the problems didn’t disappear.
And we must have a conversation about the System of White Supremacy and the white women jurors who released George Zimmerman. As one of our collective members posted earlier today on facebook, “White Supremacy let Zimmerman go, but it was a jury of almost all white women who did White Supremacy’s bidding.” The Daily Mail reports:
A jury of six women, five of them white and the other a minority, decided George Zimmerman was not guilty in the shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin.… Read more
They say every moment is a learning opportunity. But I hate when those moments happen when I’m half awake and grumpy. Last week, I was taking my bike onto BART for my ever-so-wonderful and all-to-early morning commute from West Oakland to San Francisco. Though I am one of those pesky bikers that often sneak onto trains just a few minutes before I’m allowed to in order to get to my morning meeting at work on time, on this particular morning I was actually on BART at a legally-allowed time. So, onto BART I go, through the doors with the intention of parking my bike next to the door and out of the way when the doors opened at Embarcadero. As I moved my bike back against the doors, a women of color began scolding me for being in her space and for being an idiot biker on BART – where I shouldn’t even be.… Read more
This is a timeline we use in White Noise workshops to help make visible dominant representations of white women that have historically served to reinforce, normalize and naturalize forms of racist violence and patriarchal oppression. How do these narratives of white female sexuality and identity (re)appear in the present? How do they continue to live in our imaginations, bodies, dreams, media, collective consciousness, politics? By no means attempting to be some kind of comprehensive history, but rather pulling out some key threads in the unweaving of structures of domination. Here we go:
Captivity narratives, stories of women and men of European descent who were captured by Native Americans, were immensely popular in in both the US and Europe from the 17th century until the close of the United States frontier in the late 19th century. A defining genre of American literature that told tales of Indian savagery, the bravery of white male settlers, and the vulnerability of white women in need of protection and rescue.… Read more
Naming what sucks about white women is really easy and really satisfying. We do it a lot, especially us white women. We get to have the satisfaction of differentiating ourselves from the white female “prototype” ie. a hetero barbie who is a pretty, nice, passive, pure, covertly racist, helpless trophy and (do a really common thing that white women do) compare ourselves and think, “See we know what that is, and we are better than that”. In our workshops we spend a lot of time naming what the white female prototype is in an effort to shift towards a radical anti-racist white female practice and away from the myth that we are all just individuals with no culture (we may not want to claim it as our culture, but it impacts us all nonetheless). After this mostly negative naming (see the White Female Culture post) we’ve asked, “What’s awesome about white women?”
This question always makes us incredibly uncomfortable.… Read more